I'm jacking into net in some random office in downtown Vienna, and I'm introduced to the payment-system-in-a-jar. Paper and tokens and IOUs thrown in a big vase serves to manage coordination on an office wide scale of coffee, beer and juice. For my talk on community currencies I thought this would make a great example of a payment system on a local basis, so I lifted the entire thing, and carried the 40cm high jar, money, tokens, and paper included to the presentation.
This payment system (as I presented) can be stolen. It can be broken. Nice good Internet ones don't have that problem. It was a nice example, it worked and my audience enjoyed the huge jar of purloined coffee money. But as I walked back to the office I wondered whether they'd mind me purloining their payment system.
I needn't have worried. There was a party in progress, the local technical community was in a happy mood. As I pulled the huge jar out of my laptop bag, luckily unbroken, there were smiles and laughter, and I had to explain what I wanted it for.
And then, as I was explaining, I detected a complete lack of interest... with austrian lingo and one word sneaking through repeatedly: NSA. After some confusion, I found out that I was at the post-success party of the group that had just data mined the NSA.
How this happened was gathered in scattered conversations slipped between explanations of payment systems and crypto cert systems. People had signed up for a semi-secret mailing list, and when the archives were put online, they'd been downloaded. Now they're up online in some fashion, and there is discussion on what to do next. The next phases were explained ... but in some sense this was subject to change, so I'll skip that part.
It looks like the NSA made a few mistakes in migration of internal forums to external availability. That's not a bad thing; but they left a lot of internal stuff in the archives. Also, it looks to me like the stories that are being discussed are really a bad use of secrecy - the sort of political manouvering that was discovered on the lists should not have been secret, but subject to public review. It is after all the money of the taxpayer that is being abused in this debate.
The one story I did hear was a bureaucratic fight among the FBI, NSA and the Brits over who gets to set the biometrics standard. According to the mail list, the FBI is based on fingerprints so they want that. The NSA loves voice recognition, so that's their baby. But the Brits are all hot on iris recognition and they have the world wide patent.
Good one guys - this is the sort of debate that really needs to be conducted in the open, not under secrecy. We follow with interest, and now, I must go use the local payment system again to mine some more beers.Posted by iang at March 4, 2005 08:01 PM | TrackBack