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Your Privacy Is a Sci-Fi Fantasy 195

Posted by Soulskill
from the when-education-battles-apathy dept.
snydeq writes "Deep End's Paul Venezia discusses the 'sci-fi fantasy' that is privacy in the digital era. 'The assault on personal privacy has ramped up significantly in the past few years. From warrantless GPS tracking to ISP packet inspection, it seems that everyone wants to get in on the booming business of clandestine snooping — even blatant prying, if you consider reports of employers demanding Facebook passwords prior to making hiring decisions,' Venezia writes. 'What happened? Did the rules change? What is it about digital information that's convinced some people this is OK? Maybe the right to privacy we were told so much about has simply become old-fashioned, a barrier to progress.'"
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Your Privacy Is a Sci-Fi Fantasy

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  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:12PM (#39479119)
    The article actually reaches a conclusion that is far different from what the intro would imply.
  • The problem is... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by houstonbofh (602064) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:13PM (#39479141)
    The problem is that far to many people look about as far ahead as a goldfish. "Sure I will give you access to all my facebook data for a cheap beer..." And that makes it had for the rest of us with a clue.
    • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:18PM (#39479197) Homepage

      The problem is that far to many people look about as far ahead as a goldfish. "Sure I will give you access to all my facebook data for a cheap beer..." And that makes it had for the rest of us with a clue.

      Nothing hard there, they can have access to my Facebook data (I haven't logged in in over a year, and my 5 friends are more random than telling), I get a free beer and they get.... less than they expected, from me.

      Idiots have been bragging about their crimes forever, most mob busts were based on (unintentional) confessions.

    • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:23PM (#39479241)

      Most of my facebook User info is fake. Wrong birthday. Wrong location. Wrong employment. Only my name and schools are correct (so friends can find me).

      There are certain suspicious people (Alexjones fans) who have accused me of being a fake person, a government or corporate spy, and so on. I can see why they think that since most of my data says things like, "Worked at Hari Seldon's Foundation" and similar nonsense. And yet these Alexjones people should know better than anyone..... putting your real data online is unwise.

    • by erroneus (253617) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:37PM (#39479371) Homepage

      No. There will ALWAYS be pretty stupid people. ALWAYS. This is why being a conman is illegal for a wide variety of reasons. Taking advantage of stupid people is the problem and it is THE FEW who take advantage of the man. It is unreasonable to blame the masses for the deeds of the few.

      The problem is, in fact, the few. This is true because it is more convenient and it is true because when the flaw is a fact of human nature, the best course of action is to compensate for it rather than to "wish really hard" that human nature will change or that somehow a darwinistic evolution will occur across humanity and people will magically get smarter.

      • Re:The problem is... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by lgw (121541) on Monday March 26, 2012 @09:27PM (#39480607) Journal

        This is why being a conman is illegal for a wide variety of reasons. Taking advantage of stupid people is the problem and it is THE FEW who take advantage of the man.

        Most modern cons (as opposed to simple fraud) work better against average-to-smart people. Stupid people tend to follow simple rules (like don't give money to strangers just because they say stuff). But a smart person can be tricked by giving him the idea that he's outsmarting some third party, which is why there are a lot of cons of the "let's you and I put one over on Bob" variety.

    • by LordLucless (582312) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:56PM (#39479545)

      Sure I will give you access to all my facebook data for a cheap beer...

      Why are you assuming that my facebook data is not worth a cheap beer, to me? A transaction in which I gain something of value to me, in return for something of value to the other person, which I value less than the goods I receive is the fundamental bedrock of economics.

      • by martin-boundary (547041) on Monday March 26, 2012 @07:19PM (#39479723)

        A transaction in which I gain something of value to me, in return for something of value to the other person, which I value less than the goods I receive is the fundamental bedrock of economics.

        Not quite. There are some things which aren't meant for you to be traded, even if you'd really like that beer. You can't sell your kids for a beer, for example. Even though they're your kids, and you should be able to do with them what you like in general, it's not in society's interest to let you do that. I like to think that letting you sell your privacy for a free beer is not in society's interest either.

      • by datavirtue (1104259) on Monday March 26, 2012 @10:12PM (#39480841)

        A transaction in which I gain something of value to me, in return for something of value to the other person, which I value less than the goods I receive is the fundamental bedrock of economics.

        This is not the bedrock of economics, it is the bedrock of societal decline. Trade is an exchange where both parties benefit equally. What you describe is not trade, it is hucksterism. Healthy economics is based on TRADE.

    • by Caerdwyn (829058) on Monday March 26, 2012 @07:31PM (#39479797) Journal

      Or, to paraphrase in a manner that applies to everything from politics to "light" beer:

      Everybody gets what the majority deserves.

    • by bryan1945 (301828) on Monday March 26, 2012 @10:01PM (#39480777) Journal

      I randomly disable and enable my FB account. Drives people nuts. And if someone wants a password for a deactivated account, more power to them. I'd like to see them try and force me to open an account. "We won't hire you unless you have a FB account." Yeah, nothing illegal there, bucko.

  • by msheekhah (903443) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:15PM (#39479159)
    If I post something to an online site and I allow them to save cookies, then it's my fault if they find out demographic information on me. That I can handle. If I subscribe to a free email account and they mine that information for demographic information, I guess I'm okay with that. It's free. If either of those companies sell that information to the government to keep better tabs on me, it's my fault for using free online services. If they tap my phones or spy in my residence, that is a breach of privacy. The other is a breach of private non-critical data.
    • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:21PM (#39479219)

      What makes you think the services you pay for aren't collecting and selling your info too?

    • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:23PM (#39479237)
      The problem with this argument is that many people who use these technologies do not understand how they work, and may not realize what they are exposing.

      Is that their own problem? I suppose. One way to look at it is "evolution in action"... the unaware will be preyed upon. But I think there is a place in society for protecting the innocent from active predators, which are what these companies really are.

      I am not an advocate of laws that are intended to protect us from ourselves. But to protect people from others who actively seek to intrude and invade? Sure, no problem.
    • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:29PM (#39479291)

      Is there such a thing as paid web email?

    • by martin-boundary (547041) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:58PM (#39479565)
      If you use a free fitting room in a clothes store, and they take photos and video from hidden cameras while you change, it's ok right, cause it's free and you expect that.

      If you leave your car in a free parking zone, and there's a guy there hiding a tracking device on the more expensive cars, that's ok right cause it's free and you expect that.

      If you let your kids go to the local playground and there's a guy there asking them questions about where they live, and when you go to work, that's ok right cause it's free and you expect that.

      I guess you think that the word free is like a magic incantation that makes everything ok.

      • by rtb61 (674572) on Monday March 26, 2012 @07:52PM (#39479965) Homepage

        If you pay for it but it's in the contract are they 'free' to monitor your every internet reaction. See the way you react to adds, which generate a positive reaction and which do not. Conduct experiments trialling different styles of adds to see which more effectively manipulate your choices. Test to see if targeting influential people in your life can get them to motivate your decisions. See which lies are the most effective in tricky you about the veracity of adds. See if exposure to actions on the web can influence your choices. See if distortions about your actions on the web can influence your choice. Conduct continual experiments and trials whilst you are connected to the internet upon an automated basis. Target you whole family in a similar fashion especially minors. Target you with automated forum responses to question and challenge your beliefs. Target you social connections with automated responses designed to manipulate your choices. Use your image and voice in product recommendations for free. Use all content you have generated for free. Create man in the middle distortions in your social contacts.

        Are you 'free' to harangue your local representatives to enact legislation to ban all that activity. The legislate the only personal data that companies are allowed to keep is what is required for account keeping purposes. That when this data is no longer required for account keeping purposes it is destroyed. That companies are permanently banned from collating and data mining personal data. That 100% truth is required in all advertising regardless of delivery method and that all false product associations are banned.

  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:15PM (#39479167) Homepage

    Wiretapping laws came about because wiretapping was seen as an invasion of privacy, you were in effect joining a real-time conversation that would not normally be recorded.

    All digital communication is inherently recorded, so in some twisted sense it's more like dumpster diving and less like wiretapping to snoop in e-mail.

    Similarly for GPS tracking, that's just like old-school tailing a car, but cheaper and more clandestine - what's not to like?

    The rules need to be rewritten, give it 30 or 40 years and it should settle down, it's all still very new - judicial time runs much slower than internet time.

    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:20PM (#39479213) Homepage

      All digital communication is inherently recorded, so in some twisted sense it's more like dumpster diving and less like wiretapping to snoop in e-mail.

      No, it's more like your mail carrier reading your snail-mail.

      Which is also an illegal invasion of privacy.

      The rules don't need to be re-written. The old ones work just fine as long as we don't throw out all reason as soon as "on a computer" is added.

      • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:36PM (#39479361) Homepage

        All digital communication is inherently recorded, so in some twisted sense it's more like dumpster diving and less like wiretapping to snoop in e-mail.

        No, it's more like your mail carrier reading your snail-mail.

        Which is also an illegal invasion of privacy.

        The rules don't need to be re-written. The old ones work just fine as long as we don't throw out all reason as soon as "on a computer" is added.

        When I started using e-mail (early 1990s), I and everyone I e-mailed with understood that e-mail is not a sealed letter, it is a post card, if you want a sealed letter, you need to use crypto - even ROT-13 is some measure of privacy. It seemed reasonable enough, the BBSs I used (and ran) in the 1980s were open like that and you could pretty much assume that the sysop knew everything you typed, including your password.

        Even in the mid 1990s, ISP e-mail was handled on systems that pretty much resembled BBSs, my first dialup ISP was a couple of servers in some guy's garage. It rapidly grew into mass virtual machines in clusters on server farms, but the lack of privacy implications remain - if somebody wants to look, it's all too easy to do.

        • When I started using e-mail (early 1990s), I and everyone I e-mailed with understood that e-mail is not a sealed letter, it is a post card,

          Not exactly. It's more like a letter with a very thin envelope. It takes a minimal amount of effort to read, but it can't just land in front of you so you read it on accident. A mail server admin still has to intentionally read the email.

          You have a legal expectation of privacy for a letter. This is separate from how easily your privacy could be illegally violated.

          • When I started using e-mail (early 1990s), I and everyone I e-mailed with understood that e-mail is not a sealed letter, it is a post card,

            Not exactly. It's more like a letter with a very thin envelope. It takes a minimal amount of effort to read, but it can't just land in front of you so you read it on accident. A mail server admin still has to intentionally read the email.

            You have a legal expectation of privacy for a letter. This is separate from how easily your privacy could be illegally violated.

