Usually the Pentagon expends time and technological effort to protect information. But now the far-out researchers at Darpa are looking for a few good futurists to help the Obama administration declassify reams of national security documents.
In a new challenge for programmers and the corporations that employ them, Darpa asks interested parties to provide “new technology or innovative existing technology” to help determine what secret documents the government can responsibly declassify. “Striking the critical balance between openness and secrecy is difficult but a necessary part of our democratic form of government,” reads a pre-bidding solicitation the defense geeks issued last week. “Striking this balance becomes more difficult as the volume and complexity of the information increases.”
I’ll be honest: I’m not exactly sure what kind of technological solution you can build to facilitate declassification. From the way the challenge is structured, it sounds like a semantic-search problem: Plug in keywords that help you comb through deserts of stored information in the bowels of the Pentagon and the intelligence community, and figure out whether the results of the fishing expedition can be tossed out from the depths onto dry land in accordance with declassification policies. But that’s a matter of building an algorithm, something that might be too, well, quotidian for Darpa.
But that might be where the new National Declassification Center’s head is at. In an interview last year with Federal News Radio, its chief, Neil Carmichael, said he was drowning in different types of material. “The challenge is always going to be the media,” Carmichael said. “Is it on microfilm, or microform, is it film, is it electronic. In NATO, some parts of that government are paperless. The challenge is that in the past, I was always chained to the technology, Today, I can send an e-mail to 500 people, and I lose control. Twenty-five years from now, how do we declassify something like that?”
Maybe start with a scanner or a voice recorder? Or just give everything over to WikiLeaks? (Just kidding.)
Seriously, though, it sounds more like a policy problem than a technological problem to us — you need define what’s suitable for declassification, whether in terms of government Tweets or microfilm, before you can start building apps — but we’re not going to be able to win any lucrative Darpa contracts with that attitude. Think you’ve got an answer? You’ve got until Oct. 10 to bid.
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Monday, October 17, 2011
Darpa Wants You To Build An Anti-Secrecy App | Danger Room