Former DHS Head On Google Glass: Intrusive Surveillance Is Bad -- If It's A Corporation Doing It

from the you-know,-it's-completely-possible-that-BOTH-are-bad dept

With Google's eyewear seemingly headed to the general public in the not-too-distant future, many people have expressed concern about being recorded against their wishes. As Mike pointed out, there's a bit of a backlash/moral panic on display right now, which has resulted in a petition requesting the White House ban the devices. He also mentioned briefly that former DHS head Michael Chertoff had written an editorial about the privacy implications of Google Glass.

Chertoff analyzes some of the privacy implications raised by Google Glass but, considering his former position in the DHS and his current role as the head of The Chertoff Group, a "global security advisory firm," this editorial comes off as one-sided and tone deaf. Why would someone who seemingly has no concern about government intrusion into people's privacy care about a corporation's move onto the same turf? Bruce Schneier addresses this dissonance briefly in his post linking to Chertoff's editorial.

It's not unusual for government officials -- the very people we disagree with regarding civil liberties issues -- to agree with us on consumer privacy issues.
Deep down, we're all human, I suppose. Or, at the very least, we have common enemies. Chertoff is concerned about the potential of a corporation collecting and controlling this massive amount of data. But is his concern genuine? Schneier addresses that as well.
But don't forget that this person advocated for full-body scanners at airports while on the payroll of a scanner company.
Chertoff gets off on the wrong foot by comparing Google Glass with surveillance drones, referring to government and law enforcement's "acceptable" surveillance while trying to paint a horrific portrait of a sky filled with corporate surveillance.
Imagine a world in which every major company in America flew hundreds of thousands of drones overhead, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, collecting data on what Americans were doing down below. It's a chilling thought that would engender howls of outrage.
Now imagine that millions of Americans walk around each day wearing the equivalent of a drone on their head: a device capable of capturing video and audio recordings of everything that happens around them. And imagine that these devices upload the data to large-scale commercial enterprises that are able to collect the recordings from each and every American and integrate them together to form a minute-by-minute tracking of the activities of millions.
There's really no need to imagine any part of this scenario. Law enforcement entities all over the US are purchasing drones and our government is using this same equipment to patrol borders and keep tabs on large crowds.

There are legitimate privacy concerns, but Chertoff's background distracts from his message, especially when he himself brings up drone usage that likely concerns Americans more than privacy invasions from Glass wearers.
So, who owns and what happens to the user's data? Can the entire database be mined and analyzed for commercial purposes? What rules will apply when law enforcement seeks access to the data for a criminal or national security investigation? For how long will the data be retained?
These are the questions that should be raised and Google and its competitors should probably seek some answers before turning interactive eyewear into a tool for second-hand government surveillance. More importantly, the government itself should probably answer a few of these questions. What are the rules that apply when law enforcement (or larger security agencies) seek to obtain this handily compiled data? As it stands right now, most of this process is shrouded in secrecy and attempts to pry some answers out of the government's hands have been rebuffed via claims of "national security" or in the form of redacted-to-abstraction FOIA "responses."

The length of data retention should be addressed as well. As Chertoff points out, Google will probably handle these questions with a lengthy Terms of Service agreement, one that most users will never read until something undesirable happens. A convoluted TOS is a company's best friend, but at least the information is freely available. The same can't be said for law enforcement and government entities.
Ubiquitous street video streaming will capture images of many people who haven't volunteered to have their images collected, collated and analyzed. Even those who might be willing to forgo some degree of privacy to enhance national security should be concerned about a corporate America that will have an unrestricted continuous video record of millions.
Yes, this is a definite downside to Google Glass. But Chertoff muffs this by worrying that even good citizens (those willing to "forgo some privacy to enhance [ha!] national security") won't be thrilled that any citizen could be "taping" them at any time. Once again, we're contrasting the actions of a corporation with the actions of government and law enforcement. But Chertoff fails to see how both can be undesirable. Instead, he frames Google's product as an encroachment but paints government surveillance as, at worst, a very necessary evil.
We need to consider what rights consumers have, and what rights nonparticipant third parties should have.
Sure, consumers should have rights, "nonparticipant third parties" especially. Unless they're American citizens being increasingly surveilled by the "good guys." This huge number of "nonparticipant third parties" doesn't even warrant a mention by Chertoff.

