Monday, September 29, 2003

Local made, national effect

More on America's new MATRIX profiling database system - now that they've canned the TIA project, they need something to replace it.

The interesting thing is that they seemd to have learnt from the fact that a specific, single point of entry is much too easy to focus attention on. By drawing lots of attention to the TIA and Mr Poindexter, the government gave critics something to aim at. However, there are enough people that want this technology in every state thatit's plausible to introduce it one or two, then a few more, a dozen (which is where we are now), and pretty soon it's a majority, all independently running their own installation of the same system. After that, it's so very very childlike-y simple to pass data between the systems without anyone really noticing. It is a form of emergent decentralisation, and plays exactly the same game that hackers/terrorists/grass-roots/etc organisations have found necessary, but for different reasons. It relies on the fact that communicaiton is so easy, and that once you have all the pieces in place of their own accord, joining the dots is natural.

The danger here is that the similarly decentralised structure of the majority of the critics has come to see things as an "all-against-one" thing. Their scattered, yet flexible structure can be quickly brought to bear upon a particular entity, or a specific meme, and all of the power emanating from that collective focused like a magnifying glass harnessing a sunbeam. But that is not what's needed in this situation, for two reasons.

Firstly, the nature of the "threat" is not singular, as described above, which makes the organisation of the critics' passions a lot harder, although if they can manage it then they would be all the stronger.

Secondly, it is closely tied to geographical boundaries and areas, and thanks to judicial legacies being what they are, it may be that each state can (and should) be accountable to its own inhabitants.

This has the unfortunate effect of dividing the critics, and I suspect that there is a tendency for them to cluster in certain geographical areas. So while there may be a lot of negativity over the project in one state, the dissenting voices therein may have no impact on another state. While this may not necessarily be a bad thing, it makes the "universal" collative power of decentralised criticism unimplementable, or at least on a smaller scale. This lack of "entropy" within critics' geography may be extremely disadvantageous.

It'll be interesting to see how well the "enabling" power of the net manages to cope with a more subtle issue. Or maybe that's just human attention for you ;)

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