It may not have been enough to know phone conversations and email messages were being routinely and illegally intercepted by a prying government, but then came the revelation that the same government was dabbling in private financial records. Those of us who are faultless and blameless, innocent and free will have no worries, of course.
Best is to avoid words that could be triggers for inquisitive algorithms. Don't write or say bomb or blast or dynamite, even if the sentence is "That comic really laid a bomb. I had a blast last night" or "She/he is really dynamite!" There are about 10,000 words that could trigger a snooping computer. But don't lose heart. I once, long ago, read that an 800-word vocabulary was enough to converse in a language. Dumb it down, dude.
Now the news from the Department of Defense carries the war on terror to the blogosphere. According to William J. Sharp of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the US Air Force is funding a study that includes blogs.
Versatile Information Systems Inc. of Framingham, MA, is going to get $450,000 from the military for a three-year project called, simply enough, “Automated Ontologically-Based Link Analysis of International Web Logs for the Timely Discovery of Relevant and Credible Information.”
If you wondered where tax dollars go (450,000 at a time), and what goes on in those boxy, post-modern, Silicon Valley buildings, here is a relevant example to make your blogging hours happy, refreshing, and worry-free.
Dr. Mieczyslaw M. Kokar, the president of Versatile, explains:
The fact that the web is a vast source of information is sometimes overlooked by military analysts,' Kokar said. 'Our research goal is to provide the warfighter with a kind of information radar to better understand the information battlespace.
This should make us, the bloggers of the world, rest easy. The military had not noticed blogging before, but now wants to give the "warfighter" (a term new to me that sounds like gobbledygook) "information radar" (which is to say, a clue) as to "the information battlespace."
Therein is the part that is frightening. We are in the "information battlespace," your blog and mine, Blogcritics, Desicritics, and the world of words, pictures, and ideas that have sent tendrils around the world from the convoluted pathways of the Internet. The Air Force wants to develop a tool to analyze what bloggers find interesting. As they put it in spy-speak:
One of the problems analysts may have with blog monitoring, Ulicny noted, is there is too much actionable information for the analyst to properly analyze.
Therefore, the blog-analyzers will be looking for a "search engine" key to the interests of bloggers. They are trying to design a search for the subjects touched upon, the statements made and, most interesting, I think, to the nature and the web of links that make up the world of blogs.
To some degree blog interpretation, he said, involves understanding a different form of communication.
“Blog entries have a different structure,” Ulicny said. “They are typically short and are about something external to the blog posting itself, such as a news event. It’s not uncommon for a blogger to simply state, ‘I can’t believe this happened,’ and then link to a news story.”
In this example, Ulicny said, there might not be much of interest in the blog posting, yet the fact that the blogger called attention to this story can be significant to understanding what matters.
The linking system is essential to blogging and, many times, is the entry itself. The PR department of the Office of Science Research used an example from the Islamic world (the great European cartoon brouhaha) but I question how easily this model can be used to monitor domestic bloggers and bloggers exercising basic freedoms around the world by analyzing their link choices.
It is a grave danger. Recently, in a Blogcritics article on Virginia Hall, a WWII heroine, I linked BC to the CIA. Had I written on the horror of the Oklahoma City bombing (by a home-grown terrorist) and linked to one of the survivalist sites that shows bomb-making recipes, would I be marked as a potential mad bomber? If someone else links to the Amputee Coalition of America or the American Heart Association, will they be denied medical insurance?
There are millions of such links that might be misconstrued or are just plain none of anyone's business. The point is blogging has been, seemingly, the forefront of personal freedom. Freedom is frightening to those who hold the reins of power.
What will happen with the Air Force' (and other intelligence agencies who will or have jumped into to blogo-fray) incursions into this world? Will the freedom be contained? Or has the Internet (originally a military toy) become too broad? Will blogging and vlogging (and whatever comes next) be too much for the snoopers to snoop?
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