Chertoff has a suggestion for a fix, but it's nothing more than a power grab presented as a "solution."
Maybe the market can take care of this problem. But the likely pervasiveness of this type of technology convinces me that government must play a regulatory role.
A regulatory role does nothing more than give the government (and law enforcement) an opportunity to insert a "back door," either via coding changes or by placing themselves in a middleman position, much in the way they have with telcos and ISPs. There are a lot of unintended consequences and perverse incentives that go hand-in-hand with government regulation and no one should be in a hurry to unpack those.

Finally, Chertoff comes full circle back to his strained starting point: drones.
The new data collection platforms right in front of us are much more likely to affect our lives than is the prospect of drones overhead surveilling American citizens.
If there's a more noticeable effect from Google Glass, it's only because it's a consumer product the public can access (or be subjected to). Drones are an abstraction. The general public is severely limited in its response to state-deployed drones. A response to a consumer product can be felt immediately. If you feel uncomfortable around a Google Glass wearer, you have a few options (ask the wearer to take them off or leave/exit the "filming" area). If you feel uncomfortable being surveilled by eyes in the sky, well, you can set any number of lengthy plans in motion, but it's unlikely your concerns will be addressed, much less result in curtailed surveillance.

While it's nice to see Chertoff recognizes the privacy issues inherent in a consumer product like this, it's rather annoying to see him treat government/law enforcement surveillance as something far less problematic.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), May 13th, 2013 @ 11:06am

    Money versus Money

    I think it will all come down to private companies. You have private companies collecting and selling data. You have private companies selling security services.

    All the government does in this picture is to write checks to someone, so I don't see it as a government versus private discussion really. It's still about money and who gets to sell what services to whom.

     

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    Ninja (profile), May 13th, 2013 @ 11:16am

    I see glass as a potentially awesome product to catch law enforcement abuses and 'paid' people that derail peaceful protests. I also see it as a potential problem for privacy much like mobile phones were and still are despite many improvements (it's much easier to keep track of what's being shared about your usage nowadays albeit far from perfect).

    Now Govt surveillance and all the known (and unknown) fishing expeditions, abuses and violations? That`s something much more surrounded in smokes and lies...

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2013 @ 11:18am

    A regulatory role does nothing more than give the government (and law enforcement) an opportunity to insert a "back door," either via coding changes or by placing themselves in a middleman position, much in the way they have with telcos and ISPs.

    This is the scary thing to me. By allowing a backdoor, you are basically opening up everyone to issues. I wonder how many HIPAA, SOX, etc laws the government broke when they did the same to the Telco companies.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2013 @ 11:22am

     

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  5. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    out_of_the_blue, May 13th, 2013 @ 11:22am

    It's annoying to see you treat Google as less problem!

    "While it's nice to see Chertoff recognizes the privacy issues inherent in a consumer product like this, it's rather annoying to see him treat government/law enforcement surveillance as something far less problematic." -- After you spent a paragraph saying Glass can be mitigated, do you at all see how you're doing the same thing regarding Glass vs gov't? Yes, WE the people lose from BOTH, you got that right, but you then DID just go on to shrug off Glass!

    You're just, as usual at Techdirt, falsely pitting the worst against plenty bad as if your intent is to get the plenty bad accepted as the new "normal". That's the way the ratchet works. But Glass should be unacceptable, and I think can be made so if the public becomes just a little more informed. People don't like being spied on. There's NO justification under common law for uploading to the internet all images in your vicinity, it's a HUGE invasion of privacy. -- It's just something that mega-corp Google can get away with, for now.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2013 @ 11:39am

    Re: It's annoying to see you treat Google as less problem!

    Please Explain How Google Glass "Uploads To The Internet All Images In Your Vicinity"

    Explain How That Will Happen, First, Before Your Pearl Clutching Ideas Take Root.

