You may have heard that a consortium of journalists, working on a cache of 2.5 million recently spilled files, has cracked open the secrets of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts, exposing hidden dealings of politicians, con men and mega-rich the world over. If preliminary reports prove to be true, it would be a revelation ten times larger than last year’s WikiLeaks Affair and vastly more important. Indeed, it could portend the start of a worldwide radical movement for transparency that I forecast (including – for dramatic effect – a world war on Switzerland) in my 1989 novel Earth.
For starters, see a chart detailing ongoing investigations worldwide. Scan a wide range of reactions, from Russian officials, Europeans and others:
This event appears to prove the contention I made back in 1989, in Earth — that even world elites will have to adapt to a world much more filled with light. Specifically, these revelations may have short, intermediate and long term consequences. In the near term, some cheaters and kleptocrats will be caught and some laws tightened, some cheat-havens hemmed in, public awareness and anger incrementally raised.
The intermediate effect will be to cause the kleptos and New Oligarchs to pay more for increasingly clever methods of concealment, evasion and manipulation. Remain cynical, it will take a lot more than this. A whole lot more.
But over the longer term, a whole lot more is simply inevitable. We will see cascades of sudden revelation as these skulking methods prove inherently unreliable. They will be undermined by defections-of-conscience and by self-serving whistle blowers. By the fallibility of software and by the venality of henchmen. They will crack and leak, in any world that is short of Orwellian. At which point the world will choose. Shall we endure a return to the long, 6000 year era of law-protected oligarchy? Or will this signal the return to vigor of a civilization that is kept healthy by openness and accountability and light?
Yes, I am putting it in dramatic – even manichean – terms. And I have probably understated the importance of the coming series of confrontations. In fact, let’s make the prediction even more explicit than I made in Earth.
FORECAST: This movement may be propelled – soon – by one or more radicalized nations in the developing world. Not radicalized by socialism or religion or dogmatic frenzy, but by the appearance of a new class of honest, grownup leaders at their helms. Imagine the fury that those leaders and their people will feel, when they suddenly realize just how much of their national wealth wealth was siphoned away by their own former kleptocrat lords.
Vast amounts that those thieves took with them into exile. Example: The Philippine Presidential Commission on Good Government probe into the disclosure that Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, the eldest daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was a beneficiary of a secret offshore trust of prodigious proportions, in the British Virgin Islands…
Now extrapolate this and you start to understand why the Swiss and other haven bankers have recently seemed willing – even eager – to strike semi-transparency deals with tax authorities in Europe and North America. (1) Because those big countries have dangerous klout that must be placated by tossing overboard some merely-rich, sub-billionaire clients. But far more likely – (2) because the real business of lucrative banking secrecy lies in that mountain of klepto-hoards looted from much poorer nations. By striking deals with the IRS and EU tax boards, they hope to prevent alliances between developed and developing nations, in a grand consortium for transparency.
Only it won’t work. Eventually, some nation like the Phillipines, or Indonesia or the former Zaire will be led by people graced with honesty, imagination and courage. Leaders who figured out, in advance, the pitfall traps such as blackmail.
There are things that such nations and peoples can do — exceptional, dramatic and boldly effective things — that could transform the world. There are ways. And when it happens, remember where you first heard this.*
== Pay attention… this is important ==
You Americans out there who actually want a return to a vigorous, problem solving nation, where politics is about negotiation and the Peoples’ will and not regression into feudalism, you must pay attention to this. There is really nothing more urgent you will watch, probably ever! Because the ability of the American Experiment to remain healthy and solve every problem hangs in the balance.
I mean it. Watch: Lawrence Lessig: We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim.
But this next matter is paramount, as well. One issue where I am a flaming, no-compromise radical, is a citizen’s right to record encounters with authority, especially the police. Now the Obama Justice Department has made things starkly and abundantly clear. It is now “settled law” that anyone is allowed to record or photograph police officers in public.
A statement of interest – a legal term for when an agency or organization has a stake in the outcome of a trial, but not direct involvement – filed in the case of Mannie Garcia v. Montgomery County, Md., upholds the right of individuals to photograph police under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. This is more important than it may seem. Most cops are hardworking and well-intentioned men and women. Their instincts – inherited from ancient eras – are understandable… and must not be allowed to prevail in this matter.
But even as “settled law” it will be very very hard. Note these cases:
The NYPD and Mayor Bloomberg oppose surveillance of police. See? Even “openness” democrats can’t be trusted in this issue.
