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)

January 27, 2014

The report of Obama’s Snowden-response commission

In response to the uproar created by the Edward Snowden revelations, the White House commissioned five dignitaries to produce a 300-page report, released last December 12. (Official name: Report and Recommendations of The President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.) I read or skimmed a large minority of it, and I found enough substance to be worthy of a blog post.

Many of the report’s details fall in the buckets of bureaucratic administrivia,* internal information security, or general pabulum. But the commission started with four general principles that I think have great merit. Read more

November 29, 2013

SaaS appliances, SaaS data centers, and customer-premises SaaS


I think that most sufficiently large enterprise SaaS vendors should offer an appliance option, as an alternative to the core multi-tenant service. In particular:

How I reached them

Core reasons for selling or using SaaS (Software as a Service) as opposed to licensed software start:

Conceptually, then, customer-premises SaaS is not impossible, even though one of the standard Big Three SaaS benefits is lost. Indeed:

But from an enterprise standpoint, that’s all (relatively) simple stuff. So we’re left with a more challenging question — does customer-premises SaaS make sense in the case of enterprise applications or other server software?

Read more

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

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