     

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  7.  
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    Gwiz (profile), May 13th, 2013 @ 11:46am

    There's NO justification under common law for uploading to the internet all images in your vicinity, it's a HUGE invasion of privacy.


    Care to back up that assertion with some citations?

    AFAIK there has never been a reasonable expectation of privacy in public spaces.

     

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  8.  
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    Gwiz (profile), May 13th, 2013 @ 11:47am

    Re:

    Oops.

    Supposed to be response to out_of_the_blue, May 13th, 2013 @ 11:22am

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2013 @ 11:49am

    ... Some of those government drones have weapons in them. Once we have Joe Blo walkin down the street with frickin laser beams attached to his head, then I'll start freakin out about it.
    In the meantime, government death drones scare me more.

     

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  10.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 13th, 2013 @ 12:25pm

    Re:

    I wonder how many HIPAA, SOX, etc laws the government broke when they did the same to the Telco companies.


    None. They changed the law to make their activities retroactively legal.

     

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  11.  
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    Automatic Grammatizator, May 13th, 2013 @ 12:25pm

    Re: It's annoying to see you treat Google as less problem!

    Why do people like you insist that Google is the biggest source of nefariousness in the world? Why can't you just blame God like normal people do?

     

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  12.  
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    DCX2, May 13th, 2013 @ 12:37pm

    What privacy?

    Outside of your own home, in a public area, walking down the street...what privacy do you really have?

    I say, if the cops can tail you without a warrant, it should be a no-brainer for Google Glass to be in the same place.

     

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    Robert Doyle (profile), May 13th, 2013 @ 12:46pm

    I'm sorry, I just don't get it.

    People can already see me when I am in the public view and I can't control what they remember and who they tell - all this does is increase the quality and quantity of the information. And there was a great example of someone showing how this can backfire on Ted Talks (I can't remember his name but he basically uploads all of his information - including when he urinates... to the government).

    If you want true privacy you have to be a private person - at all times and in all respects.

    It seems like what is being debated is selective privacy - not true privacy.

    I'm not interesting so I have no fear that I am going to end up being stalked by some paparazzi, even an automated one. I'm sure many people are famous but it is the threshold that is being debated here - if it truly was privacy that we were concerned with then we wouldn't allow paparazzi.

    But this Chertoff guy is a complete tool - he's talking out of three sides of a mouth, never mind 2.

    Maybe I just don't see the perspective many others here see though.

     

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  14.  
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    Peter Dow (profile), May 13th, 2013 @ 1:01pm

    Dash cams

    No one has mentioned dash cams in police cars. Remember the dash cam in Russia that caught the meteorite? If they legislate against Google Glass, dash cams should be on the list, as well as cell phones with video, etc.

    If I have the opportunity to video police (or other government agents) in action, I hope to do it with Qik video live, so if the confiscate my phone, I'll still have the video.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2013 @ 1:12pm

    Re: It's annoying to see you treat Google as less problem!

    "Glass should be unacceptable"

    Google Glass doesn't allow you to do anything that you can't already do infinitely more efficiently and affordably with other, already existing technology. I don't like Google as a company, I think they're turning, quickly, into another Microsoft, only with loads more PII data, but Glass is just a display with a camera and a Bluetooth connection to your phone. The camera is mounted right next to your eye, so anybody who can see you can tell that you have a camera pointed at them. Oh the horror! Also, I heard that the battery life on the device, while recording, is total shit. They already have little spy cams you can buy that have actually useful battery life... which are inconspicuous... so what exactly will Glass do to us?

     

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  16.  
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    william (profile), May 13th, 2013 @ 1:28pm

    I think the government is concerned primarily because they are afraid they won't be able to seize the witness' recording after they beat up a 'possibly intoxicated' man.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2013 @ 2:08pm

    sounds like a similar attitude to the NY Mayor. everyone can be watched, taped etc as long as it's only ordinary citizens!

     

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  18.  
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    OldMugwump (profile), May 13th, 2013 @ 2:15pm

    Re: Re: It's annoying to see you treat Google as less problem!

