Snitching, Censorship and Spying: You Are the Web 2.0 Scoop

Consumer generated content is all the range in the web 2.0 world. It’s now taking a new form as both governments and those who hope to expose governments to greater scrutiny “want to know what you know”.

As governments get good at online intelligence, I believe we will find that making censorship and data gathering obvious so that they may be known will be a civil liberty. The ink of the censor tells us when something is being obscured. That awareness is in fact a liberty which allows citizens to hold tech-empowered governments acountable by knowing their actions.

Last week, on October 10, Reporters without Borders published reports of massive new agencies organized to monitor and censor internet access in China. (see reuters coverage). At the same time the Epoch Times praised the launch of Wikileaks, a semi-shady collector of anonymous tips from whisperers.

The OpenNet Initiative tracks state use of filtering and recently noted the growing political interest in state Internet censorship in the EU. There are also examples of US law enforcement using social network data to investigate citizens. [1] [2]

Even my own local government, the City of Boston, has nationally promoted the launch of its SMS text message enabled Crimer Stoppers program. The city web site explains how to send a tip, erase signs of the message on your handheld, and record a code number to receive a reward if the tip results in a conviction. As you might imagine, China and several UE conteries including England have already implemented similar programs.

What strikes me in these programs is the role that anonymity plays, and how easily that secrecy introduces prejudice, error and even risk to those participating. Consider Wikileaks, its operators are anonymous, so are its informants, and so are its volunteer editors. Transparency usually makes wiki participants accountable to one another. Anonymity removes those checks and balances.

Might a few of these reported thousands of Internet censors “volunteer” to help edit wikileaks? That fear of of being used by intelligence agencies has been with Wikileaks from the start. There was early speculation that the whole project was a CIA front to surface a secret UK report explosing the corruption of Kenyan leader Daniel Arap Moi.

Errors in Wikipedia happen frequently but are quickly fixed, with minimal consequence. Without accountability, Wikileaks will be far less reliable. This potentially puts informants at risk, and those who use it on notice that its “leaks” may be slander or disinformation.

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