San Diego police attack, arrest man video recording them, claiming his phone could be weapon.
Dinosaurs. In fact, this new era of omni-veillance will be essential and will help make policing easier! Especially if citizens feel they are partners and not victims. Take this example. NYPD fails to catch mugger for three weeks, but internet commenters catch him in one hour. My “smart mobs” from Existence, taking form already.
Then it all moves to a new front. “The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act,” prohibits filming or taking pictures on livestock farms to “defame the facility or its owner.” Violators would be placed on a “terrorist registry.” Terrorism? This was prompted by animal rights groups video-recording scenes of horrific sadism and cruelty on farms and in slaughterhouses… going far beyond the normal bloody business necessitated by the carnivorality industry. This was exactly the sort of transparency that the industry ought to want, in order to rid themselves of vicious monsters, the way pedophiles are kept out of schools. When they get used to this and embrace it, the owners will have a cleaner and more efficient – and less Karma-burdened – business.
And related news — A judge has blocked Iowa State University from releasing documents about food safety research conducted for the beef-processing company that makes the product dubbed “pink slime” by critics. At the level of details, there are actually reasons for compromise in this case. At the level of principle, none at all.
This is not as crucial a situation as the taping of citizen contacts with police. But it matters and light must be allowed to shine.
Oh, but sinking lower than slaughterhouses… on a secretly-recorded tape, GOP Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and his advisors are heard laughing and joking about opposition research they had on actress Ashley Judd, who had been considering running against McConnell next year. Many Democratic groups blasted McConnell for the remarks, disgusted by the fact McConnell would potentially use Judd’s suicidal thoughts as a child against her. In reactionn came a firestorm or protest against eavesdropping by “leftist agitators.” Um, get used to it. Stop being led by crude people. Go back to choosing grownups. It really is that simple.
Interesting times indeed.
== Augmented reality… and catching liars ==
Compare these two images of Rome during the election of the last pope in 2005 and more recently in 2013. Then contrast the images to my descriptions of “tru-vu goggles” in EARTH (1989) and the gel-lens stalks people wear in 2048, portrayed in EXISTENCE. How quickly are we moving toward the world of Augmented Reality (AR)?
Indeed, after reading that article, ponder my 1980 novel Sundiver in which vision-based lie-detectors (inescapable, wherever there is light) utterly transform politics.
I predict that by 2016 there will be lurid claims from “experts” on all sides, claiming to catch fibs by opponents talking in public or on TV… experts who are then “shown” to be lyingI It will be chaos, at first. Then this stuff will become an App. And by 2020 or 2024? A useful tool> Possibly a sieve for psychopaths and monsters? Can you see yet why – for so many reasons – the clade of already-powerful psychopaths is growing desperate?
== And more transparency crux-points ==
Perching: Video, released by the Air Vehicle Directorate, shows a pigeon-like drone that can draw power from an electrical wire while its camera watches a target. These and other new-style drones are part of a fascinating and problematic future. Stay alert.
In a fascinating article, Technology Review explains how a huge black market has developed for “zero-day” systemic flaws in programs and operating systems, especially in mobile devices. These can be exploited by governments or corporations of criminal gangs, especially in mobiles, that get infrequent security updates. A cottage industry of hackers now swops in to find flaws and back doors and chinks in security and then sells them at high prices. The article raises this as a scary scenario… but in fact I am not so sure. Isn’t this how an immune system functions? T Cells that discover an invader and ways to neutralize it are rewarded within your own body; they are given resources to reproduce. Is that any different from a government agency saying: “Come to us with your clever discovery of a flaw. We’ll pay better than the criminals do… and you won’t risk jail.” See: the Malware industrial complex and the trade in zero-day vulnerabilities.
A multinational security firm has secretly developed software called RIOT capable of tracking people’s movements and predicting future behavior by mining data from social networking websites. Riot can display on a spider diagram the associations and relationships between individuals online by looking at who they have communicated with over Twitter. It can also mine data from Facebook and sift GPS location information from Foursquare, a mobile phone app used by more than 25 million people to alert friends of their whereabouts. The Foursquare data can be used to display, in graph form, the top 10 places visited by tracked individuals and the times at which they visited them.
Curious whether a prescription or medical device your doctor is recommending comes from a manufacturer who has been paying your doctor? Good news, then: The federal government has finally developed a plan for how the Physician Payments Sunshine Act will work. The Sunshine Act, made federal law as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, was designed to allow anyone — patients, doctors, journal editors — to look up which doctors are getting how much from which companies.
