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Take My Privacy, Please !

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Take My Privacy, Please !

Postby M. Henri Day » Tue Jun 14, 2005 2:01 pm

Strangely enough, while we have discussed and condemned - naturally enough, being, as we assuredly all are, on the side of the angels - spam, we have never, to my knowledge, taken up the question of privacy and the net. Do any fellow Agorists share the unease I feel at what I should term the steadily growing erosion of our privacy ?...

Henri

June 13, 2005

Take My Privacy, Please!

By TED KOPPEL


THE Patriot Act - brilliant! Its critics would have preferred a less stirring title, perhaps something along the lines of the Enhanced Snooping, Library and Hospital Database Seizure Act. But then who, even right after 9/11, would have voted for that?

Precisely. He who names it and frames it, claims it. The Patriot Act, however, may turn out to be among the lesser threats to our individual and collective privacy.

There is no end to what we will endure, support, pay for and promote if only it makes our lives easier, promises to save us money, appears to enhance our security and comes to us in a warm, cuddly and altogether nonthreatening package. To wit: OnStar, the subscription vehicle tracking and assistance system. Part of its mission statement, as found on the OnStar Web site, is the creation of "safety, security and peace of mind for drivers and passengers with thoughtful wireless services that are always there, always ready." You've surely seen or heard their commercials, one of which goes like this:

Announcer The following is an OnStar conversation. (Ring)
OnStar OnStar emergency, this is Dwight.
Driver (crying) Yes, yes??!
OnStar Are there any injuries, ma'am?
Driver My leg hurts, my arm hurts.
OnStar O.K. I do understand. I will be contacting emergency services.
Announcer If your airbags deploy, OnStar receives a signal and calls to check on you.
(Ring)
Emergency Services Police.
OnStar This is Dwight with OnStar. I'd like to report a vehicle crash with airbag deployment on West 106th Street.
Emergency Services We'll send police and E.M.S. out there.
Driver (crying) I'm so scared!
OnStar O.K., I'm here with you, ma'am; you needn't be scared.

Well, maybe just a little scared. Tell us again how Dwight knows just where the accident took place. Oh, right! It's those thoughtful wireless services that are always there. Always, as in any time a driver gets into an OnStar-equipped vehicle. OnStar insists that it would disclose the whereabouts of a subscriber's vehicle only after being presented with a criminal court order or after the vehicle has been reported stolen. That's certainly a relief. I wouldn't want to think that anyone but Dwight knows where I am whenever I'm traveling in my car.

Of course, E-ZPass and most other toll-collecting systems already know whenever a customer passes through one of their scanners. That's because of radio frequency identification technology. In return for the convenience of zipping through toll booths, you need to have in your car a wireless device. This tag contains information about your account, permitting E-ZPass to deduct the necessary toll - and to note when your car whisked through that particular toll booth. They wouldn't share that information with anyone, either; that is, unless they had to.

The State Department plans to use radio frequency identification technology in all new American passports by the end of 2005. The department wants to be sure that we all move through immigration quickly and efficiently when we return from overseas. Privacy advocates have suggested that hackers could tap into the information stored on these tags, or that terrorists might be able to use them to pinpoint American tourists in a crowd. The State Department assures us that both concerns are unfounded, and that it will allow privacy advocates to review test results this summer.

Radio frequency identification technology has been used for about 15 years now to reunite lost pets with their owners. Applied Digital Solutions, for example, manufactures the VeriChip, a tiny, implantable device that holds a small amount of data. Animal shelters can scan the chip for the name and phone number of the lost pet's owner. The product is now referred to as the HomeAgain Microchip Identification System.

Useful? Sure. Indeed, it's not much of a leap to suggest that one day, the VeriChip might be routinely implanted under the skin of, let's say, an Alzheimer's patient. The Food and Drug Administration approved the VeriChip for use in people last October. An Applied Digital Solutions spokesman estimates that about 1,000 people have already had a VeriChip implanted, usually in the right triceps. At the moment, it doesn't carry much information, just an identification number that health care providers can use to tap into a patient's medical history. A Barcelona nightclub also uses it to admit customers with a qualifying code to enter a V.I.P. room where drinks are automatically put on their bill. Possible variations on the theme are staggering.