            The BBS system I ran in 1985 echoed every single character typed by the user to the server screen, passwords and all. Most BBS software was like that at the time. Modern e-mail moves by in such torrential floods that you might expect some privacy from the sheer volume of other mail moving along with yours, but at any number of points along the way, the stream of characters that is your e-mail can be displayed "for diagnostic purposes" by the simplest of equipment or software.

            If you want a thin envelope, use encryption - something based on AACS [wikipedia.org] would make a humorous political statement, most famously illegal to decrypt, but most 8 year olds who know how to use Google can figure it out.

        • Even if your emails are sealed from casual man-in-the-middle attacks during transit, companies still snoop on them once they're delivered (eg Google with Gmail or Yahoo etc). The privacy issues at this point have blown up to gigantic proportions, and are *much* worse than the postcard analogy.

          For example, *I* don't have a Gmail account or any direct service agreement with Google, but if I send an email to any one person with a Gmail address (and who doesn't know somebody like that?), then *my* privacy is breached automatically once the message arrives. And with email redirection services, this can happen even if I'm not sending directly to a gmail.com address.

          The cloud is a clusterfuck of privacy abuses that no single individual can protect himself from.

      • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:47PM (#39479477)

        The rules don't need to be re-written. The old ones work just fine as long as we don't throw out all reason as soon as "on a computer" is added.

        The thing is, the old ones don't work just fine. If you pause to consider why privacy matters, the implications of actions that might have been seen as acceptable or a minor social faux pas twenty years ago could be profound today, and it is the implications that we really care about, not the actions themselves.

        For example, consider Google's Street View project. When the privacy debate around their data collection flared up, some people defended them on the grounds that the cars were only driving down the street and photographing things any passer-by could see from a public place. Leaving aside the fact that this turned out not to be true, there are still many practical differences between the two scenarios.

        For one thing, the individual in the street can themselves be seen. Being in a public place is a two-way deal, and if you're going around peering in through people's windows, you're going to attract unwelcome attention.

        Even if you do, your presence is temporary. What you see isn't being recorded for all time, and certainly not in a searchable form or a way that can easily be corrolated with many other data sources.

        Anything seen is seen by one private individual, not a vasty corporation with potentially a global audience.

        Even if we accept as reasonable an individual taking a photograph in a public place that potentially diminishes someone else's privacy, perhaps because the latter person wasn't the subject of the photo and appeared in the background only coincidentally, such photos are still typically only for private, personal use, not being collected by a commercial entity that exists only to exploit anything it can for profit.

        And finally, building on that idea of corrolating data from different sources, we get the kicker: one individual walking down the street can only see as much as, well, one individual walking down the street. This fundamentally and naturally limits the implications of anything they might see or do, even if their actions are unpleasant. Google, on the other hand, have vast resources and were conducting systematic surveillance on a national and even international scale.

        Many of these distinctions also apply in other controversial privacy cases today, even those that aren't based on direct physical observation: mass surveillance by the state, for example, or the kind of insidious data mining operations going on at places like Facebook.

        In short, privacy today needs to take into account not just the scale of any one "invasion", but the cumulative effect of all "invasions". In a world where the Internet provides quick and easy communication of any information from anyone to everyone, where some organisations have resources so vast that they didn't realise downloading that Internet was meant to be a joke, and where data storage and mining capabilities allow the co-ordination and interpretation of thousands of data points about any given individual in an instant, that means minor invasions are a much bigger deal than they used to be.

        There is no reason we should tolerate this, and arguing the inevitability of technological progress is a weak straw man. Technology is neutral, and it's how we choose to use it that matters. After all, the technology has long existed for someone to kill you before you even heard the shot, yet we don't see an epidemic of sniper murders, because murder is wrong and (almost) everyone accepts that. For those whose values are incompatible with that societal norm, there are rules and penalties to act as a further deterrent. The same goes for any crime; absolute prevention is very rarely possible, but between the moral standards of the general population and imposing laws on disproportionately powerful entities like governments and megacorps we keep unwelcome behaviour in check.

        The problem with privacy is just that it's

        • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:57PM (#39479555)
          The problem with your argument is that you are making the classic mistake of thinking that ANY of these things are new issues. They are not. Not even close.

          "Anything seen is seen by one private individual, not a vasty corporation with potentially a global audience.
          Even if we accept as reasonable an individual taking a photograph in a public place that potentially diminishes someone else's privacy, perhaps because the latter person wasn't the subject of the photo and appeared in the background only coincidentally, such photos are still typically only for private, personal use, not being collected by a commercial entity that exists only to exploit anything it can for profit."

          And how is this different from take a public picture of somebody, then putting it on the cover of a national magazine? See, we already had rules about that, and they cover situations like this just fine.

          Similar things can be said about the rest of this. There really isn't anything new here, and if you think there is, then you don't know your history very well. Many of the very same copyright issues that are being slammed around right now, for example, were hashed out in public and in court -- some real knock-down, dragouts as they say -- well over 100 years ago. People keep saying that things are different now, but if they read the actual court decisions from back then, they just might change their minds.

          • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Monday March 26, 2012 @10:25PM (#39480905)

            The problem with your argument is that you are making the classic mistake of thinking that ANY of these things are new issues.

            I would argue exactly the opposite: the changes enabled by modern technology mean we have not just a quantitative but a qualitative difference in the impact of small but no-longer-isolated observations. This does raise new fundamentally questions about what practical actions are consistent with any given moral position on privacy.

            And how is this different from take a public picture of somebody, then putting it on the cover of a national magazine? See, we already had rules about that, and they cover situations like this just fine.

