Freedom fighters issue call to arms - Diane Wagner

If everything goes right, we'll be looking back on this past Fourth of July as another historic Independence Day to celebrate in this country.

We'll be telling our children we were there, on July 4, 2003, when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab unveiled its Open Government Information Awareness Web site.

Actually, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if our children were there too. When http://opengov.media.mit.edu finally opened for business, traffic was so heavy that the system overloaded. It just goes to show that if you build a better mousetrap, people will surf a path to your door.

The site is MIT Media Lab's answer to the federal government's invasive Terrorism Information Awareness program (TIA), formerly referred to as Total Information Awareness. You remember; it's the Pentagon initiative designed to correlate every available bit of data on everyone in an effort to spot patterns that may scream "potential terrorist."

The Government Information Awareness site (GIA) does the same thing with politicians, CEOs, advisers, lobbyists and anyone else who seems to have a hand in how this country is run.

"In the United States, there is a widening gap between a citizen's ability to monitor his or her government and the government's ability to monitor a citizen," the GIA Home page so eloquently states.

At this site, you can look up a politician and find who's been giving him money, then click to the donor to see who else is benefiting from his largess. Then move over to the voting records to see if what you expected came to pass.

That, in itself, is not really special. Other Web sites track the same information. But GIA is meant to delve for deeper connections.

Who are fraternity brothers? Who owns adjacent vacation homes? Who holds seats on the same company board of directors? Who goes to the same church?

An interesting sidelight I noticed while clicking around the site is that the Episcopalians had pretty much of a lock on the presidency during this country's formative years. Except for that maverick Thomas Jefferson.

Anyway, the Media Lab freedom fighters have set up a framework with basic information and links, but the idea is that the community at large will continuously expand the collection with its contributions.

Some of the data will be faulty, of course – either fabricated or just plain wrong – and some will be useless or boring. But there will, hopefully, be tons to sift through and judge for value.

After all, that's what the government is doing to us. And, theoretically at least, we are the government.

Diane Wagner covers county government for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or dwagner@henryherald.com.