A serious game of hacky sack
This week’s editorial will focus on —
We interrupt for a message from somewhere deep in the sub-sub-basement of the Kremlin:
Vladimir Putin is the greatest world leader ever. He has a black belt in judo so he can drain the swamp and kick some ass at the same time. He used to be a KGB agent so he’ll never be surprised by backroom deals. He —
Oops. Technical difficulties. Not to worry. You can trust us for —
— loves to wrestle bears and so should have no trouble wrestling donkeys and elephants when he comes to Washington to rescue you Yanks from this dumb democracy thing you —
Sorry about that. We’re back. Everything’s OK. Don’t worry your pretty little heads. Lack of security is just one of the prices we have to pay for convenience of modern technology.
Do we? With more and more people clamoring to put more and more important information online, the fact that we can trust less and less of what we see there is one of the biggest threats to democracy today.
With newspapers, we have verified, independently printed records of everything that’s gone on in Marion County for the past 152 years. We have copies in our office. The library does, too. So does the state historical society. So do the attics of every other resident of the county who at one point or another decided to save something of familial significance.
With websites and social media, we have some real stuff, some fake stuff, some propaganda from Russia, and some pranks pulled by persons unknown — or, at least, not yet accused and convicted — who do such things as redirect internet searches for the city of Marion website to sites that sell little whatever-color-they-are pills for erectile dysfunction.
Oh, they also contain, until they suddenly vanish into the ether, what all too often have become the only official and complete records of most of our laws.
Think of the fun Vladimir and disgruntled or dishonest government workers can have with that!
So what does government do? What it always does: throw money at the problem by spending big bucks with distant companies to create supposedly safe websites like what the county has done or every school district in the county has done, all hiring the same outside firm.
It’s false security at best. As any hacker knows, there are only two types of websites: those that have been hacked and those that will be hacked. Not even the companies that vow they have the best security in the business can claim 100% success, and none of them can guarantee that a disgruntled or dishonest employee of one of their clients won’t alter what’s supposed to be sacrosanct online.
Internet technology is alluring because it’s supposed to enable anyone to do anything, and it sort of does. How many times have you heard that any school kid can fix any problem with any computer? Apparently local governments don’t employee school kids. That’s why they continually spend tons more money on outside technicians to clean up messes they’ve made with computers than they spend on janitors to clean up messes they make in and around their offices.
It’s also why it took six days before problems we pointed out with Marion’s website were fixed — even though our best estimate is that the problem is caused by just a handful of lines of malicious coding some human being with authorized access manually inserted into one particular file we identified.
Now is the time to tell state legislators to get off the information superhighway before democracy gets run over in the process. It’s time to ban the practice of allowing local governments to print only vague summaries of new laws and promise that the full text will be online when virtually every municipality in the county has complained about the difficulty of getting such items posted in an accurate and timely manner.
Why do legislators insist on using a medium that as much as 35% of the county can’t use even if it wanted to? The big companies that cost local governments big bucks for online hosting undoubtedly donate to campaigns. Unlike hometown newspapers that get only a fraction of that money for publishing legal notices, they never write news articles or editorials criticizing elected officials.
So screw the newspapers, kowtow to contributors, and pass the whole thing off as trying to save money when what’s really happening is sending big bundles of taxpayers’ dollars out of the community and trying to reduce the few pennies of it that stay at home, with newspapers that cover actual news, not just the idle rants of loudmouths and the self-centered posts of those who think the world cares what they ate for lunch and where.
At stake is far more than you might think. Vladimir’s listening. Are you?
— ERIC MEYER