            For one thing, not everywhere has the same rules about that. Please don't project your local legal system onto the rest of the world. Of all things, privacy is surely one of the most variable between jurisdictions in terms of legal protections.

            For another thing, I think there is again a qualitative difference between appearing on a magazine cover, which is a relatively rare event and is by its nature a very public observation usually made by well-established professional media organisations, and the kind of back office data-mining operations that let anonymous observers look up all kinds of information about all kinds of subjects without the subjects even knowing.

            There really isn't anything new here, and if you think there is, then you don't know your history very well.

            Perhaps, but at least I understand that copyright and privacy have absolutely nothing to do with each other, aside from both being in conflict with absolute freedom of expression. It is strange that someone so keen to appeal to century-old court decisions apparently does not...

            • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @01:22AM (#39481637)

              But you have already made that argument, or close enough. Repeating it does not make it more valid.

              "This does raise new fundamentally questions about what practical actions are consistent with any given moral position on privacy."

              I disagree completely. What "fundamentally new questions"? If you would be more specific, I could probably show you that those questions really aren't new, at all.

              "For one thing, not everywhere has the same rules about that. Please don't project your local legal system onto the rest of the world. Of all things, privacy is surely one of the most variable between jurisdictions in terms of legal protections."

              Okay, I apologize for assuming you were talking about the United States. But if that's a problem, then you are guilty of the same thing: talking about issues that only exist in your part of the world, wherever that is.

              "For another thing, I think there is again a qualitative difference between appearing on a magazine cover, which is a relatively rare event and is by its nature a very public observation usually made by well-established professional media organisations, and the kind of back office data-mining operations that let anonymous observers look up all kinds of information about all kinds of subjects without the subjects even knowing."

              Whatever you might think about it, my point was that (here in the US anyway), there need be no new LEGAL issues raised. They both involve pictures taken in public of (I was presuming) everyday people, and displaying them to audiences of millions. Where is there any kind of legal difference between them? Both rest on a desire (or not) for privacy. I fail to see how showing a picture to millions of people on the internet is very different from showing a picture to millions of people on a magazine cover or on TV. And yes, we have laws to cover that. I really don't see how you think this is somehow "new". There have been not just still cameras but video cameras in public settings now for well over 100 years. You honestly think that issues of this kind haven't come up in the courts before???

              "Perhaps, but at least I understand that copyright and privacy have absolutely nothing to do with each other, aside from both being in conflict with absolute freedom of expression. It is strange that someone so keen to appeal to century-old court decisions apparently does not..."

              I only used copyright as an example of a similar issue. I was not equating copyright with privacy, although I suppose I can see how you might have thought that was what I meant. But no; it was only intended as another -- different -- example of how a great many people mistakenly think that modern fights over issues are somehow "new". On the contrary, I repeat: most of these issues have been hashed out not just once, but many times, in the courts over the past century or two. It would benefit a lot of people to pick up some history books from time to time. With the internet now here and well established, it is easier now then ever before to look things up.

              • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @02:40AM (#39481899)

                Please don't get hung up on the specific example I gave. It was only an example of a more general point: because we now have much easier abilities to store, search and corrolate large numbers of small facts, and to make the results widely and instantly available with little cost, allowing the collection of any small fact about an individual may contribute to a much more severe loss of privacy than it ever could before those technologies existed.

                Street View is just one case, in that for example if I know your address there is now a good chance I can quickly and anonymously find out your vehicle and registration details, because that outdoor photography has been systematically collected, is now searchable on-line, and is now available to the entire world.

                The issue of recorded and searchable data is far broader, though. Consider that if one person is standing next to you while you pay in a shop, they probably aren't going to rob you later. Even if they happen to glance in your direction as you type the PIN to authorise a card payment, they probably can't see your card number or the security digits on the back. On the other hand, someone standing there with a video recording device requires only that in handling your card you momentarily expose both sides of it to reveal the numbers required to make an on-line payment. Someone who could follow you around with a recording device could probably collect many other relevant details for security checks based on address and the like as well.

                That only sounds far-fetched because the effort for someone to do this when they have to be physically present for an extended period of time is prohibitive and the risk of being detected is quite high. There is a natural limit that contains the damage any one rogue individual can cause in both scale and number of victims.

                On the other hand, today we have public safety CCTV cameras watching you as you go around the city. Here in the UK, we have a scary number of CCTV cameras watching you just about any other time these days, too, with very little regulation of how the footage is stored or used. We have increasingly accurate image processing software for things like facial recognition and OCR, so a momentary disclosure recorded in public can then be processed at length in private later. Payments are being made increasingly using cards that are inherently traceable and with no physical presence required to deter fraud, and as was widely reported a few days ago, shops data mining this sort of information can now predict very personal matters like pregnancy more accurately than family members and close friends. Obviously unless you're going around buying pregnancy testing kits, no-one observing a single purchase in a store could do that. To make life even easier for would-be fraudsters, millions of kids have even helpfully told Facebook the once-personal information that banks are going to use to identify them via security questions when they grow up: mother's maiden name, first pet, first school, and so on.

