You Have No Privacy Anywhere – And You'll Have Even Less Next Year

from the it-will-get-worse-before-it-gets-better dept

Declan McCullough’s latest column is a overall review of all the surveillance initiatives the government is working on these days. His point is that as scary as things are right now, they’re only going to get worse as the technology gets better and better. This makes a reasonable follow up to the article posted earlier about security cameras. The big question, still, is what to do about it? As is generally the case with technology, if it’s there, it’s going to get used (for good reasons or bad) sooner or later. Instead of complaining about it, aren’t we better off coming up with more proactive ways to protect privacy, rather than just worrying about those trying to take it away?

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Comments on “You Have No Privacy Anywhere – And You'll Have Even Less Next Year”

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mgallagher says:

The problem is context

The “honest man has nothing to fear” approach, while sounding reasonable on the surface has a serious flaw. Specifically, surveillance systems are “porous”. That is, some bits cannot be captured and therefore interpretation is relied on to fill in the gaps. Unfortunately, this cannot be done by humans or other mechanisms with 100% accuracy, which leads to incorrect conclusions.

For example: Someone who Interpol is after moves into my nighborhood. He accidentally calls my phone number because it’s one digit different than Pizza Hut, a surveillance camera sees me standing next to him waiting for the bus one day, getting money from an ATM after him the next and I buy a book about terrorism the day after that. To the surveillance system, I’m associating with a known threat and I’m gathering information about how to do illegal things. In fact, I never met the man, never talked to him other than to say “sorry wrong number”, and I never read the book, since I gave it as a gift to someone else.

The potential for silly and, in some cases, disasterous “false positives” and “false negatives” that extensive surveillance systems can generate far outweigh the benefits (if any) that could be realized.

dorpus says:

Re: The problem is context

You’re right, such things could happen. But I am given to understand that street surveillance cams have helped to drive down crime. Las Vegas casinos have cams everywhere, but I haven’t heard too many stories of people who are suddenly greeted by an army of security guards due to a false positive.

Also, a privacy-less society will be able to build dossiers on individuals to determine their risk level. Fact is, most lawbreakers act like one. A law enforcement agency’s limited resources are better spent on following suspicious individuals, than on following every Tom, Dick, and Harry. Despite all the fear-mongering, only a small percentage of the population has the aptitude for law enforcement careers; as such, resources will always be limited.

99% of law enforcement investigations remain interviewing. If police was suspicious about you, they’d call you in for an interview to clarify things.

To look on the bright side for techies, surveillance could also spawn a software industry for weeding out meaningless correlations. Wrong numbers can be spotted fairly easily if the person calls a similar number afterwards.

Finally, many people do not realize this, but the most intrusive government agency, which is able to tap phone lines with few restrictions, search your residence, follow you on the street, know the most about you, is most likely your local police department. The FBI only gets a few hundred court authorizations per year for wiretaps; typically, they have the local cops do it for them.

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