And how about all the information collected by popular devices like TiVo, the digital video recorder that enables you to watch and store an entire season's worth of favorite programs at your own convenience? It also lets you electronically mark the programs you favor, allowing TiVo to suggest similar programs for your viewing pleasure. In February, TiVo announced the most frequently played and replayed commercial moment during the Super Bowl (it involves a wardrobe malfunction, but believe me, you don't want to know), drawing on aggregated data from a sample of 10,000 anonymous TiVo households. No one is suggesting that TiVo tracks what each subscriber records and replays. But could they, if they needed to? That's unclear, although TiVo does have a privacy policy. "Your privacy," it says in part, "is very important to us. Due to factors beyond our control, however, we cannot fully ensure that your user information will not be disclosed to third parties."

Unexpected and unfortunate things happen, of course, even to the most reputable and best-run organizations. Only last February, the Bank of America Corporation notified federal investigators that it had lost computer backup tapes containing personal information about 1.2 million federal government employees, including some senators. In April, LexisNexis unintentionally gave outsiders access to the personal files (addresses, Social Security numbers, drivers license information) of as many as 310,000 people. In May, Time Warner revealed that an outside storage company had misplaced data stored on computer backup tapes on 600,000 current and former employees. That same month, United Parcel Service picked up a box of computer tapes in New Jersey from CitiFinancial, the consumer finance subsidiary of Citigroup, that contained the names, addresses, Social Security numbers, account numbers, payment histories and other details on small personal loans made to an estimated 3.9 million customers. The box is still missing.

Whoops!

CitiFinancial correctly informed its own customers and, inevitably, the rest of the world about the security breach. Would they have done so entirely on their own? That is less clear. In July 2003, California started requiring companies to inform customers living in the state of any breach in security that compromises personally identifiable information. Six other states have passed similar legislation.

No such legislation exists on the federal stage, however - only discretionary guidelines for financial institutions about whether and how they should inform their customers with respect to breaches in the security of their personal information.

Both the House and Senate are now considering federal legislation similar to the California law. It's a start but not nearly enough. We need mandatory clarity and transparency; not just with regard to the services that these miracles of microchip and satellite technology offer but also the degree to which companies share and exchange their harvest of private data.

We cannot even begin to control the growing army of businesses and industries that monitor what we buy, what we watch on television, where we drive, the debts we pay or fail to pay, our marriages and divorces, our litigations, our health and tax records and all else that may or may not yet exist on some computer tape, if we don't fully understand everything we're signing up for when we avail ourselves of one of these services.

Ted Koppel is the anchor and managing editor of the ABC program "Nightline."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
曾记否,到中流击水,浪遏飞舟?
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Postby KatyBr » Tue Jun 14, 2005 2:06 pm

interesting that you post this on the day I find out my little Timbktu is now equipped with cameras all along 'Main' street.
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Postby M. Henri Day » Tue Jun 14, 2005 2:09 pm

Well, Katy, it's all for our own good, you know, to stop those muggers and rapists who lie in wait for us, ready to pounce....

Henri
曾记否,到中流击水,浪遏飞舟?
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Postby KatyBr » Tue Jun 14, 2005 2:13 pm

actually I didn't say I minded. I've not decided yet how I feel. I know it's not fashionable for those raised in the era of "questioning authority" to be on the side of authority and indeed I'm not. But OTOH I pick and choose the official decrees I believe. This sounds so like the popular Sci-F stories of the early Sixties....beware the eyes of Big Brother!
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Postby M. Henri Day » Tue Jun 14, 2005 2:44 pm

Of all the utopias and dystopias published after the War, none - including 1984 - seem to me to describe our world as accurately as Pohl and Kornbluth's The Space Merchants, a tattered copy of an early edition of which I have packed into my bookshelves with the other sardines at home in Stockholm. The dialogue is atrocious and the characters wooden - as was often the case with the SF of the Golden Age - but what insight ! I understand that the work has recently been reprinted - I saw a copy at my local branch library last year - and I highly recommend it to those interested in such matters....

Henri
曾记否,到中流击水,浪遏飞舟?
M. Henri Day
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Postby KatyBr » Tue Jun 14, 2005 3:58 pm

For me reading Sci-Fi was a phase, it lasted from oh about 1959- 1994 when I got my first computer, I don't remember Space Merchants, but it sounds as hokey as most of the books I read of that genre until the really good writers realized there was a market for it. I just ordered it again from Amazon for $.01 and $3.49 in shipping.
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Postby M. Henri Day » Wed Jun 15, 2005 11:31 am

KatyBr wrote:... I just ordered it again from Amazon for $.01 and $3.49 in shipping.

