The Federal Island Of Insanity

SOS

So a colleague at work was supposed to get something done. 


Well it didn’t happen, and someone else got left holding the bag–not really very fair.  


Too make matters worse, the guy sort of unapologetically and clouded pops in my door and says to me, “What are we doing here?”


Taken aback and not sure what this guy is talking about, I say “Excuse me?”


He looks up into space for a moment, and turns back toward me and repeats emphatically, “I mean, like what are we e-v-e-n doing here?”


Getting more than a little frustrated at this point, I ask quizzically and with some sarcasm, “You mean on planet Earth?”


Again, turning and looking oddly away and then back my way, he says, “In this building!”


I must’ve been looking at him at this point like is he on drugs, and I say, “We’ll there are important laws that we’re fulfilling here (implicitly referring to FOIA, Records Act, Privacy Act, E.O. 13526, etc.).”


Unbelievably, he continues, now shaking his head, “Well that’s what I mean…why we need that?”


Having too much work to play out whatever this toxic game was any longer, I’m like, “[if you don’t believe in transparency and safeguarding/security of information,] Maybe you should write your Congressman,” [smile!] and with that went back to the million and one serious work things I still had waiting for attention.


In retrospect, I can’t help but think that incredibly, there are people coming to work here in D. C. that either don’t know why they are there in the first place (but should know!) or don’t believe in the mission or meaning of what they are doing.  


In the private sector, I certainly don’t think this conversation would’ve even gone on as long as it did…the consequences there seeming more pronounced, abrupt, and in a definite way connected with reality. 


With more than 16 years into the Federal sector, I still can’t believe a lot of what goes on–both good and hopeful, and bad and more than a little disappointing. 😉


(Source Photo: Danielle Blumenthal)

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Snapchat, Eat Your Heart Out

Disappearing Ink
As so many of you app users know, Snapchat allows you to send texts, drawings, photos, and videos, but with privacy, knowing they will disappear in a few seconds.



Disappearing messages is certainly not a new idea–in spycraft or for kids. 



Remember the disappearing ink (or maybe you’ve forgotten because it disappeared)?



Well, this is a photo of disappearing-disappearing ink!



Someone apparently stole the disappearing ink right out of the packaging in the store–it has truly disappeared. 😉



(Source Photo: Rebecca Blumenthal)

Records Manager Appreciation Day!

Records Management is not about 45s, 33s, or 8-track music collections, but managing key document and electronic records.

It’s critically important for an organization to be able to archive and access needed information for managing their business, and enabling transparency and accountability.

Managing records saves us time and money in the long run

Moreover, as information workers in an information economy, information is power! And we need to be able to get to information, whenever and wherever we need it.

While records may not be sexy unless you’re Lady Gaga or Madonna, information is the lifeblood of the 21st century, so say thank you to your records management and information access professionals today! 😉

To Archive Or Not

To Archive Or Not

Farhad Manjoo had a good piece in the Wall Street Journal on the Forever Internet vs. the Erasable Internet.

The question he raises is whether items on the Internet should be archived indefinitely or whether we should be able to delete postings.

Manjoo uses the example of Snapshot where messages and photos disappear a few seconds after the recipient opens them–a self-destruct feature.

It reminded me of Mission Impossible, where each episode started with the tape recording of the next mission’s instructions that would then self-destruct in five seconds…whoosh, gone.

I remember seeing a demo years ago of an enterprise product that did this for email messages–where you could lock down or limit the capability to print, share, screenshot, or otherwise retain messages that you sent to others.

It seemed like a pretty cool feature in that you could communicate what you really thought about something–instead of an antiseptic version–without being in constant fear that it would be used against you by some unknown individual at some future date.

I thought, wow, if we had this in our organizations, perhaps we could get more honest ideas, discussion, vetting, and better decision making if we just let people genuinely speak their minds.

Isn’t that what the First Amendment is really all about–“speaking truth to power”(of course, with appropriate limits–you can’t just provoke violence, incite illegal actions, damage or defame others, etc.)?

Perhaps, not everything we say or do needs to be kept for eternity–even though both public and private sector organizations benefit from using these for “big data” analytics for everything from marketing to national security.

Like Manjoo points out, when we keep each and every utterance, photo, video, and audio, you create a situation where you have to “constantly police yourself, to create a single, stultifying profile that restricts spontaneous self-expression.”

While one one hand, it is good to think twice before you speak or post–so that you act with decency and civility–on the other hand, it is also good to be free to be yourself and not a virtual fake online and in the office.

Some things are worth keeping–official records of people, places, things, and events–especially those of operational, legal or historical significance and even those of sentimental value–and these should be archived and preserved in a time appropriate way so that we can reference, study, and learn from them for their useful lives.

But not everything is records-worthy, and we should be able to decide–within common sense guidelines for records management, privacy, and security–what we save and what we keep online and off.

Some people are hoarders and others are neat freaks, but the point is that we have a choice–we have freedom to decide whether to put that old pair of sneakers in a cardboard box in the garage, trash it, or donate it.

