Can There Be An Exxon Valdez For Privacy?

from the or-will-it-matter dept

Ed Felten is asking a very interesting question. With all of the data and privacy leaks over the last few years, it still seems like most people aren’t that concerned. Certainly, those whose data has been included in one or more sets of leaked data (which must include nearly everyone by now) may be slightly inconvenienced, but is it enough to take notice? He asks what will it take to create an “Exxon Valdez” moment for privacy, where just about everyone suddenly starts paying attention. He asked that question on a recent panel, and someone responded that a large scale identity theft effort that impacted thousands would do the trick, but others disagree. Of course, another issue is whether or not this is even the right question. The Valdez incident may have captured public attention for a little while, and caused some changes in processes, but did it actually set in place large scale changes? And, with privacy, it seems that an increasing number of people are simply resigned to accepting Scott McNealy’s position that you have zero privacy, and everyone should just “get over it.” Alternatively, there are those who support the David Brin sousveillance view of the world, where you admit there’s no privacy, but make sure that’s true for those who have access to your private data as well (which, in theory, helps keep them more honest, since any violation of your privacy can then become known). So, perhaps the real question is whether or not there really will be a defining moment in privacy violations, or if people will gradually just become resigned to the fact that they have little to no privacy any more.

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Comments on “Can There Be An Exxon Valdez For Privacy?”

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ZA says:

Re: I don't think

I think the VA incident constitutes the Exxon Valdez. How many effected would it take?

There are so many companies that are outsourced overseas. Financial institutions included. Many countries such as India have different privacy laws. How do we know any of our personal information is safe? We don’t! And there is nothing we can do about it. We just have to hope for the best.

Duane Nickull (user link) says:

Re: Re: The worst part...

is that it is preventable today. Until this silly notion that storing all your secrets in a locked file cabinet and giving keys to those you trust wil protect you dies, it wil also be destined to repeat itself. Microsoft and Adobe systems both make technologies that allow persistent security policies to accompany information anywhere it goes. Either of these could have easily prevented the VA nightmare and put a stop to it once the breach was discovered.

I, for one says:

Privacy is a double edged sword

Such an event is inevitable. Political scandals are always about a failure to contain secrets and eventually something really big is going to come out because of a lost laptop, a bad erase on a USB thumbdrive, or a stray email.

The scale of a leak is irrelevant, ten million customers data are the same as ten, it’s the content of the data that makes the difference.

Sousveillance, an interesting idea, but never forget

surveillance is about power not protection. Those with the power can selectively rewrite the record at will, so it will never apply equally.

Turd Ferguson says:

This is an easy one...

When someone dies.

Bunches of cute birdies and baby seals dying does the trick. (Exxon Valdez) Financial “death” of tens of thousands of employees due to a corrupt few does the trick. (Enron) Too many deaths at an intersection does the trick. (local governments will finally spend the money to install stoplights) And a death or two of actual people due to Russian, Mexican, or even American mob activity because they refused to pay up after their data was jacked online will do the trick too.

wolff000 says:

Nothing Left

A wise man once said that an honest man has nothing to hide. All I can say to that is the wise man either was A not very wise or B had never left his house. I for one have plenty to hide so this topic really bothers me. I know we have had next to no privacy in this country since before I was born but the little we have is slowly being sucked away. So how do we get our privacy back? Good question someone please let me know as soon as they figure it out.

David Levine says:

Holding your private data hostage

What if someone stole the entire IRS database of individual tax returns and published it on the Internet?

Having credit cards stolen is nothing compared with the theft of sensitive information: Medical information, corporate secrets, military secrets, sealed court records, driving record, all your financial records, all your tax returns, etc.

Perhaps it’s even scarier if the break-in goes unnoticed and records are actually updated. Imagine if your medical records are doctored. Or your social security account is altered.

Maggie says:

The Exx-Valdez of data

There will be public outcry and call for action when a bank leaks the full details of all the accounts including balances, owners names, acct numbers, and wiring permsssions, and the bad guys quickly empty out thousands of accounts.

Remember the saving and loan debacle in the 80s, where tons of people lost real money and had to be bailed out by the govn’mt? This event led to major changes in banking practices and regulations. Do you know of a financial institute that still has “S&L” in its name?

Moneyguy says:

There is no privacy on the Internet

…where just about everyone suddenly starts paying attention.

The majority of people didn’t think about their privacy before the internet and most don’t think of it now. The people reading TechDirt are in the minority – and just as likely to suffer from identity theft as someone who doesn’t read TechDirt or even use the internet for that matter.

There is no privacy on the internet, never was and never will be.

(Insert witty remark here) says:

My Letter from the Office of Veteran Affairs

I received a letter from the Office of Veteran Affairs yesterday. Apparently an employee of the VA took home (against policy) private veteran information.

The information contains SS numbers, contact info, disability ratings etc.

The employee’s house was robbed and the computer, containing the information was stolen.

Your “Exxon-Valdez for Piracy”? 26.5 MILLION veterans information was stolen and presumed compromised.

Fuck that fuck that fuck that

jomama (user link) says:

Leaky gummint now contends with a waterfall

While I think most individual “citizens” don’t much care how much privacy (if any) they have, the gummint is in a panic that someone on the inside would want to broadcast heretofore secret stuff like their tapping of SWIFT wire transfers to catch the “bad guys”.

Do you really think the “bad guys” or even the “good guys” didn’t already know this?


Enjoy the show. Washington (and other capitols) are now connected to a firehose of leaks if not a waterfall.

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