Blown To Bits

The Resignation of Bob Quick

Friday, April 10th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

Britain’s chief anti-terrorism officer has resigned after a newspaper printed a photo of him getting out of a car. Huh? Well, you see, he was carrying a secret document, and the text on it was clearly legible. (Some words have been redacted in the photo on the web site — they were not redacted in the original.) A round-up of terrorist suspects had to be accelerated because of the leak.

The government moved to block the Evening Standard from printing the photo, but it was too late — the image was already up on the Internet.

Which raises two interesting questions. As it happens, the photo was taken by a media photographer, but what if it had been taken by a tourist with a high-resolution camera? All the niceties about prior restraint of the press, and media self-policing, would have been irrelevant. I could have taken the photo myself and had it up on this blog within minutes. It doesn’t make sense to have the press laboring under restrictions more severe than those imposed on citizen journalists, does it?

And with high-resolution digital photography now a consumer game, there are lots of embarrassing web sites that could be created. For example, take Latanya Sweeney’s research in which she was able to capture fingerprints just by having people wave their hands in front of a camera (well, several cameras so she could get multiple views). That’s a laboratory exercise at this point, but in a few years, any clown could watch a crowd with a camera and post a web site with lots of images of fingerprints ‚Ķ with facial photos ‚Ķ with names, which could perhaps be recovered from the facial photos by searching the web using face-matching software ‚Ķ.

2 Responses to “The Resignation of Bob Quick”

  1. Jeff Collier Says:

    Can someone tell me why, when someone makes a bonehead mistake, they have to go?

    We seem to be in a circle of ever growing competition to cover our respective *sses and exposing politicians and others who make mistakes. In this particular case, Quick was apparently very effective in his job. Do we really want to live in a society with zero tolerance? (And I leave off any particular rubric intentionally) For a slight digression, read “The Jigsaw Man” in Larry Niven’s collection of short stories _All the Myriad Ways_.

    It may be that living in a time when there is no privacy and every single mistake we ever make is available for public criticism that humans will be forced to evolve a more proactive ability to forgive and forget.

    The flip side of this is professional responsibility by the news media and others. The photo of this document was on the web before anyone gave a thought to the consequences. Someone should organize a boycott of such an organization, because they are putting their own economic interests above society’s. Sure, you have a right to publish. But tell the government what happened and give them a chance to fix the mess.

    Again, we need to need to evolve a different ethic where we hold everyone responsible for their actions. Publishing that photo without thought was just as bad as walking around with it exposed to camera view in the first place.

  2. David Smith Says:

    While I agree with Jeff that “CYA” has cost us collectively the services of many talented and hard working professionals to very little benefit, I’m inclined to believe that Assistant Commissioner Quick did the right thing.

    If the general details as outlined in the NYT story are accurate, his disregard of basic policies for handling secret materials was highly unprofessional, and had he not resigned or otherwise been subject to an appropriate sanction, it would become very difficult to enforce the necessary protocols throughout the British services.

    He will be missed, no doubt, but he acted appropriately.