The movie The Matrix was a haunting depiction of a machine-led dystopia. Many people are haunted by another, more real, dystopia, namely the ease with which personal information can be mined from existing computer databases. I’m all in favor of doing what we can to preserve personal freedom. But I’m also not blind to the fact that having so many computers with access to the Internet is going to make it hard to put the Personal Privacy Genie back in the bottle.
And while I can see why many people who are deeply concerned about the impending loss of personal privacy want to demonize Hank Asher, who created a powerful (and now infamous database called MATRIX), I think that such people are often stirred more by emotion than rationality. After reading this Vanity Fair article, it sounds to me like Hank Asher is a hero, or at least a very well-intentioned man. Sure, he has some ways about him that aren’t right. But so do most of the names in most of the databases that are out there. The irony in Hank Asher’s case is that the thing that is most used to discredit him is a mistake that he confessed to while trying to do something good. And (here’s the ironic part) if he hadn’t confessed to it then it would never have shown up. Not even in a global database search.
If you start reading the article then don’t allow yourself to form any opinion about Asher until you’ve read the entire thing. And if want to condemn Asher without reading the article, that’s certainly your perogative. Everyone has a right to remain ignorant, a right that even the Internet can’t diminish.