Open Source Secrecy and the “Self-Governing” Web

December 3, 2006 § 1 Comment

In the Dec. 3 NY Times Sunday edition magazine is an article on US spy agencies and information technology.

The article traces the history of spying in relationship to information-gathering technologies, focusing on the reluctance of the competing agencies to embrace a new model for intelligence, Intellipedia (based on the open source wiki form of wikipedia). Of interest to me are the implicit anxieties and tensions that are manifest around the attempt to appropriate the idea of open source communication for the esoteric and largely paranoid activities of Intelligence and spying.

While there are some fascinating arguments made for how exactly the ability to track “connectedness” would, in theory, augment spying operations, the coherence of the ideas expressed trip over the very concepts inherent to open source logic. Indeed, the term “self-governing” is employed in this article to describe the theoretical and practical foundations to wiki and blog environments. Distributed authority is the repressed element at play here, and it has become an issue at the center of so many recent debates over the efficacy of wiki-driven information sources (academics, for example, have become increasingly ant-wikipedia of late, despite indications that corrections to intentional and unintentional “errors” are more efficiently dealt with than in more conventional media forms).

Public and private authority and ownership are being entirely re-configured by new technologies and media forms like wikis and blogs. Interestingly, the theories and concepts that inform such technologies are in conflict with an economic and social system organized around the protection of ownership envisioned as the fundamental right to private capital — policing has its roots in the formation of nation-states and capital, even in their most nascent forms. Or, can we detect in this article the mutation of a new form of capitalist logic?

A parallel phenom, I think, is the recent hyper-attention focused on the Russian spy, Litvinenko. Exemplary of how bodies are now becoming media states and media effects themselves, this event works across mulltiple registers in the public imaginary. The use of Polonium-210 has captured our imagination precisely because it so fully manifests the confused elements surrounding the technology of terror amid late-stage capitalism: here is a substance that spreads and contaminates, taking life, but is difficult to detect in its lethal form; and moreover, here is a weapon that can move through the social body without incurring harm, but becomes deadly when it finds its way inside the biological body. What better example of a world caught between the technological, social, and discursive frames of Cold War mentalities, where technologies and bodies, like information, can be atomized and isolated, and an emergent wiki-constructivist system of meaning that registers specific types of “connectedness” as the discriminating agent in determing where bodies begin and end; where systems of mediation and information conjoin and proliferate as “cells” (here, we have to be able to glimpse a closed form and an open system operating simultaneously).

A kind of “self-governance,” to be sure.


§ One Response to Open Source Secrecy and the “Self-Governing” Web

  • Son Bromwell says:

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