That almost sounds like a line from the Space Merchants itself, but I don't think Pohl and Kornbluth had quite the imagination to conceive of that particular way of ripping off people and still giving them the impression that they were getting something for nothing - that took a marriage between an economist and an adman ! At any rate, let us know what you think when you read the book, Katy - but remember, it's not because of its literary qualities that it's a classic....

Henri
曾记否,到中流击水,浪遏飞舟?
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Postby Flaminius » Wed Jun 15, 2005 12:10 pm

Controul of our personalle information and conueniece of ciuil transactions call for careful and balanced observation. If you are serious, I suggest reading Privacy and Power: Computer Databases and Metaphors for Information Privacy by Daniel Solove (2001). I doubt any generous forum would permit posting the entire paper but you would be rewarded sumptuously.

For those who have special sentiments for NY Times, I shall reproduce an article about Professor Solove who now teaches at George Washington Law School (I dug this link from my own computer, unbelievable).
February 2, 2001
CYBER LAW JOURNAL

Kafkaesque? Big Brother? Finding the Right Literary Metaphor for Net Privacy

By CARL S. KAPLAN

It's customary these days for many legal thinkers, journalists and just plain civilians to use the phrase "Big Brother" when bemoaning the loss of privacy created by the rise of computerized databases which track an individual's every move in cyberspace.

The slogan is great to toss around at conferences and parties. But people who take books and ideas seriously might well ask: is Big Brother -- the personification of an all-seeing totalitarian government depicted in George Orwell's novel "1984" -- the best metaphor to describe the privacy problems of the Internet Age?

According to Daniel J. Solove, an assistant professor at Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey who teaches a course in privacy, the answer is no.

In a 70-page article that Solove said he hopes to publish in a major law review in the fall, and which is available as a working draft on the Internet, Solove set his sights upon an alternative nightmare. He wrote that Franz Kafka's harrowing tale "The Trial" better explains the texture and feel of the privacy problems of today.

The battle of the metaphors is much more than a literary parlor game, said Solove in his article, "Privacy and Power: Computer Databases and Metaphors for Information Privacy." The way a problem is framed determines its solution, he suggested. And if lawmakers are to come up with adequate responses to the lack of privacy online, they need to fully understand the nature of the beast. In short, if they read books, they should read more Kafka and less Orwell.

In his article, which is an entertaining hybrid of legal scholarship and literary discussion, Solove recalled that Orwell's novel depicts an oppressive government that regulates every aspect of existence -- even one's private thoughts. In every corner of Orwell's imaginary world are posters of a giant face with the caption: "Big Brother is Watching You." The goal of the state is dreary conformity. The means used are techniques of surveillance that result in self-censorship. Uniformed men patrol street corners, helicopters peer in houses and the "telescreen" installed in every home -- watches people as they watch it.

For Solove, Big Brother is an apt metaphor to describe the effects of surveillance and the invasion of a person's secret or private world. But that doesn't get at the heart of the computer database threat, he said.

"Understanding the problem as surveillance fails to account for the majority of our activities in the world and web," he wrote. "A large portion of our personal information involves facts that we are not embarrassed about: our financial information, race, marital status, hobbies, occupation and the like. Most people surf the web without wandering into its dark corners. The vast majority of information collected about us concerns relatively innocuous details. The surveillance model does not explain why the recording of this non-taboo information poses a problem."

Recognizing that privacy in the digital realm can be invaded even if no secrets are revealed and even if nobody is watching us, Solove argued that the better guide to modern life in cyberspace is Kafka. In "The Trial," as every english major knows, Joseph K. awakens one morning to find a group of officials in his apartment. They inform him that he is under arrest. Instead of taking him to a police precinct, however, they unaccountably depart.

The rest of the novel is a kind of absurd odyssey. Joseph K. tries to find out why he has been arrested, without success. He tries to learn about a vast Court that has apparently assembled a detailed dossier on him. But the Court is secret. At the end of the tale he is seized by two officials in the night and executed.

