You Have Been De-centralized!

There is temporary bi-partisan outrage at the recent revelations about PRISM and BARNEY and other strangely named programs. Rightfully so. Perhaps it is time for a new version of the Church Commission. The Digital Version. The last time I believe we have seen this type of temporary bipartisanship in the nation’s capitol was actually right after the tragedy of 9.11. So let us unite in a great cause then. Preserving our democracy.

Governments around the world are kind of missing the point. The point is not that they can siphon off our digital lives and chew on the digital breadcrumbs we all leave behind. The point is not that they are spying on us. That part should have been pretty obvious to anyone paying attention to Democracy since the Patriot Act was first written, then edited and updated and added to and continually re-authorized. But don’t kid yourself. This is not new.

The point is: The world has become de-centralized. Your life is decentralized in ways you could not have imagined even 10 years ago. You carry the power of what was the world’s most powerful computer 20 years ago in your pocket now. What used to take the resources of a government agency or large commercial entity can now be done by the crowd-sourcing of your life. You want the best new restaurant in town? Ask your friends on facebook. Need to get instant feedback on something? Tweet it. Want people to do a deep dive on something or really read it? Post it on Google+ or blog it. The point is. That we all can access information about anyone, anytime, almost as simply as by asking.

Technology has just rapidly increased the capabilities and speed of something that in one form or another has been going on for centuries. Governments have long spied on mail sent through postal services. The telegraph and telephone scaled that into a more real time (sort of) methodology. Now we have satellites, digital transmissions and our knowledge skills and access to powerful technology on a scale never seen in human history before. So governments are spying. So are big businesses. Every time you fill out a form online, or submit a sweepstakes entry, or use your credit card, or phone, or email, or go online, or drive your GPS enabled car.

Who then is really Big Brother? Governments around the world using spy gear and deep packet inspections to virtually rape your online life, or the corporations doing the exact same things, and or worse? Welcome to the future. Your future decentralized life. It is here now. Complete with two big brothers. Governments and Corporations.

Brazil Govcamp shows continued Gov 2.0 Global Growth

Brazil “BrasilGov2.0” Govcamp shows the Global Growth of Gov 2.0 and Open Government

Governments and the people they serve around the world are struggling to adapt to a new reality of real time information, demands for openness and transparency and more efficient service delivery. There is tremendous enthusiasm and interest in the utilization of social media, mobile and open data tools to remake the term “Government” as we know it.

Until recently, the majority of Government 2.0 initiatives were undertaken in places like the United States, Britain, Australia, Germany and Japan to name the leaders. The continued blossoming of this movement is taking hold in many other countries too like Brazil. Coming soon to Sao Paulo, Brazil is the next part of the dialog continuum.

Some recent examples of Open Government, and Gov 2.0 initiatives in Brazil:



my friend Michael Walsh had this to say about Plone use in Brazil in a recent blog on Govfresh.

More on Gov 2.0 in Brazil: This is an example of how the Government of Brazil is using Open Source software and solutions as an early adopter of the Open Government movement. So this makes Microsoft’s involvement even more inclusive and shows the depth to which this global company is looking outside itself as part of the effort to bring Government 2.0 and E-government to a reality around the world.

Government 2.0 requires the input, participation of many parties – obviously governments, also the big and small companies that service them, and of course the people. As a result there have been many conferences and “camps” that have sprung up to address the educational and collaborative needs of this emerging industry.

Microsoft is sponsoring Govcamp Brazil this coming June 8, 2011 with the idea of creating an open learning environment for anyone interested in Gov 2.0 in Brazil. While the event does require registration, it is open to all, whether Microsoft devotees or open source advocates. In fact, Microsoft is actively seeking the participation of as broad a group as possible to facilitate a collaborative dialog and create a new level of understanding. This represents a major part of Gov 2.0 – openness.

Rodrigo Becerra of Microsoft provided this insight:

“We believe that local communities have the passion, skills and insight to drive Gov 2.0 and OpenGov efforts on their own and we simply want to be able to provide a platform upon which they can dig deep into these issues. This is a space for creating connections to happen between citizens, organizations, groups and governments that may otherwise not exist. We have done them in Berlin, Mexico City, Colombia, Moscow, Russia, Toronto, Sydney, Wellington, Boston, Lisbon and will sponsor the Brazil event in the coming month. We specifically have local organizing committees run each event. We conduct them all in local language and invite social media, competitors and partners to revel in the discourse to help drive the progress of the Gov 2.0 movement.”