                The sheer volume of information about you that is out there today and available to mine is staggering. Anyone able to obtain and corrolate even a tiny fraction of it could be a threat to you through obvious things like identity theft or even physical actions like robbery or kidnapping, and through more subtle things like red flagging your job application or bumping up your insurance premium because you hung around with people who are known to engage in "inappropriate activities". And in practice they would be almost unstoppable and unaccountable for doing these latter things, even if they resulted in discrimination that would otherwise be illegal or at least generally considered unethical, because how will you ever know you're being screwed that way to do anything about it? Of course there is also the whole creepy advertising thing, but that's hardly even on the scale as far as the consequences of lost privacy go IMHO.

                None of this was possible before the era of the Internet and the mass surveillance da

                • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @03:15AM (#39481981)

                  "Please don't get hung up on the specific example I gave. It was only an example of a more general point: because we now have much easier abilities to store, search and corrolate large numbers of small facts, and to make the results widely and instantly available with little cost, allowing the collection of any small fact about an individual may contribute to a much more severe loss of privacy than it ever could before those technologies existed.

                  Street View is just one case, in that for example if I know your address there is now a good chance I can quickly and anonymously find out your vehicle and registration details, because that outdoor photography has been systematically collected, is now searchable on-line, and is now available to the entire world."

                  Since you put it THAT way, I grant you that this specific example might represent something different. It may be true that mass access to what was commonly thought of as "public" information -- when aggregated -- could endanger privacy in ways that were not before. I can see that.

                  "On the other hand, someone standing there with a video recording device requires only that in handling your card you momentarily expose both sides of it to reveal the numbers required to make an on-line payment. Someone who could follow you around with a recording device could probably collect many other relevant details for security checks based on address and the like as well."

                  So what? This brings up the point I made before: the fact that it is theoretically possible does not make it okay or condoned by society. This is a perfect example. In my state, just such activity falls under "surveillance" laws and is already illegal.

                  "That only sounds far-fetched because the effort for someone to do this when they have to be physically present for an extended period of time is prohibitive and the risk of being detected is quite high. There is a natural limit that contains the damage any one rogue individual can cause in both scale and number of victims."

                  No, it sounds farfetched because anybody here caught doing it would spend time in a state prison. Of course again I mean the US, my particular state. It may well be different elsewhere. I do understand that.

                  "On the other hand, today we have public safety CCTV cameras watching you as you go around the city. Here in the UK, we have a scary number of CCTV cameras watching you just about any other time these days, too, with very little regulation of how the footage is stored or used."

                  Yes, especially there, by my understanding, and in a few other places. Fortunately so far we have not been so inundated with intrusive cameras, though they have been increasing somewhat. I have personally tried to help resist this trend, using statistics from places like London as examples, which should warn us not to follow the same path.

                  Please don't misunderstand me. I do agree that our privacy is being assaulted, from many directions. But at least here in the United States, the problem has resulted from the deliberate relaxation of laws that already existed, rather than a lack of them to begin with. And I have no love for the politicians who sold us out.

            • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @01:23AM (#39481649)
              Slip of the keyboard in the first part caused a formatting error. That part should have read:

              "I would argue exactly the opposite: the changes enabled by modern technology mean we have not just a quantitative but a qualitative difference in the impact of small but no-longer-isolated observations."

              But you have already made that argument, or close enough. Repeating it does not make it more valid.

    • "All digital communication is inherently recorded, so in some twisted sense it's more like dumpster diving and less like wiretapping to snoop in e-mail."

      Not at all. First, it isn't "inherently recorded", any more than your snail mail is "inherently copied" when it is put in a bin at the post office. It is quite possible to relay things like email, and even put them in temporary storage, waiting for the email client to pick them up, without "recording" them in any other sense. When my email client gets my mail, it is deleted from anywhere else.

      Now, having said that, you are your own worst enemy if you use the IMAP email protocol, rather than the older POP3, because IMAP inherently does put your email in control of the server, and by default keeps copies of the emails on the server, even those that are "deleted". You can change those settings, but most people don't.

      To sum it up: there is no real sense in which electronic communications are "inherently recorded" by any middleman, at all, any more than a telephone conversation, unless you count temporary storage, which should be set up as just that... temporary, and wiped when a file is deleted.

      "Similarly for GPS tracking, that's just like old-school tailing a car, but cheaper and more clandestine - what's not to like?"

      And this is yet another false argument. GPS tracking is, indeed, inherently worse and more intrusive than an "old-school tail", in several ways. Thankfully the courts, unlike you, have recognized this fact.

      The rules don't need to be rewritten at all. In fact they continued to work fine, right up until people started messing with them just before the turn of the century, giving "authorities" more control. THAT is the problem here, not the technologies.

      None of the basic issues have changed. Emails need be no different from telephone conversations. Nor internet sessions. ISPs could (and should) operate like common carriers, such as the old-school telephone companies. That would solve much, right there. Many of these privacy issues would disappear overnight.

      • To sum it up: there is no real sense in which electronic communications are "inherently recorded" by any middleman, at all, any more than a telephone conversation, unless you count temporary storage, which should be set up as just that... temporary, and wiped when a file is deleted.

        You haven't been reading the news? The NSA is already setting up a datacentre to record all of that traffic. Add to that, they don't believe they have "intercepted" that data unless and until an NSA drone actually accesses that data. They're lobbying Congress for approval, last I heard.

      • "All digital communication is inherently recorded, so in some twisted sense it's more like dumpster diving and less like wiretapping to snoop in e-mail."

        Not at all. First, it isn't "inherently recorded", any more than your snail mail is "inherently copied" when it is put in a bin at the post office.

