Public policy

Discussion of public policy around technological issues, especially but not only surveillance and privacy.

June 25, 2018

New legal limits on surveillance in the US

The United States has new legal limits on electronic surveillance, both in one specific way and — more important — in prevailing judicial theory. This falls far short of the protections we ultimately need, but it’s a welcome development even so.

The recent Supreme Court case Carpenter v. United States is a big deal. Let me start by saying:

*The Katz test basically says that that an individual’s right to privacy is whatever society regards as a reasonable expectation of privacy at that time.

**The third-party doctrine basically says that any information of yours given voluntarily to a third party isn’t private. This includes transactional information such as purchases or telephone call detail records (CDRs)

Key specifics include: Read more

May 20, 2018

Technology implications of political trends

The tech industry has a broad range of political concerns. While I may complain that things have been a bit predictable in other respects, politics is having real and new(ish) technical consequences. In some cases, existing technology is clearly adequate to meet regulators’ and customers’ demands. Other needs look more like open research challenges.

1. Privacy regulations will be very different in different countries or regions. For starters:

All of these rules are subject to change based on:

And so I believe: For any multinational organization that handles customer data, privacy/security requirements are likely to change constantly. Technology decisions need to reflect that reality.

2. Data sovereignty/geo-compliance is a big deal. In fact, this is one area where the EU and authoritarian countries such as Russia formally agree. Each wants its citizens’ data to be stored locally, so as to ensure adherence to local privacy rules.

For raw, granular data, that’s a straightforward — even if annoying — requirement to meet. But things get murkier for data that is aggregated or otherwise derived. Read more

May 20, 2018

Some stuff that’s always on my mind

I have a LOT of partially-written blog posts, but am struggling to get any of them finished (obviously). Much of the problem is that they have so many dependencies on each other. Clearly, then, I should consider refactoring my writing plans. 🙂

So let’s start with this. Here, in no particular order, is a list of some things that I’ve said in the past, and which I still think are or should be of interest today. It’s meant to be background for numerous posts I write in the near future, and indeed a few hooks for such posts are included below.

1.  Data(base) management technology is progressing pretty much as I expected.

2. Rightly or wrongly, enterprises are often quite sloppy about analytic accuracy.

Read more

February 7, 2018

Some things I think about politics

When one tries to think comprehensively about politics these days, it quickly gets overwhelming. But I think I’ve got some pieces of the puzzle figured out. Here they are in extremely summarized form. I’ll flesh them out later as seems to make sense.

1. Most of what people are saying about modern tribalism is correct. But partisanship is not as absolute as some fear. In particular:

2. The threat from Trump and his Republican enablers is indeed as bad as people fear. He’s a major danger to do terrible, irreversible harm to the US and the rest of the world. To date the irreversible damage hasn’t been all that terrible, but if Trump and his enablers are given enough time, the oldest modern democracy will be no more.

All common interests notwithstanding, beating Trump’s supporters at the polls is of paramount importance.

3. I agree with those who claim that many of our problems stem from the shredding of trust. But few people seem to realize just how many different aspects of “trust” there are, nor how many degrees there can be of trustworthiness. It’s not just a binary choice between “honest servant of the people” and “lying, cheating crook”.

These observations have strong analogies in IT. What does it mean for a system to be “reliable” or to produce “accurate” results? There are many possible answers, each reasonable in different contexts.

Read more

February 7, 2018

Politics can be overwhelming

Like many people, I’ve been shocked and saddened by recent political developments. What I’ve done about it includes (but is not limited to):

As for those writings: Read more

January 22, 2018

The chaotic politics of privacy

Almost nobody pays attention to the real issues in privacy and surveillance. That’s gotten only slightly better over the decade that I’ve written about the subject. But the problems with privacy/surveillance politics run yet deeper than that.

Worldwide

The politics of privacy and surveillance are confused, in many countries around the world. This is hardly surprising. After all:

Technical cluelessness isn’t the only problem. Privacy issues are commonly framed in terms of civil liberties, national security, law enforcement and/or general national sovereignty. And these categories are inherently confusing, in that:

Data sovereignty regulations — which are quite a big part of privacy law — get their own extra bit of confusion, because of the various purposes they can serve. Chief among these are:  Read more

December 15, 2017

The technology industry is under broad political attack

I apologize for posting a December downer, but this needs to be said.

The technology industry is under attack:

These attacks:

You’ve surely noticed some of these attacks. But you may not have noticed just how many different attacks and criticisms there are, on multiple levels.

Read more

December 12, 2017

Notes on artificial intelligence, December 2017

Most of my comments about artificial intelligence in December, 2015 still hold true. But there are a few points I’d like to add, reiterate or amplify.

1. As I wrote back then in a post about the connection between machine learning and the rest of AI,

It is my opinion that most things called “intelligence” — natural and artificial alike — have a great deal to do with pattern recognition and response.

2. Accordingly, it can be reasonable to equate machine learning and AI.

3. Similarly, it can be reasonable to equate AI and pattern recognition. Glitzy applications of AI include:

4. The importance of AI and of recent AI advances differs greatly according to application or data category.  Read more

August 10, 2017

Notes on data security

1. In June I wrote about burgeoning interest in data security. I’d now like to add:

We can reconcile these anecdata pretty well if we postulate that:

2. My current impressions of the legal privacy vs. surveillance tradeoffs are basically: Read more

June 14, 2017

Light-touch managed services

Cloudera recently introduced Cloudera Altus, a Hadoop-in-the-cloud offering with an interesting processing model:

Thus, you avoid a potential security risk (shipping your data to Cloudera’s service). I’ve tentatively named this strategy light-touch managed services, and am interested in exploring how broadly applicable it might or might not be.

For light-touch to be a good approach, there should be (sufficiently) little downside in performance, reliability and so on from having your service not actually control the data. That assumption is trivially satisfied in the case of Cloudera Altus, because it’s not an ordinary kind of app; rather, its whole function is to improve the job-running part of your stack. Most kinds of apps, however, want to operate on your data directly. For those, it is more challenging to meet acceptable SLAs (Service-Level Agreements) on a light-touch basis.

Let’s back up and consider what “light-touch” for data-interacting apps (i.e., almost all apps) would actually mean. The basics are:  Read more

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