“Zones of Domination”
In 2000, science fiction author Neal Stephenson gave an inspiring talk at the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy (CFP) conference. He entitled it “Zones of Domination.” In the talk, he told the story of a whistleblower at the Hanford Nuclear Reactor. In the “big brother” model of authority, there is one entity and it is irredeemably evil. In Stephenson’s story, he followed our heroic whistleblower as forces from one federal government agency tried to frighten and falsely entrap him, but then the police and courts (local and federal) helped him resist and prevail. Stephenson’s point is that there is not one authority, but many. None are irredeemably evil. And the interesting activity is in the areas of overlap.
Roger Clarke posted some notes on the talk. He summarizes:
Big Brother Threat Model The Domination Systems Threat Model one threat many threats all-encompassing has edges personalised impersonal abstract concrete rare ubiquitous fictional empirical centralised networked 20th century 21st century irredeemable redeemable apocalyptic realistic
(Roger Clarke, http://www.rogerclarke.com/DV/NotesCFP2K.html#Steph, 2000)
In much of the rhetoric about the Wikileaks incident, it seems to me that people are using a naive “Big Brother” model of government. The Government is one thing, and it is irredeemably evil. We can come to a more nuanced understanding of the situation by adopting a Zones of Domination model. There is not one univocal government–there are many interacting entities. None are irredeemable. The enemy is bureaucracy and opacity. The key to achieving just ends is increasing accountability and transparency within and between branches of government.
In the end, what we have is the hardest research problem in Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) one could imagine. And the most important. How do we increase transparency within and between branches of government? How do we do that and at the same time keep sensitive information secure? The presence of the Bradley Manning’s of the world makes this critical problem orders of magnitude harder.