The Establishment insists that collecting such information is in the best interest of all of us, and has recently made additional inroads into the private lives of its citizens. In the interest of defeating a growing terrorist threat and stamping out illicit drugs, the President recently signed a sweeping law making it legal for law enforcement to search any citizen who fits a “suspicious” profile, and to tap any telephone without a warrant, based only on “reasonable suspicion” that a crime is being committed. Security cameras are becoming a ubiquitous fact of everyday life, from the workplace to the shopping mall, bank, and the home. Tens of thousands of security cameras have even recently been installed on the open highways — the last frontier of freedom — on the pretext that recording the comings and goings of all of us not only deters crime, but also removes any doubt about who is really at fault in the event of an accident. It has become virtually impossible to send or receive faxes or e-mail, without the transmission first passing through a government “security” system. In the view of a growing number of citizens who dare not publicly voice their concerns for fear of persecution, security has become just another word for totalitarianism and the very notion of democracy has been subverted by a growing infocracy.
An underground band of revolutionaries is determined to bring down the system by uploading a doomsday virus into the nation’s computer network. But hacking their way into the mainframe has its own peculiar risks, including the fact that the corrosive computer virus they carry on a disk cannot be stopped once they unleash it. The resulting chaos is bound to put millions of human lives at risk, potentially resulting in such catastrophic effects as the loss of essential systems vital to national security; the destruction of crucial financial, medical, criminal, and other records; and the emergence of terrorist factions determined to exploit the situation. What’s more, the secret information the group begins to uncover in hacking its way through the network is so compelling that it’s addictive. In its own way, the addictive quality of that information is its own greatest defense against unauthorized entry — because those who become caught up in the web of intriguing secrets they discover have an unprecedented opportunity to join the power elite of the very system they are seeking to destroy. At the same time, Establishment forces are using all of the information-gathering and law-enforcement resources at their disposal to track down and eliminate the Rebels before they can get too far, not only in the interest of national security, but also — ironically — to protect the privacy and privilege of the power elite.
To explore the heart of rebellion, take on the role of one of the characters below (or any other individual you care to invent) and consider your own actions and role.
The EstablishmentCapt. Morgan Bureau, Deputy Assistant to the Assistant Director, National Security Agency, a career bureaucrat who rose quickly to a position of influence by gathering sensitive information about those in high places. Widely regarded as the “power behind the scenes” at the NSA.
Max Random, Director of Information Services, Federal Bureau of Investigation, a meat-and-potatoes, self-described Establishment patriot, who believes that safeguarding the national security requires gathering and processing vast amounts of information about the private lives of citizens. Favorite saying: “Those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear.”
Dr. Mandy Tattoo, Computer Sciences Fellow, Georgetown Center for Strategic Studies, the world’s leading expert in computer viruses, widely regarded as “Chicken Little” for publishing doomsday scenarios involving computer viruses.
The RebelsDr. Robin Moore, a former graduate student of Dr. Mandy Tattoo’s, considered the up-and-coming young genius in the field of computer network security. Turned down for a top government position after a routine security clearance check revealed a family history of mental illness. Harbors a bitter resentment toward all government “file clerks.” Designed the doomsday virus as the ultimate act of civil disobedience.
Terry Monitor, a computer hacker savant, who makes up for a complete lack of social graces by playing the computer network like a virtuoso. Breaks into secure Defense Department computers as a purely recreational pursuit, and particularly enjoys collecting inside information of every variety. Holds only one stated political conviction: that hacking is not simply the right, but also the duty, of every citizen in a free society.
Brett Bishop, Retired Special Agent, Central Intelligence Agency, a disillusioned ex-intelligence officer who spent 20 years defending the nation against outside threats, only to find its democratic way of life being undermined by the emerging totalitarian threat within. Favorite saying: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”
Think you know now if you’re a Rebel at heart or a defender of the Establishment? Maybe it’s not so simple. This was just one possible future. You might respond differently under other circumstances.