As the founder of Gov20LA in Los Angeles, California, I am thrilled to see how far and fast the Gov 2.0 movement is growing around the World. It is really encouraging to see this transformative change happening in places not often thought of for progressive thinking with regard to Government.

In full disclosure: I am an adviser to the Brazil Govcamp and am very excited to see what develops in this first ever Gov 2.0 Camp in Brazil.

Gov 2.0 gets the short end?

There is a huge amount of news pouring out of the middle east right now. Oil prices are shooting up. The “stable” countries in the area are eyeing their “unstable” neighbors quite warily and there is tremendous unease in general.

One of the by-products of the strife, conflict and chaos occurring in the Middle East has been a laser like focus on the role that social media has been playing in the drama unfolding daily in a new country, almost country by country. One facet that has made social media have the impact it has had is the shortness of messaging allowed by services like Twitter and now Facebook as well as other sharing sites.

As anyone who has used Twitter more than once knows, the easiest way to submit a long link (url-uniform resource locator) is to shorten the link using anyone of other popular shorteners available for free and in paid versions. If you use a client like tweetdeck, the odds are you use a shortener powered by something ending with .ly (the extension) When you shorten, you cloak the real url, and re-direct the user to another – which in itself is a recipe for disaster. When you add in executable code that can be like a payload – with ddos, malware or other problematic attacks embedded. Your computer could turn it on without you even knowing, simply through the act of the redirect itself.

(Now I am about to say some things that will get some people annoyed so a disclaimer of sorts: I am not attacking any company nor service with the .ly extensions. Rather I am asking some questions in the hopes of helping to create some constructive answers and help allay some fears in the user base.)

This is an even huger problem as the .ly extensions are clearly and most definitely controlled by Libya. It is up to the Government of Libya to approve, deny or block content and users of .ly extensions according to both Islamic law and Libyan law. Libya is violently cracking down on it’s citizens and is using threats of and actually shutting down the internet. Why should Western companies think they are going to stay away from these troubles?

So not only is there a threat of shutdown – there is the more pernicious problem of the potential abuse of any redirect necessitated in any shortener program. These shorteners start executable code on your computer to do the re-direct. You don’t always know where you are being sent. Recently the Isreali government demonstrated that DDOS and other malicious code can be inserted into the backend of shorteners, a stern warning any government should be paying attention to. The United States Government recently issued it’s own shortener, based on professional (paid) version with some changes to the T.O.S. and other things. They have a secondary company supporting this. To the credit of the GSA, when I inquired through a tweet about the use of .ly shorteners with regard to Government agencies and the current crisis, I got a real response within minutes showing Gov 2.0 in use. However I seriously question the reliance on a company that is in turn relying on an extension controlled by a brutal dictatorship with no regard to human rights let alone western corporate rights. There are other shortener companies that do not rely on the .ly extensions. Why create a potential back door for mischief? I talked to many federal workers today, and received many emails and direct messages with varying degrees of use/non-use of the .ly extensions. One thing became very clear. In this age of Gov 2.0 and Web 2.0 – we need to be careful to guard against the rush of technology leading to rash decision making.

There has been a spate of recent stories about the problems with shorteners in general, and .ly extensions specfically, long before the current problems heated up. So I would suggest to the U.S. Government, and to other Governments, that they look seriously at using non .ly related shorteners, and come up with a way to take the mischief component out of the equation, in a bid to make the internet a safer place while still keeping the immediacy of the message intact.

Update: has issued some statements on Quora as well as it’s own website with regard to the status of the .ly extensions. There still seems to be confusion over what would happen with a full shutdown, as there is a 28 day report period after which Icann will not take further information from a non addressing extension. At the same time, there are multiple hosting points, and of the 5 for .ly only 2 are in Libya. So while this provides some clarity – it does not address the payload issue, or why the shortener industry decided to rely on .ly extensions which still fall under the Islamic/Libyan law situation I laid out above.

re-posted from