    (Google <> God) == 0

     

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  19.  
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    gorehound (profile), May 13th, 2013 @ 2:34pm

    I keep hearing the same arguments from the Google Glass Fans.They all talk a lot of big talk to me and they always leave out certain topics in their Statements.
    Glassholes: You are already in the Public Eye, ETC.
    ME: But at least you are not Recording me as a Private person.And if you are pointing a Phone at me or a dedicated Camera as a Private Citizen I will see you doing this.

    Glassholes: Hey the Government already has Cameras on the Street, ETC.
    ME: Not in every place so excuse me ! And the last thing I want to see is Armies of Glassholes walking around with no way for me to know if I am being recorded or not.Plus the Damn things are NETWORKED.Glassholes are not Government they are just Common Citizens.Glass will take what it records and put that on Servers and that will have a backdoor of some kind so the US Gov can do just what it does in Regards to Telcos and giving out stuff without Warrants.

    Glassholes: But everything has Cameras and I like to just record life.
    Me: Do I really need to be in someone's Reality TV Show..........NOT and No Way ! There never has been one Reality TV Show here in my Home.Watching Documentaries here and other fine Entertainment without being a Voyeur.

    Bottom line is none of you Supporters will ever get me to actually Buy into this Device.Not in a Public Way but in a Useful Scientific,Industrial Way yes I guess but not something that further turns Mankind into a bunch of Cubicle living Voyeurs.

     

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  20.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 13th, 2013 @ 2:40pm

    Re:

    I think they're also concerned that if the public becomes too enraged about private surveillance, the public will also make the tiny step to being equally enraged at government surveillance.

    So, from their point of view, better do something about the private surveillance.

     

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  21.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), May 13th, 2013 @ 2:47pm

    Re:

    I'm ambivalent about Google Glass, not a supporter. But what you're describing really does exist right now in every detail. Google Glass isn't bringing anything new to the privacy party.

    And if you are pointing a Phone at me or a dedicated Camera as a Private Citizen I will see you doing this.


    Only if the person recording doesn't care if you see it. You, I, or anyone can easily get a wearable camera right now that nobody will see in action. And an awful lot of CCTV cameras are of the pinhole variety. You don't see those. In fact, a large percentage of the ones you can see are dummy cameras, put there just to make everyone aware that Big Brother is Watching.

    Glass will take what it records and put that on Servers


    Not necessarily, but the extent that this is true is the same extent that it's true for the cameras available right now.

    The future you're raging against is not the future at all. It's the present. In my opinion you're directing your energy to the wrong thing -- Google Glass will not make things any worse. You really should be addressing the underlying problem that exists now instead of tilting at windmills that aren't even on the market yet.

     

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  22.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), May 13th, 2013 @ 3:54pm

    It's perceived as obnoxious

    Having people looking at you with Google Glass on their faces would be like having people talk to you with their phones or cameras held up in front of their faces all the time.

    It's there, acting as a potential barrier. It's a tech device in between you and the people around you. And it doesn't need to be there in the way that ordinary glasses or a hearing aid would be.

    Whether or not you are recording the conversation, watching something on Google Glass, or doing neither but still wearing the glasses, it's an obvious symbol of something coming between you and the person in front of you. It's a sign of either real or potential disengagement, or worse (a monitoring device).

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2013 @ 4:14pm

    Re: It's annoying to see you treat Google as less problem!

    Except for the fact the article strongly suggests that both corporate and goverment spying are bad.

    Last I checked that would include google.

    I don't know why i bother pointing this out aince you never respond to what mike actually says instead preferring to attack a strawman you've set up

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2013 @ 8:57pm

    Re: It's annoying to see you treat Google as less problem!

    Your privacy cannot be invaded while you are in public because you do not have any privacy in public. Get over it.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2013 @ 1:09am

    Ingenious plan:

    If you feel uncomfortable being surveilled by eyes in the sky, well, you can set any number of lengthy plans in motion, but it's unlikely your concerns will be addressed, much less result in curtailed surveillance.

    I think about building an 'Umbrella Corporation' to solve the issue.

    What could go wrong?

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2013 @ 4:24am

    The answer is already here for the problem with drones. Just print yourself a gun and shoot the thing down.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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