Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The trumanity of humanity

Back in the olden days, it was an expensive, and invasive, exercise to hire a private dick to follow someone around, taking clandestine pictures, noting times, places, people and events of someone else's life.

More, it was a rare event and newsworthy when disclosed. Being "tailed" was almost a slur on a person's character, except for those who took it as a perverted badge of honor.

But today, with ubiquitous computerpower, online lives and CCTV, we all wear those steenking badges. With every move you make, every key you hit, every dollar you spend, they are watching you.

You/we are now, each of us, Trumans, and oh the trumanity of it all.

Bruce Schneier warns 'profits killing personal privacy'
Personal privacy is in danger of being killed off by the profit-making motives of firms which hold our data, security expert Bruce Schneier has warned.

While the death of personal privacy had been predicted for a long time, rapid technological changes posed a mortal danger to it, he said.

"Just because the technology is there does not mean that privacy invasions must happen," he said.

The difference now, he said, was that the falling cost of storage and processing power made it far easier to keep data such as e-mail conversations, Tweets or postings to a social network page than it was to spend the time managing and deleting the information.

Deciding what data we are prepared to surrender would be fine if people were given a proper choice, he said.

Unfortunately, he said, users of social networking sites or any online service were being presented with choices defined by priorities they did not choose.

The choices are filtered through the law, which is being outstripped by technological change, leaving people with only what net firms give them or can get away with.

The migration of human social interaction from ephemeral forms that took place face to face into data that never goes away and does not allow us to forget or leave behind our past actions was undoubtedly going to change society, he said.

"The social rules are being set by businesses with a profit motive," he said.

Google boss Eric Schmidt said, after the row about its StreetView service scooping up wi-fi data: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

"We are now seeing the death of privacy," he said. "Those CEOs are doing it and doing things to hasten its demise."

In some senses, he said, this was not their fault because the production of data was a natural by-product of the way that computers work.

But, he said, this did not mean that legal and technological protections were not needed. The law was currently abdicating its role and there was a pressing need for tools that could help people manage their online presences.

Talking about privacy policies on web sites, Mr Schneier said they were hard to find and understand because it was in the interest of those sites to confuse people into disclosing more than they were comfortable with.

"Forgetting is a very powerful social tool that helps us get by and get along," he said.


Student who found FBI tracking device stuck to his car sparks legal row on invasion of privacy
One federal judge wrote that the widespread use of the device was straight out of George Orwell's novel 1984.

After a panel of three Circuit Court judges ruled that search warrants were not necessary to use the devices, Circuit Court judge Alex Kozinski said: 'By holding that this kind of surveillance doesn't impair an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, the panel hands the government the power to track the movements of every one of us, every day of our lives.'

But other federal and state courts have come to the opposite conclusion. Law enforcement advocates for the devices say GPS can eliminate time-consuming stakeouts and old-fashioned 'tails' with unmarked police cars.

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