        Maybe not necessary, but as it has always been implemented, SMTP, IMAP, POP and otherwise, it is stored on each server while they wait to copy it to the next server, and it is stored for a long time on the receiving server waiting for the final (usually human) recipient to acknowledge receipt and request deletion - I have always set my clients to automatically delete received messages after 15 days, during which time, I assume that my ISP is backing the, almost always unencrypted, e-mail up on their disaster recovery system.

        To sum it up: there is no real sense in which electronic communications are "inherently recorded" by any middleman, at all, any more than a telephone conversation, unless you count temporary storage, which should be set up as just that... temporary, and wiped when a file is deleted.

        Have a look through: RFC5321 [ietf.org] and predecessors, those are the rules your e-mail travels under, whether or not they should be amended to ensure privacy is another debate, this is the way things have worked in e-mail for 30 years. Nothing guarantees privacy, an obliquely related quote from the transport standard:

        SMTP mail inherently cannot be authenticated, or
        integrity checks provided, at the transport level. Real mail
        security lies only in end-to-end methods involving the message
        bodies, such as those that use digital signatures (see RFC 1847 [43]
        and, e.g., Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) in RFC 4880 [44] or Secure/
        Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME) in RFC 3851 [45]).

        Know anybody who uses digital signatures or PGP in regular e-mail conversations? I know exactly one, a geek celebrity who presumably doesn't want people making up quotes attributed to him.

        "Similarly for GPS tracking, that's just like old-school tailing a car, but cheaper and more clandestine - what's not to like?"

        And this is yet another false argument. GPS tracking is, indeed, inherently worse and more intrusive than an "old-school tail", in several ways. Thankfully the courts, unlike you, have recognized this fact.

        If you didn't recognize the sarcasm, I apologize... "What's not to like" comes from the perspective of people who "do" law enforcement, and, thankfully, in January of this year, SCOTUS came out on our side [thehill.com] for once.

        None of the basic issues have changed. Emails need be no different from telephone conversations. Nor internet sessions. ISPs could (and should) operate like common carriers, such as the old-school telephone companies. That would solve much, right there. Many of these privacy issues would disappear overnight.

        Old school telephone lines could be, and were regularly, tapped, with and without warrants - information gained from a warrantless wiretap can not be used to prosecute nor get a warrant, but it certainly did happen. Open and publicly auditable police protection isn't likely to come about any time soon, we certainly have never had it in the past.

        E-mail needs to grow up, I use G-mail because it serves my needs, and my needs do not include private e-mail conversation.

        What I find horrifying is the security theater that goes around supposedly "sensitive" information handling. Footers on unencrypted e-mails instructing the recipient to de

        • "Maybe not necessary, but as it has always been implemented, SMTP, IMAP, POP and otherwise, it is stored on each server while they wait to copy it to the next server, and it is stored for a long time on the receiving server waiting for the final (usually human) recipient to acknowledge receipt and request deletion - I have always set my clients to automatically delete received messages after 15 days, during which time, I assume that my ISP is backing the, almost always unencrypted, e-mail up on their disaster recovery system."

          But this is transient storage, just as the mail bin is, in my example. There is nothing about recording copies that is "inherent" in this technology. The kind of recording you are talking about requires a copy, such as in a database somewhere. None of the technologies we are talking about require copies in order to operate.

          "... during which time, I assume that my ISP is backing the, almost always unencrypted, e-mail up on their disaster recovery system."

          Depends on your ISP, but probably not. Besides, if you are using an email account that is given to you by your ISP, you're kind of asking for trouble, aren't you?

          "Know anybody who uses digital signatures or PGP in regular e-mail conversations? I know exactly one, a geek celebrity who presumably doesn't want people making up quotes attributed to him."

          That's a straw-man argument. Let's remember what my post was about: somebody said that "recording" was "inherent" in the technology, and I pointed out that it wasn't. Your statement about the RFC changes that not one bit. The fact that I might leave my door unlocked does not mean that burglary is "inherent" in door locks. The fact that my emails may not be secure does not mean that somebody else has the right to copy them. Paper email is not "secure" in that sense either; yet people expect it to get from one end to the other without somebody reading it.

          "Old school telephone lines could be, and were regularly, tapped, with and without warrants..."

          That still doesn't mean that tapping is "inherent" in the technology. On the contrary... somebody has to either get a warrant or break the law to install a tap. Again, there is nothing "inherent" there. And that's what I was saying when I mentioned common carriers. If the FCC could classify ISPs as common carriers under Part II, (as they have long wanted to do but Big Cable lobbied congress), then interception of your email would be covered by the same kind of laws as tapping your telephone. Big win.

          "E-mail needs to grow up, I use G-mail because it serves my needs, and my needs do not include private e-mail conversation."

          Back to what I was saying before: so what? You have a right to expect your communications to NOT be copied by third parties. Just like you have historically had a right to have a private telephone conversation without third parties tapping in. The fact that it's theoretically possible does NOT make it okay. You are giving me the impression that you are just throwing your hands up in the air and saying "F*k it, they're bigger than me, so I give up." Pardon me if I don't follow your example.

          "Your privacy will get respected when you start standing up for it..."

          Precisely my point. But you haven't been giving the impression that you're standing up. Rather, that you're giving in.

        • by Ash-Fox (726320) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @06:11AM (#39482593)

          Know anybody who uses digital signatures or PGP in regular e-mail conversations? I know exactly one, a geek celebrity who presumably doesn't want people making up quotes attributed to him.

