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ministry of information

June 4th, 2003

I found this story [indyweek.com] linked from Jeffery Zeldman Presents [www.zeldman.com].

Basically:
School sets up new computer system
Student starts online journal
Computer system has serious problem
Rumors at school say someone hacked the system

Student posts journal entry entitled ‘Someone hacked the Gibson’

School initiates investigation of computer system problem
Student is called to office
Student is interrogated by two supposed FBI agents — who turn out to be FBI Agents in training (no clearance yet!)

Best part of the story:

Freaked out by what she thought was a brush with the feds, Carter went home and decided to close down her experiment with online expression. True to its name, “Text into Nothing” disappeared with a few commands from Carter’s keyboard. In its place, she posted a farewell missive that warned her readers to lie low: “To anyone who has ever posted on my journal: I am sorry. The FBI most likely has your IP address and your blog address/e-mail address if you posted that. The FBI has been reading my diary.”

Carter described how she’d been interrogated about the blog, and wrote that, given recent events, “I am sorry that I’ve had an online journal. I would highly recommend anyone to take down theirs.” Carter says that the main lesson she’s learned is that it’s time to retreat from posting personal information online. “I know that the government now has forever my extremely personal teenage diary,” Carter concluded. “Hell yes, I’m mad. I will no longer be posting in this
diary.”

First off, any FBI agent working with or in training to be part of the ‘High Tech Crime Task Force’ should be familiar with movies like Hackers, Sneakers, War Games and the like. Because they are, no matter how unrealistic, a part of hacker culture.

Secondly, anyone who post ANYTHING to the Internet should have no expectation of any privacy. The Internet by default is in the public domain — and chances are that anything you have ever posted has been cataloged, categorized and indexed by Google and one or more branches
of the government. Not only are the things you put on the Internet out there for anyone to read — so is a lot of stuff you would not think about. Many localities and government bodies have been or are posting records to the Internet. Things that have long been in the public record but where only accessible by someone who bothered to go through the effort to fill out requests or go to the records building can now search for information online — court proceedings, police records and other things that could contain information on you. This is the stuff privacy advocates scream about. The Internet is no more than a ‘ministry of information’ which is not run by big brother, but is usable by him — or anyone else who cares to.

At least she got the moral: if you don’t want it to be public information — keep it off the Internet.

And honey! Use a brush!

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