Monday, September 15, 2008

The end of secrecy in 15 years

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It won't be long before just about everything is out in the open. At least that's the take of Donald Burke, the CIA Directorate of Science and Technology guru who spearheaded development of Intellipedia, the intelligence community's version of the Internet encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

Burke, who has the quite non-bureaucratic title of "Intellipedia Doyen" and serves as the leading proponent on the use of Web 2.0 technologies within the intelligence community, shared a bold prediction with attendees of the Director of National Intelligence Open Source Conference in Washington. The proliferation of new Web tools and technologies will mean the end of secrecy within 15 years, he said, with almost everyone and everything leaving "digital exhaust" that will be as hard to hide as what comes out the tailpipe of a car.

I know I leave some digital exhaust each time I use a credit card or book an airline ticket, but as Burke explained that's just the beginning of what most people will leave in their digital wake in the near future.

He predicted that the incorporation of Global Positioning System technology into cell phones will become near universal, meaning that the digital trail from the phones will make it easy to track the physical location of almost anyone in real time. And, as a NATO intelligence analyst who declined to be identified told me, Google Earth makes it real easy to plot that location on really good satellite-based images.

Security cameras are proliferating everywhere, Burk said, including on top of a growing number of police cruisers, which use the cameras to scan license plates automatically and check them against a database. This all leads to "unintended information aggregation" about people and their movements. This could be a boon to intelligence agents, but it's not good for those of us who value our privacy.