Daniel Brandt

Public Information Research (or PIR), not to be confused with the Public Interest Research Group, is a company owned and operated by Internet provacateur Daniel Brandt, of San Antonio, Texas. According to statemaster.com (a source that may be a Wikipedia mirror, entry found here) and its own website, it is a registered (501c3) charity with revenues under $20,000 per year.Whether that dollar figure is true or not, PIR (a follow-on of Brandt's previous company, Micro Associates) operates the website NameBase.org. Described by Wikipedia as "focus[ed] on the post-World War II era and on left of center, conspiracy theory, and espionage activities", the website purports to contain hundreds of thousands of entries with clippings and documents, scrounged up or received via FOIA requests, about "all sorts of spooks, military officials, political operators and other cloak-and-dagger types." (The Nation, 1988).

Somewhat less known, however, is that Mr. Brandt is the proprietor of google-watch.org and wikipedia-watch.org, and was involved with the development of the criticism site wikipediareview.com, where he remains a semi-active contributor. Brandt has kept a close eye on the inner workings of Wikipedia ever since clashing with the users of that site over his biography, its details, and his demands that it be deleted or written to suit him. He was key to tracking down the culprit in the Wikipedia Siegenthaler controversy, as described here by the New York Times, and he has developed a list of users he believes contribute to the "hive mind" mentality of Wikipedia. He's used his resources (or the resources of his "charity", PIR) to discover personal details and photographs of these individuals -- which are then published on his Hivemind page, here.

The names include professionals associated with the administration of the Wikimedia Foundation (which owns and operates the Wikipedia group of websites), prominent users involved in the local administration of the English version of the encyclopedia, and others who have been listed for reasons which are not immediately obvious. Some identified users from the latter two groups include minors in high school and university students, as well as others who have reported being subject to severe real world harassment. In one particularly nasty case, fruits of Brandt's investigative determination may have been used to further the pursuit of a prominent Wikipedia user by a convicted felon -- prompting a police investigation in the United States and Ireland and the re-arrest and incarceration of this dangerous individual.

Brandt is convinced, however, that his efforts are in the public interest - and responsibility for any negative consequence lies with the users themselves (for posting or allowing the posting of personally identifying information on the Internet) and the Wikimedia Foundation (for allowing pseudonymous editing, including by minors). One recent example has been particularly controversial: A user of Wikipedia, variously described as 14 years or 19 years old, posted a blog entry that apparently vilified Mr. Brandt. This entry, made via a blogspot blog (Blogspot is a subsidiary of Google), featured prominently in the Google Blog search results. Brandt responded by turning up her tracks on other sites online, her school records, home address, birth date and photograph and posting them all on his Hivemind site. He announced his decision here, under the heading "Children at play."

To his credit, though, Brandt eventually removed the entry -- after his terms were met. This young user deleted her blog (the entire blog, not just the offending post), erased herself from the Wikipedia website, locked her Twitter account and more than likely took a series of other steps to both disengage from Brandt and anonymize her activity on the Internet.

Many of Brandt's objections to the Wikipedia website, over the years, have revolved around the issue of responsibility, specifically personal and corporate responsibility towards the subjects of its articles. He has argued that all users should participate under their real names, and that subjects should be given certain rights over the articles about them. But this crusade for others' responsibility is difficult to square with his seeming disregard for his own. Endangering the safety of those, even children, who he believes have transgressed against him and subjecting many others to the threat of harassment, hardly seems to be the actions of a responsible, competent adult.

Links and other information (may be updated periodically):

Brandt's Amazon profile
Blogoscoped entry about Brandt
The directors of the Public Information Research corporation are Steven Badrich (also secretary and treasurer), Daniel Brandt, Dennis Brutus, Randy Guffey, Martha Moran (also vice president) and Bob Richards. The Board of Advisors of PIR consists of: Robert Fink, Fred Goff, Jim Hougan, Carl Oglesby and Peter Dale Scott.
NameBase at Wikipedia


Popular posts from this blog

Kantian deontology vs. Mills utilitarianism in medical science

Tropes and truths about true tax rates

Official surveillance and the illusion of privacy

John V Jackson and the hazards of being a Wikimedian

Size, Democracy & Political Control