          I use domain keys and SPF to help ensure authenticity on my mail servers. I believe the major mail providers also use these technologies. Mail technologies have somewhat evolved over the years.

      • by Ash-Fox (726320) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @06:06AM (#39482569)

        Now, having said that, you are your own worst enemy if you use the IMAP email protocol, rather than the older POP3, because IMAP inherently does put your email in control of the server

        I own my server. If you want control over your data, own your end points. POP3 isn't going to stop your information from being stored - see gmail comment below.

        and by default keeps copies of the emails on the server, even those that are "deleted".

        Only Outlook does that. Thunderbird, Zimbra, kmail, siphed-claws etc. do not.

        You can change those settings, but most people don't.

        Mail servers like Zimbra actually do delete the e-mails when they get the 'marked for deletion' flag. As well as mail services like gmail. This is mostly because of Outlook.

        To sum it up: there is no real sense in which electronic communications are "inherently recorded" by any middleman, at all, any more than a telephone conversation, unless you count temporary storage, which should be set up as just that... temporary, and wiped when a file is deleted.

        Information tends to be replicated and stored for at least 30 days on services like gmail, despite being 'deleted'.

        Emails need be no different from telephone conversations.

        Regulations are different. There is clear law on retaining information for telephones, not so much for e-mail.

    • by green1 (322787) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:35PM (#39479345)

      This is yet again a case of lawmakers completely forgetting old rules just because something happens in a new medium.

      Would you get away with having someone stand 1 foot away from a private conversation? then why do you think you should get away with listening in on their phone line? what's the difference?

      Can you get away with opening people's physical mail? what makes email any different? (and every other online service is either like a bulletin board everyone can read, which is fair game to all, or like private physical mail to select people which is not. There really isn't any in between.)

      GPS tracking, sure, no problem, as long as you don't touch the car in any way to do it (if you attach something to my car, 1) I can do whatever I want with it, 2) I can charge you with vandalism/trespass/etc)

      The rules ARE being re-written, but that's the last thing that SHOULD happen. people need to stop writing completely new laws just because the same activity happens in a new medium, the old laws should be just fine, interpret them in their original intent.

      There would be a huge public outcry if these new laws allowed opening everyone's physical mail and wiretapping every person's phone conversations, but for some reason just because it happens "on the internet" people don't fight back. THIS is what needs to change, not the laws themselves.

    • by c0lo (1497653) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:38PM (#39479379)

      The rules need to be rewritten, give it 30 or 40 years and it should settle down, it's all still very new - judicial time runs much slower than internet time.

      As a person born and grown under the communist regimes in East Europe, I cannot stop but wonder just how will it settle down in 30-40 years time... it's not like it cannot evolve in the unpleasant direction much faster than 30 years (except USSR, the rest of the countries in Eastern Europe had the regime imposed to them in a matter of 10-12 years. Imagine if US of A would start muscling the world in this direction... for the sake of the children, against terrorists and to protect their entertainment industry... it's not like UK or Australia haven't already fallen into the pattern).

    • by epyT-R (613989) on Monday March 26, 2012 @09:41PM (#39480661)

      no they don't.. the old ones just need to be applied, the 'on the internet' suffix does not justify a rewrite.

  • by n5vb (587569) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:16PM (#39479171)

    In an effort to find the needle, we're burning down the haystack.

    I might add that burning down a haystack to find a needle in it not only destroys the hay, but makes the needle useless..

  • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:17PM (#39479181)

    It's just that in the past that information was in different locations, like the phone book (name, address, phone) or state government (birthdate, annual income), or federal government (SS number, lifetime income). Companies have always sought to find information on us, from Arbitron measuring how many people listened local stations, to Nielsen adding PeopleMeters to boxes. Now Google and Facebook are doing the same, but more directly through the net.

    • by martin-boundary (547041) on Monday March 26, 2012 @07:09PM (#39479641)

      Companies have always sought to find information on us,

      I disagree. This is pervasive only due to advertising. If you put aside the requirements of advertising, you'll find that companies have very little need for information about their customers, basically they just need enough to make a transaction work, an address only if something must be sent or delivered, and credit card data if it's not going to be a cash transaction.

      So the evil ultimately resides in the needs of advertising, and the solution lies in making companies accountable for their activities.

      • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Monday March 26, 2012 @07:51PM (#39479957) Homepage

        Companies have always sought to find information on us,

        I disagree. This is pervasive only due to advertising. If you put aside the requirements of advertising, you'll find that companies have very little need for information about their customers, basically they just need enough to make a transaction work, an address only if something must be sent or delivered, and credit card data if it's not going to be a cash transaction.

        So the evil ultimately resides in the needs of advertising, and the solution lies in making companies accountable for their activities.

        Companies have always sought to find information on us,

        I disagree. This is pervasive only due to advertising. If you put aside the requirements of advertising, you'll find that companies have very little need for information about their customers, basically they just need enough to make a transaction work, an address only if something must be sent or delivered, and credit card data if it's not going to be a cash transaction.

        So the evil ultimately resides in the needs of advertising, and the solution lies in making companies accountable for their activities.

        I worked for a company that made a very technically complex product, it cost, all told, $600 to make, and sold for $15K, yet, the company barely broke even. Why? Because it cost $14,400 per device to successfully market and sell one - they sold tens of thousands per year, shipped a FedEx truck full of promotional materials out every single day, and had hundreds of sales reps beating the bushes to find "the next customer."

