Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Dan Brown's newest on conspiracy?

I am still puzzled by the succes of Dan Brown. Over the last few days I read both Digital Fortress and Angels and Demons. Together with the Da Vinci Code these books share some common elements. ln all three we find a powerful secretive organisation that turns out to be less powerful at the end of the book. The NSA, the Priory of Sion and the Illuminati capture the imagination. The Catholic Church comes forward as the centre of power hungry individuals (mis)guided by faith both in DVC and A&D. The hero of the day is always that stuffy, naieve professor in the humanoria that stands tall in the face of hard science as well as devoted and trained killers. And, of course, our stuffy hero always gets the girl, who invariably is a stunning looking brainy independent career woman.

All books seem to be rooted in conspiracy theories. The idea of the Illuminati and the New World Order is mighty popular in the file-sharing communities. The idea is as original as the Protocols of the wise men of Sion and the Jewish-Communist-Masonic-Capitalist conspiracy to dominate the world. ‘Angels and Demons’ alludes to the power of conspiracy theories to capture the public’s imagination. lf anything, the Da Vinci Code proves how far the people are willing to believe those theories.

‘Digital Fortress’ deals with a more interesting question: ‘who guards the guardians’. How to view powerful intelligence organisations that are capable and willing to monitoring traffic in the digital realm? The discussion about Echelon is almost ancient history. Then there was the Patriot Act and the listening in on domestic phone calls in the USA. In various other democratic countries intelligence gathering is continuously pushing against the fence of civil liberties, pulling it down in many cases. The argument ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear’ doesn’t cut it. As a member of a religious organisation that has been persecuted throughout modern times by democratic and dictatorial governments alike, even to this n present day, and as someone who has nothing to hide, the argument is not comforting. Who guards the guardians?

At the recent HOPE conference a hacker was arrested before he could give a presentation about identity in the digital realm. The hacker showed that with some simple so cial engineering and use of public domain information tons of information about us are readily available. Future applicants are warned that their exploits in the digital realm might turn up someday in a job interview, courtesy of Google. Now, these two things should be more worrying then the NSA trying to read my 100+ daily email messages. I don’t mind them reading about some pastoral work, but I do mind some two bit H&R staffer discarding my application for a high-level position because 15 years ago I wrote something nasty about Windows in an obscure Linux newsgroup (where it would have been digital suicide to say something nice about Windows).

If this trend is to continue the future is determined by these self-appointed guardians, who pave the way for the Illiterati, a secret society of techno Luddites founded in the Middle Ages to protect a terrible secret: the source code for secure Windows. Microsoft will stop at nothing to halt the Illiterati in their slow advent to world rulership. Unknown to himself, Linus Torvalds is send out to unravel to mysteries of the Illiterati. He will find out that the Windows logo is an exact replica of the glass in lead window of an ancient church in the gobi dessert, where an african juju man is found dead with an ambigram saying Vista burned on his chest.
For sale in the fall of 2007. ;-).

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