Playing with Dynamite

For Chapter 14: "Nobody is Safe from Everybody"

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In the last post, Daniel Silverman of defended turning the phone records of the so-called "DC Madam" into an online search engine, even though non-public figures would be caught up in scandal.

But what about relevance, and what about proportion? I asked Silverman if the highest and best use of journalistic crowd-sourcing was dialing for adulterers. He couldn't see why not.

"In this case," he said, "you may not think that what we're doing has as much journalistic integrity as Karl Rove's emails or of Enron documents, but I think it's just a first step. And I think it shows that this is going to keep happening, and every time data is released there are going to be more and better tools developed to analyze that data, for anyone to analyze that data. And so, while this data may not reach the level that some people consider to be highly important, I think that the philosophy behind it and what we're trying to do is very applicable to a wide range of issues."

Not such an outlandish rationalization. Silverman is choosing to focus on the greater good, and not on what is in essence the Alfred Nobel problem. In 1867, Nobel invented dynamite, the first stable high explosive that revolutionized civil engineering. Highways, dams, tunnels – the infrastructure of the industrial age -- would have been primitive and limited without Nobel's discovery. Also warfare and terrorism – the other beneficiaries of his ingenuity, a fact that haunted Nobel to the day he died. is dynamite in the wrong hands – in this case because of the private nature of the behavior being investigated. The scale of the internet, combined with the anonymity and blind righteousness of the private-dick-o-sphere, exposes all of us to not only to the curiosity of the crowd, but also the malice. And there is no shortage of malice.
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