== And yet MORE transparency news… ==
See the stunningly huge number of new top level domains that are under consideration by ICANN.
These guys consulted me. Koozoo envisions a world where a network of smartphone cameras will anticipate your needs and offer streaming video that fills them. But that’s future talk. For now, it will just put up cameras anywhere it can.
In the wake of the famous WikiLeaks events, a large number of emulation sites popped up around the world, aiming to blow the whistle on corruption from Bulgaria to India to Nicaragua. Most of these clones never got very far and appear to have all but shut down. Balkanleaks seems to be just one of a handful still actively receiving and publishing new documents. (Note, I long supported Witness since 1990 or so, a more robust model that does not rely on inherently fragile encryption methods.) As I described in The Transparent Society, maintaining methods of aggressive accountability, threatening the dark secrets of powerful men, is a dangerous game and secret codes are only the tip of what’s required.
States are pondering or passing laws to restrict the use of drones for camera use in the skies over public realms like highways. This is not where we should be concentrating our freedom and privacy protecting efforts. All such laws will do is hamper the good aspects of drone use while compelling elites of government and wealth to make their surreptitious drones smaller. More like birds and insects and harder to detect. The failure of imagination of these people….
The thing we need is not to try to blind elites… that has never ever worked. (Show me one historical example. One.) What we must pursue is sousveillance, our ability to look back at power. to see with our own drones etc. And, above all, to make fresh, agile deals every time an issue like this comes up.
“You say that you, our protectors, need more vision to better protect the public? Fine. But in return you must undergo more supervision. Citizens in the control rooms. Citizens on the panels that issue licenses. Webcams in boardrooms. You may see better, in order to serve us better. But you are a watchdog, not a wolf! And here is your choke chain. Accept it – and your role as a public servant – or else we will hire others.”
== And more! ==
Brad Foster puts into perspective the ever-rising tsunami of information and how crushing is the hypersonic waves of… bullshit. Just a few small examples: Netflix consumes a THIRD of all internet traffic. Four billion shares on Facebook every day. Eric Schmidt of Google says 5 exabytes of information were created by humanity till 1980. We now create that much every two days. Frost goes a bit over the top in his denunciations and diagnoses, but he concludes there has never been a better time for people to find ways around the BS and slim down, in order to be creative, or useful, or focus on what you can do that does (or is) some good.
Political note: The FCC and Obama Department of Justice appear to be leaning toward favoring smaller mobile phone companies in releasing more cell tower spectrum, in order to encourage more competition with Verizon and AT&T. This may be a crucial sign of sentiment as the FCC also decides whether to release spectrum for major citizen-access use of WiFi type systems anywhere in the continent.
== Brin on Beck? Via Penn Jillette? The strange world of Transparency ==
I was mentioned on Glenn Beck! In a “surprisingly cordial discussion” between Glenn Beck and Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller). Penn mentioned me twice, citing The Transparent Society (about 34 and 41 minutes in). I consider Penn to be a true paladin of freedom, worthy of my greatest compliment… that he and I would both have been quickly burned at the stake under any tyranny. (You, too, should strive to be burnable!) But in this wondrous civilization he and I are instead well paid to provoke and stir the pile, joyously yelling at each other and in all directions. Progress indeed.
Beck? Well, he was courteous and calm on this occasion. Go watch a discussion between a sane-openminded (though rambunctiously provocative) true-libertarian and a tendentiously delusional faux-libertarian shill for the new lords… but still a good mind-stretch for those of you who need to wallow now and then, in smart perspectives that challenge you.
== Coda ==
A final set of sad notes. I have spoken elsewhere of the terrible news that both Jay Lake and Iain Banks are in desperate fights against cancer. I will speak more of that later. (They are great writers and let’s all send our best vibes.) Now comes news that the son of eminent science fiction author Dave Wolverton – AKA David Farland – suffered a terrible accident recently. Past fans of Dave’s work – or folks interested in trying something new – might have a look at his novel Nightingale… or else, if you are a would be writer, consider Million Dollar Outlines, in which Dave offers would-be best-sellers advice how to analyze an audience and outline a novel so that it can appeal to a wide readership.
* Oh, but by then I may have been bribed into denying it all! No serious offers so far. You – the smart public – should feel insulted by that! Think about it.