Overall, I would summarize using the photo in this post of the vault boxes, there is no need to store your umbrella there–it isn’t raining indoors. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Spinster Cardigan)

Getting It In Writing

Getting It In Writing

So this is funny, this company, Knock Knock makes witty office supply products.

This one is a picture of file folders that say, “Useless documents to provide appearance of importance in meetings.”

They have another set of folders with, “Papers to shuffle endlessly thereby accomplishing nothing.”

These reminded of the importance of getting things properly documented, in writing.

Otherwise you get the unfortunate scenario that goes something like this when coming to agreements with others:

– Person #1: “If it’s okay, can I get that in writing?”

– Person #2: “You have my word. Don’t you trust me?”

The end result is an undocumented verbal agreement, and this is invariably followed, at some future time, by a disagreement, as follows:

– Person #1: “Well we agreed [fill in the blank].”

– Person #2: “I don’t recall that. Do you have it in writing?”

When someone refuses to give it to you in writing that is a clear warning sign, and bells and sirens should be going off in your head–loudly–that there is a problem.

The lesson is:

– Get it documented in writing, period.

– Documents are not useless even if some people use them to look important or they get caught in paperwork paralysis.

– Verbal agreements are a he says, she says losing game.

– Avoid getting caught without the documentation that spells it all out–and you can put it in one of these cool folders too. 😉

Note: This is not a vendor or product endorsement.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

What If They Can Read Our Redactions?

What If They Can Read Our Redactions?

The New Yorker has a fascinating article about technology advances being made to un-redact classified text from government documents.

Typically, classified material is redacted from disclosed documents with black bars that are technologically “burnt” into the document.

With the black bars, you are not supposed to be able to see/read what is behind it because of the sensitivity of it.

But what if our adversaries have the technology to un-redact or un-burn and autocomplete the words behind those black lines and see what it actually says underneath?

Our secrets would be exposed! Our sensitive assets put at jeopardy!

Already a Columbia University professor is working on a Declassification Engine that uses machine learning and natural language processing to determine semantic patterns that could give the ability “to predict content of redacted text” based on the words and context around them.

In the case, declassified information in the document is used in aggregate to “piece together” or uncover the material that is blacked out.

In another case prior, a doctoral candidate at Dublin City University in 2004, used “document-analysis technologies” to decrypt critical information related to 9/11.

This was done by also using syntax or structure and estimating the size of the word blacked out and then using automation to run through dictionary words to see if it would fit along with another “dictionary-reading program” to filter the result set to the likely missing word(s).

The point here is that with the right technology redacted text can be un-redacted.

Will our adversaries (or even allies) soon be able to do this, or perhaps, someone out there has already cracked this nut and our secrets are revealed?

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Newspaper Club)

What’s Your Information Lifecycle

A critical decision for every person and organization is how long to keep information out there in the physical and cyber realms.

Delete something too soon–and you may be looking in vain for that critical document, report, file, picture, or video and may even violate record retention requirements.

Fail to get rid of something–and you may be embarrassed, compromised, ripped off, or even put in legal jeopardy.
It all depends what the information is, when it is from, and who gets their hands and eyes on it!

Many stars have been compromised by paparazzi or leaked photos that ended up on the front page of newspapers or magazines and even government officials have ended up in the skewer for getting caught red handed like ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner sexting on Twitter.

Everything from statuses to photos put on social media have gotten people in trouble whether when applying to schools and jobs, with their partners, and even with law enforcement.

Information online is archived and searchable and it is not uncommon for parents to warn kids to be careful what they put online, because it can come back to haunt them later.

Now smartphones applications like Snapchat are helping people communicate and then promptly delete things they send.

With Snapshot, you can snap a photo, draw on it, even add text and send to friends, family, others. The innovation here is that before you hit send, you choose how long you want the message to be available to the recipient before vanishing–up to 10 seconds.

Snapchat has sent over 1 billion messages since July and claims over 50 million are sent daily–although forget trying to verify that by counting up the messages because they have self-destructed and are gone!

Of course, there are workarounds such as taking a screenshot of the message before it vanishes or taking a photo of the message–so nothing is full proof.

Last year, according to The Atlantic, the European Commission proposed a “Right-To Be Forgotten” as part of their data protection and privacy laws. This would require social media sites to remove by request embarrassing information and photos and would contrast with the U.S. freedom of speech rights that protects “publishing embarrassing but truthful information.”

Now, companies like Reputation.com even provide services for privacy and reputation management where they monitor information about you online, remove personal information from sites that sell it, and help you with search engine optimization to “set the record straight” with personal, irrelevant, exaggerated or false information by instead publishing positive truthful material.

According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek (7 Feb. 2013), “Ephemeral data is the future,” but I would say comprehensive reputation management is the future–whether through the strategic management of permanent information or removing of temporary data–we are in a sense who the record says we are. 😉