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Who is the Enemy of the State?

Rick Smolan: I wonder if 50 years from now we’ll look back, maybe Julian will be the hero and J. Edgar Hoover will be the enemy of the state.

The cutting edge of Big Data looked a lot different in the 1940s, when J. Edgar Hoover amassed personal information, including over 100 million fingerprints. Wikileaks has turned the table on government data. Ironically, it is much easier to steal government records today than to access J. Edgar Hoover’s analog records. 

    In the video below, Rick Smolan, who co-authored the book The Human Face of Big Data (available for download as a tab let app here), compares two photographs – one of a vast warehouse that housed the analog files of Hoover’s FBI, and one of the Wikileaks data center, located one hundred feet underground. At the time that the first photo was taken, Hoover was considered a hero, someone who was “saving the free world.” In recent years, however, we have discovered that Hoover was using “a lot of this information for his own personal purposes,” Smolan points out.

    Contemporary society is very critical of Julian Assange. He is often viewed as irresponsible for divulging data without regard to security concerns. Many view him as a data terrorist, an enemy of the state. And yet, Smolan wonders if in another 50 years we may come to consider Assange as a hero and Hoover an enemy of the state. 

    Watch the video here:

    In the slideshow below, you will get a taste of how data is being used as “the most powerful tool set the human race has ever had to address the widespread challenges facing our species and our planet,” as Smolan puts it.

    Photo credits


    © Nigel Holmes 2012 / from The Human Face of Big Data

    23 & Me 
    © Douglas Kirkland 2012 / from The Human Face of Big Data
    Model Released
    J Edgar Hoover
    ©George Skadding / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images 2012 / from The Human Face of Big Data
    ©Christoph Morlinghaus/CASEY 2012 / from The Human Face of Big Data

    Great Apes
    ©Dr. Tobias Deschner / Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology 2012 / from The Human Face of Big Data
    Shwetak Patel
    ©Peter Menzel 2012 / from The Human Face of Big Data

    Image courtesy of Shutterstock


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