Semiotics in action

I’ve been meaning to vent my spleen on this for a while. Those of you who are US citizens or who have an interest in privacy-related matters will probably have heard of the Information Awareness Office. For those that don’t fit either of the above categories, the IAO is a department of the US defence research agency (DARPA) that has been set up to investigate revolutionary techniques for analysing data to provide advanced warning of potential terrorist attacks, which they call Total Information Awareness. So far so good.

What this means in practice, however, is that the fruits of this research will be used to perform profiling on a previously unheard of scale, namely the entire US public (and probably also foreign undesirables and the citizens of those foreign powers who treat the US with puppy-like adoration – like us in Blighty, no doubt), and for a wider range of data than has been tried before: credit card, employment, medical, ISP records, etc. Civil liberties groups are understandably worried, since with the passing into law of the Patriot Act (bad name, bad law), there are fewer checks and bounds on the surveillance powers of the US government. They have the will, they’ll have the technology, and there’s not an awful lot stopping them. But this isn’t why I’m ranting; there’s a lot of good coverage of TIA and its ramification at places like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and WiReD, and I don’t want to repeat too much of what they’ve already said.

What I’m ranting about is the logo that IAO have chosen for themselves. Given that the goals of TIA will probably already have the paranoids, the libertarians, the survivalists and the conspiracy theorists burning their credit cards and reverting to cash transactions only, a friendly logo might have reassured the US public that good ol’ Uncle Sam doesn’t really want to spy on honest, patriotic Americans (and pay no attention to the G-Men under the bed).

Instead, we have a logo which is so gloriously muddled in its use of symbols that it is certain to induce apoplexy in the conspiracy loons and get them checking their ammunition supplies and heading for their cabins in the woods before you can say “New World Order”. I’d love to know exactly whose idea it was to put a dirty great eye-in-a-pyramid (a symbol feared by the conspiracy nuts, who misattribute it to that most secretive of secret societies, the Bavarian Illuminati) and have it shining a beam of light onto a smaller Earth (I note, with Europe in the middle of the beam) with the slogan “scientia est potentia” (knowledge is power).

Logo of the Information Awareness Office

(and finally, as the ultimate irony, they’ve appointed that bastion of probity, truth and democracy, Admiral Poindexter as the head of the organisation, presumably on the grounds that Nixon is under the ground and Ollie North wasn’t returning their calls)

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