INTO THE NEXT STAGE: Private Citizen Nakamoto, Plucked From Obscurity

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johnstonBy GEORGE TOSHIO JOHNSTON

Back when I was in a college journalism class — probably something to do with video production — we had a guest speaker come lecture. This was at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

I don’t remember her name, but she was a local pro, meaning segments and shows she produced made it onto the air on the local public station. I’ve forgotten many of the details of who she was and what the class was. But what I remember was she showed us an example of a segment she had produced in which a middle-aged woman was being questioned next to her car at night by a police officer for driving while intoxicated.

The woman in the video looked a bit impaired, to be honest. She was arrested and taken away. But what struck me about that example was that the woman’s face was fully exposed. It wasn’t obscured with any video effect. If you were acquainted with her, you knew it was her being taken away by the cops, presumably for drunken driving.

I asked the guest producer about that. She said the video was taken on a public street and she was under no obligation to hide the woman’s identity, as she was being arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.

I thought that it was not right, though, and continued asking her questions like what if she was not drunk but had a medical condition that made her appear to be impaired, despite being allowed to drive? Couldn’t she lose her job or be turned down for a job if recognized? Aren’t you afraid you might be sued? Might she at the very least be embarrassed by the video, guilty or not? Although she was arrested, did the producer know if in fact whether she was convicted of any crime? Being arrested and being convicted are two different things. Also, under our legal system, isn’t there a presumption of innocence? Why not hide her identity?

Some other students chimed in. It started to get a bit heated and the class’ professor finally jumped in and ended that part of the discussion, taking the guest’s side more or less. I still thought she was wrong.

But in the intervening years, I’ve noticed many reality-type, newsy “on the street” TV shows do “mosaic,” blur or obscure peoples’ faces. I wonder what the reasoning is.

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Dorian Nakamoto is surrounded by reporters as he gets into a car in front of his house on March 6. (NBC Los Angeles)

Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto is surrounded by reporters as he gets into a car in front of his house on March 6. (NBC Los Angeles)

By now, I have to presume you’ve read of the media feeding frenzy that happened last week when Newsweek ran as its cover story an investigative piece that revealed a Temple City man to be the inventor of the virtual currency Bitcoin.

Funny thing was, before the story broke, a co-worker and I had been discussing Bitcoin, since it was in the news because of the failure of a Tokyo-base Bitcoin exchange called Mt. Gox.

It’s kind of hard to explain how Bitcoin works, but as a digital currency, it can be used like money via computer networks among people who accept it as such. It’s a convenient, easy and quick way to move money, especially large sums, without fees and minus governments and banks, which are required by governments to report such transactions, being wise to it.

While one may have a legitimate business in which large sums of cash are used, Bitcoin is no doubt useful not just by people with a libertarian bent who don’t want the government snooping into their affairs, but criminals who may have large sums of cash that can’t be moved easily, be it physically or electronically. There are also speculators who have made (and lost) actual money on this virtual money.

As a virtual currency, however, Bitcoin is not backed by a government. But like cash, if you lose your computer or drive or the password to your account, Bitcoin is about as retrievable as a stack of windblown twenties on Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras. Kiss it goodbye.

At this point, I’ll presume you’ve read something somewhere on Bitcoin and its alleged creator, someone known as Satoshi Nakamoto. If not, visit http://tinyurl.com/mg3yldg to read the AP story or http://tinyurl.com/mhcq3ok to read the original Newsweek account.

Before Newsweek’s story broke, many wondered if there was a real Satoshi Nakamoto or if it was a pseudonym or maybe a collective name for many programmers.

But someone who used to go by that name was the subject of Newsweek’s March 6 investigative story by Leah McGrath Goodman. It was fascinating to read. But whether the Temple City, Calif., Satoshi Nakamoto, who decades ago legally modified his name to Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto, is the same person as the Bitcoin Satoshi Nakamoto, remains to be seen. Newsweek is standing by its story. DPSN, for short, denies it’s him.

If Goodman got the right guy, she’ll probably win some sort of journalism award. DPSN, meantime, would have to get an honorary Oscar for his acting chops for his denials. But if Goodman got the wrong Nakamoto, that’ll be embarrassing for her. Nakamoto, just speculating, might want to sue for invasion of privacy. If he does, I’d be on his side.

As a journalist, I believe that one of journalism’s great missions is to not just find the story but find the truth. Goodman got a story, but maybe not the story. Some of the pieces fit, while parts had to be filled in with some imaginative thinking.

If DPSN isn’t the same as the Bitcoin Satoshi Nakamoto, it’d be a case where an otherwise private citizen was wrongly singled out and made into an unwilling public figure. I realize we live in an age where so many people are and want to be famous, despite having accomplished very little. But not everyone, and it seems to me DPSN had no desire to be plucked from obscurity, especially under these circumstances.

The comments under the Newsweek story showed all levels of outrage, although some also defended Goodman’s story. There have even been reports that some have begun raising funds to compensate him for his woes. From an L.A. Times article: “Andreas M. Antonopoulos, a serial entrepreneur and the chief security officer of Blockchain, has launched a campaign to raise money for Dorian Nakamoto. In a post on Reddit, Antonopoulos wrote:

“ ‘If this person is not Satoshi, then these funds will serve as a ‘sorry for what happened to you,’ help with medical bills his family is facing, any legal bills they may incur, or anything else. Most of all, it serves to soften the damage caused by irresponsible journalism and to demonstrate the generosity and empathy of the community, which I know is huge.’ ” Incredible.

Bitcoin may indirectly make DPSN some money after all, even if he’s not the Bitcoin creator sitting on $400 million of the stuff.

And, just as an ironic side note, I read Goodman’s bio on the Newsweek site. It said she was a “fellow at the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder.” I’m pretty sure, however, she wasn’t in that aforementioned class.

Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2014 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.

 

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