Heather Brooke is the American-trained "data journalist" who upended British politics when she moved to the UK and began to use the UK's Freedom of Information law to prise apart the dirty secrets of power and privilege, most notably by exposing the expense cheating by Members of Parliament. Brooke's latest book is The Revolution will be Digitised: Dispatches from the Information War, a history of her involvement in the Wikileaks cable-dumps and a meditation on the meaning and role of data-driven journalism in the coming years, as governments ramp up their attempts to lock down the Internet, and journalists, hackers, and activists attempt to open things further.
Brooke is uniquely situated to produce this analysis as someone who was both part of the Cablegate dump and someone who reported on it. She documents her odd and sometimes unpleasant dealings with Assange as well, but the Assange story isn't the most important aspect of Cablegate or this book, and Brooke's focus is thankfully on the broader narrative. This isn't another book that treats the Wikileaks phenomenon as a cult-of-personality story revolving around one person.
Brooke journeys to the hacker scenes in Berlin, San Francisco and Boston, and the radicalized halls of power in Iceland, and spins a story that does a good job of explaining what, exactly, happened with Cablegate: how the cables got out, the intrigues and infighting amongst the players (media, hackers, activists) and the governmental spin in response.
Here is one place where Brooke really opened my eyes: there are many people who make blanket assertions about the US government's manipulation of the press. But Brooke has concrete details, and the surprising intelligence that while the US does not have a "public broadcaster" like the BBC or public newspaper subsidies like Norway, it outspends both of them in its formidable press-offices at every level of government and military. In other words, the US doesn't have public news media, but it spends an equivalent sum on spin-doctors whose job it is to control the narrative in the "free-enterprise" press.
Brooke finishes the book with a manifesto of sorts, a call to arms to press, politicos and public to confront the coming deluge of data and channel it for transparency and accountability, but away from surveillance and invasion of privacy (a delicate operation, to be sure!) and to resist using the net as an excuse for more intrusive information policy. The book's website has more on this.
Published 11:54 pm Tue, Oct 18, 2011
big data, Book, cablegate, data mining, happy mutants, Journalism, privacy, review, Reviews, uk, web theory, wikileaks