One of the arguments I have been trying to make since 1995, when we first envisioned the global scenario called "T+0" - an increasingly transparent world - is that the Internet would become a universal solvent that could dissolve any organizational construct (including authoritarian regimes) from the top down, bottom up, outside in or inside out.
One of the profound challenges that we all face now - from individual to family to corporation to government to society - is how to adjust to the accelerating openness and transparency brought on by the web and associated technologies (of which the cell phone may prove the most potent).
Consider Bahrain, whose royal family just tried to block Google Earth because just plain folks were able to look into private estates, homes, swimming pools, yachts, etc, and see how the rich really live, and how that small country is dominated by the wealthiest among them. Also consider Spain, where SMS messaging helped generate massive spontaneous protests in Madrid and Barcelona the day following the terrorist attacks (and two days before general elections), when citizens felt the Popular Party-led government was withholding information about the perpetrators of the attacks to further their political cause.
These are telling examples of the challenge of openness (and the natural attack on any proprietary position) that web-based and mobile information technologies are bringing to the world.
Likewise the speed at which the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko with Polonium 210 is becoming an issue for Vladimir Putin - not just the news and information about the death, but accusation, innuendo, reaction, etc. as the world is invited to focus on the nature of the KGB-influenced Russian government.
Not only facts but inference can be spread at the speed of light to reach into more corners of thought and opinion than ever before.
This is obvious. What is not so obvious is whether truth eventually wins in any battle with lies. Facts about the ownership and distribution of land and resources in Bahrain, the most web-connected of the Arab states, are relatively easy to establish and to circulate, which gives the rulers an opportunity to respond. And how they respond will be a test of legitimacy. Who killed Litvinenko will be far harder to establish, but in the absence of knowing, human intuition usually defaults to the darkest interpretation. In that case, Putin will be perceived to be guilty whether it can be shown or not. His response will remain under scrutiny, and the public view that develops will dog him through history.
One thesis about this state of increasingly open affairs is that whatever can be known will be known (if not now, then sooner than later). Moreover, whatever is being concealed (either known or suspected) will take on its own nature as people are free to speculate, and to spread their speculation ever more broadly, whether point-to-point on cell phones or one-to-everyone on the World Wide Web.
Mahmood al-Yousif is becoming a destination source for Bahrainians wanting to know how to circumvent web restrictions and see their wealthier countrymen's property via photo-sharing sites. Bahrainians (and everyone else who wants to) are also learning how to download software, get technical advice, disguise their locations and access sites that their government wants to protect.
These developments underscore the challenge of openness to individuals and regimes still trying to operate according to an obsolete world condition - that people in power can successfully conceal themselves in the trappings of the old information realities, whether paper stamped "Secret!" or other channels controlled by the authorities.
Information wants to be free, someone famous once said, which was a bit misleading. Information is indifferent. It requires that someone have it and do something with it. People, however, do want to be free, and free of the idea that someone - particularly their own government - is deliberately hiding the truth from them, even if an ugly one.