Surveillance and privacy

Discussion of issues related to liberty and privacy, and especially how they are affected by and interrelated with data management and analytic technologies. Related subjects include:

Petabyte-scale data management
Privacy, censorship, and freedom (in The Monash Report)

September 17, 2013

Surveillance and privacy intrusion — further notes

I’ve posted a lot about surveillance and privacy intrusion. Even so, I have a few more things to say.

1. Surveillance and privacy intrusion do, of course, have real benefits. That’s a big part of why I advocate a nuanced approach to privacy regulation. Several of those benefits are mentioned below.

2. Nobody’s opinion about privacy rules should be based on the exact state of surveillance today, for at least two reasons:

In particular, people may not realize how comprehensive surveillance will get, due largely to the “internet of things”. The most profound reason — and this will take decades to fully play out — is that we’re headed toward a medical revolution in which people’s vital signs will be more or less continually monitored as they go about their business. Such monitoring will, of course, provide a very detailed record of our activities and perhaps even states of mind. Further, vehicle movements will all be tracked and our mobile devices will keep noting our location, in each case for multiple reasons.

Read more

September 3, 2013

The Hemisphere program

Another surveillance slide deck has emerged, as reported by the New York Times and other media outlets. This one is for the Hemisphere program, which apparently:

Other notes include:

I’ve never gotten a single consistent figure, but typical CDR size seems to be in the 100s of bytes range. So I conjecture that Project Hemisphere spawned one of the first petabyte-scale databases ever.

Hemisphere Project unknowns start:  Read more

August 19, 2013

Why privacy laws should be based on data use, not data possession

For years I’ve argued three points about privacy intrusions and surveillance:

Since that last point is still very much a minority viewpoint,** I’ll argue it one more time below.  Read more

August 8, 2013

Curt Monash on video

I made a remarkably rumpled video appearance yesterday with SiliconAngle honchos John Furrier and Dave Vellante. (Excuses include <3 hours sleep, and then a scrambling reaction to a schedule change.) Topics covered included, with approximate timechecks:

Edit: Some of my remarks were transcribed.

Related links

July 29, 2013

What our legislators should do about privacy (and aren’t)

I’ve been harping on the grave dangers of surveillance and privacy intrusion. Clearly, something must be done to rein them in. But what?

Well, let’s look at an older and better-understood subject — governmental use of force. Governments, by their very nature, possess tools for tyranny: armies, police forces, and so on. So how do we avoid tyranny? We limit what government is allowed to do with those tools, and we teach our citizens — especially those who serve in government — to obey and enforce the limits.

Those limits can be lumped into two categories:

The story is similar for surveillance technology:

But there’s a big difference between the cases of physical force and surveillance.

Read more

July 29, 2013

Very chilling effects

I’ve worried for years about a terrible and under-appreciated danger of privacy intrusion, which in a recent post I characterized as a chilling effect upon the exercise of ordinary freedoms. When government — or an organization such as your employer, your insurer, etc. — watches you closely, it can be dangerous to deviate from the norm. Even the slightest non-conformity could have serious consequences. I wish that were an exaggeration; let’s explore why it isn’t.

Possible difficulties — most of them a little bit futuristic — include:

Read more

July 8, 2013

Privacy and data use — the problem of chilling effects

This is the second of a two-part series on the theory of information privacy. In the first post, I review the theory to date, and outline what I regard as a huge and crucial gap. In the second post, I try to fill that chasm.

The first post in this two-part series:

Actually, it’s easy to name specific harms from privacy loss. A list might start:

I expect that few people in, say, the United States will suffer these harms in the near future, at least the more severe ones. However, the story gets worse, because we don’t know which disclosures will have which adverse effects. For example, Read more

July 8, 2013

Privacy and data use — a gap in the theory

This is the first of a two-part series on the theory of information privacy. In the first post, I review the theory to date, and outline what I regard as a huge and crucial gap. In the second post, I try to fill that chasm.

Discussion of information privacy has exploded, spurred by increasing awareness of data’s collection and use. Confusion reigns, however, for reasons such as:

Let’s address the last point.  Read more

July 2, 2013

Notes and comments, July 2, 2013

I’m not having a productive week, part of the reason being a hard drive crash that took out early drafts of what were to be last weekend’s blog posts. Now I’m operating from a laptop, rather than my preferred dual-monitor set-up. So please pardon me if I’m concise even by comparison to my usual standards.

*Basic and unavoidable ETL (Extract/Transform/Load) of course excepted.

**I could call that ABC (Always Be Comparing) or ABT (Always Be Testing), but they each sound like – well, like The Glove and the Lions.

June 13, 2013

How is the surveillance data used?

Over the past week, discussion has exploded about US government surveillance. After summarizing, as best I could, what data the government appears to collect, now I ‘d like to consider what they actually do with it. More precisely, I’d like to focus on the data’s use(s) in combating US-soil terrorism. In a nutshell:

Consider the example of Tamerlan Tsarnaev:

In response to this 2011 request, the FBI checked U.S. government databases and other information to look for such things as derogatory telephone communications, possible use of online sites associated with the promotion of radical activity, associations with other persons of interest, travel history and plans, and education history.

While that response was unsuccessful in preventing a dramatic act of terrorism, at least they tried.

As for actual success stories — well, that’s a bit tough. In general, there are few known examples of terrorist plots being disrupted by law enforcement in the United States, except for fake plots engineered to draw terrorist-leaning individuals into committing actual crimes. One of those examples, that of Najibullah Zazi, was indeed based on an intercepted email — but the email address itself was uncovered through more ordinary anti-terrorism efforts.

As for machine learning/data mining/predictive modeling, I’ve never seen much of a hint of it being used in anti-terrorism efforts, whether in the news or in my own discussions inside the tech industry. And I think there’s a great reason for that — what would they use for a training set? Here’s what I mean.  Read more

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