The hallmarks of "The Trial" are impotence, anger and anxiety -- a character's sense that an unseen bureaucracy has information about him and that he has no control over the use of that information. That's pretty close to the average person's nagging sense of loss of privacy at the hands of some computerized databases, argued Solove.

"We are not heading toward a world of Big Brother or one composed of Little Brothers -- but toward a more mindless process -- of bureaucratic indifference, arbitrary errors, and dehumanization -- a world that is beginning to resemble Kafka's vision in "The Trial." Solove wrote in his article.

Jack Balkin, a law professor and Internet law expert at Yale Law School who is familiar with Solove's essay, applauded the author's attempt to "do a different take" on the issue of privacy.

"With Orwell you have a brooding, evil guy trying to squeeze you," Balkin said. "Kafka's idea is that you are trapped in a maze."

Balkin also noted that Solove's work is far from academic. The right metaphor is a necessary ingredient to good legislation, he said.

"A striking example, the personalization of a problem, an easy-to-understand slogan, these are all important at the level of politics in getting people to understand what is at stake in a issue," he said.

In a telephone interview, Solove, 28, who began his teaching career this year following his graduation from Yale Law School and some stints as a judicial clerk, said he wrote the article to bridge his interests in literature, internet law and the nature of bureaucracy.

He said that a lot of discussions about privacy boil down to a view of the type of world we want to live in -- its feel and atmosphere. Literature is particularly good at capturing life in different types of societies, he said. And the literary metaphors we choose to employ in debates "effect the way we see a problem and the way we solve a problem," he said.

The implications of adopting the Kafka view of privacy woes are signficant, added Solove. Anti-surveillance laws that are overly concerned with preventing the disclosure of confidential information remain important but miss the point when it comes to cyberspace, he said.

Instead of pursuing more similar legislation, state and federal legislatures should seek to create laws that regulate what public and private information may be collected and processed by private or governmental databases, how the information must be secured and how its successive transfer to other databases should be limited. These types of regulations, which are not in great evidence at present, would go a long way toward easing the average person's dreadful sense that he has little or no control over his personal information, said Solove.
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Postby M. Henri Day » Wed Jun 15, 2005 2:06 pm

Thanks for posting this review article and the link, Flam ! Professor Solove takes up aspects of the so-called «information society» that I personally find quite disturbing, and I find the Kafka Der Prozess metaphor very apt, indeed. (Scandinavians might well think of Peter Høeg's De måske egnede from 1993, which was translated into Swedish as De kanske lämpade.) I don't have time just now to plow through all the 70 pages, but I shall certainly come back to them. Do you know if Professor Solove has revised his article and/or his views during the last four years ?...

Henri
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Postby Flaminius » Wed Jun 15, 2005 9:43 pm

Henri, you can check around his Web site. I don't think he has revised the epistemology he advanced in his 2001 paper but, if he has elaborated upon it, new developments should be included in his more recent papers and articles.

Flam,
in the morning the newspapers announced that the ruling LDP is preparing to require foreigners to submit their fingerprints upon their entering and leaving Japan
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Postby M. Henri Day » Thu Jun 16, 2005 1:52 am

Flaminius wrote: ...

in the morning the newspapers announced that the ruling LDP is preparing to require foreigners to submit their fingerprints upon their entering and leaving Japan


両国同盟万歳 !

Henri
曾记否,到中流击水,浪遏飞舟?
M. Henri Day
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Postby Flaminius » Thu Jun 16, 2005 2:38 am

H yishmor tsetenu u-bo'enu! (cf. Psalmodia 121)
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Postby M. Henri Day » Thu Jun 16, 2005 9:57 am

Not that I understand the Hebrew, Flam, but if you're right, 小泉さん has a backer even more powerful than I had supposed....

Henri
曾记否,到中流击水,浪遏飞舟?
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Postby anders » Thu Jun 16, 2005 10:24 am

M. Henri Day wrote:
Flaminius wrote: ...

in the morning the newspapers announced that the ruling LDP is preparing to require foreigners to submit their fingerprints upon their entering and leaving Japan


両国同盟万歳 !

Henri

The US and Japan are 同 in this matter, but I will see to that I get my renewed passport before anthropometrics are required, to demonstrate that I won't go to the US in 万岁.
Irren ist männlich
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Postby KatyBr » Thu Jun 16, 2005 10:36 am

Oh and we were so hoping you'd visit, what a disappointment, we'll miss you.

Katy
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