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
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
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.