        For many companies "advertising" and potential customer information are simply, everything.

      • by turbidostato (878842) on Monday March 26, 2012 @07:57PM (#39480011)

        "This is pervasive only due to advertising."

        Not advertising but marketing. Forget about advertising and companies still will want to know what's the average income of your neighborhood, if there's a majority of any ethnic, if they are young or old, how many children on average, if they have degrees or just basic education, if you have a big car or if you prefer your weekly buy on saturday or friday...

        Advertising is just the most visible side of the marketing iceberg.

      • by w_dragon (1802458) on Monday March 26, 2012 @08:03PM (#39480061)
        Even if cable were advertisement free there would still be value in knowing what people watch. If people don't watch a channel then the company can drop it from a package without losing customers, saving money. Similar with stores, if you regularly buy 3 products from the same aisle they may want to split them up so you browse more of the store. Advertising increases the value of your information, but it is not worthless without it.
  • by erroneus (253617) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:21PM (#39479223) Homepage

    It simply has to be fought for and lately it seems it will require some very real bloodshed. The government of the U.S. and all of the other major free society governments of the world are hell bent on stripping away privacy in order to defend intellectual property and to assure themselves of better control over the people "they serve." The last time we saw these kinds of problems, there was a revolution in the US. The next time we see it, it may be a global "civil war" against the tyrants of the nations of the world.

    I'm sorry to all the business people out there who believe their right to "grow and proper" outweighs the needs, rights and the very nature of humanity but they don't. You don't have the right to unlimited profits. You don't have the right to sell data you have collected about people to other businesses or governments. You will all find this out before too long "French Revolution" style.

    I just hope we have enough "fathers of the new world democracy" or whatever we end of calling it to write a new constitution guaranteeing everything the US constitution guaranteed and adds to it all of the lessons we have learned since that document was written. Among these should include bits like "There shall be no law which impedes, restricts, hinders or limits the rights of humanity, its arts or its legacy."

    Frankly, I'm getting to the point where I feel we have little else to lose. And when that happens, a special kind of hell will break loose all over the globe.

    • by Twinbee (767046) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:46PM (#39479465) Homepage
      I think 99% of people are FAR more content than what you're portraying. I'm not saying you don't have some partially good points, but at least I would prefer targeted ads than weight-loss or build-your-abs crap. Yeah they might earn a bit more revenue, big deal. Some things you really do gain on the roundabouts and lose on the swings.
      • by erroneus (253617) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:54PM (#39479531) Homepage

        The American revolution started with a tiny minority. And when things started rolling, attention came to what terrible things the British government did which brought more people to support the revolution... it grew and grew and grew. The incident in Tienanmen square called attention to the desires of many, many people in China.

        Global activism calling attention to tyrants and human rights violations is growing all over the globe with common themes. The US government is identifying protestors as terrorists of a low calibur... but still classifying them as terrorists enabling their new "anti-terror" laws to be used against them and others.

        Perhaps the people affected at first are a minority. But as more attention is given to them, people will begin to identify with the victims more and more creating ripples and waves of sympathizers and supporters because they realize "we are next."

  • by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:30PM (#39479305) Homepage Journal

    ...with a lack of privacy is that there's a lack of accountability. If an institution gets incorrect data on you, it's not that institution's fault - it's not their data - and even if they fix it it will break again because the bad data is still out there. There's no central authoritative source when there's no privacy, which means that nobody is at fault when mistakes are made, and nobody is responsible for cleaning the mess up.

    There's a whole raft of other problems, but I fail to see how reliable data could possibly be an impediment to anything - let alone progress. Quality and reliability are surely the pillars on which sustainable progress is achievable. Eliminate privacy, you eliminate the only means by which progress is possible.

    Yeah, I know, TFA says nothing about privacy being an impediment, but TFS (the "fine" summary) does and I suspect far too many buy into the whole idea.

  • by VinylRecords (1292374) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:33PM (#39479321)

    Maybe it's different in other countries but in the U.S. people barely seem to care about personal privacy. Between Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Myspace, and so on, people seem more than willing to put their private lives and information out on the internet. And if you look at the type of news that Americans read most often, it is celebrity gossip, tabloids and paparazzi that stalk famous people and report on their every movement.

    We put our political beliefs on our t-shirts and bumper stickers. Wear our sports teams on our hats. And now we can share those things on Twitter and YouTube. I think I'm the only employee at my work that doesn't have a LinkedIn, Myspace, Facebook, or a Twitter.

    Between Jeremy Lin, Tim Tebow, Kim Kardashian, and the 15-minutes-of-fame type reality TV show people, we have an endless cycle of gossip news available online and on your television. And people seem to love it. The more invasive the questions are at a sports press conference with Tim Tebow the better. The more we can dig up on Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries the better. Whitney Houston having cocaine in her system was more reported than anything else in the last week on the mainstream news.

    The Slashdot crowd is the exception not the rule. When most people are all about getting themselves more friends on Facebook and more followers on YouTube the "geeks" are holding onto their privacy. Personal privacy is simply not cool in America. When America stops everything because Tim Tebow is coming to the Jets (I hope everyone at /. has familiarized themselves with the Wildcat Offense) they are there for the spectacle and not for the actual sport.

    Sure no one wants their credit card information online. But too many people in the U.S. seem to think that putting their email, phone number, personal likes and hobbies, thousands of pictures of themselves, and so on, all over the internet, is not only okay but it is preferred. It's fun for them.

  • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:35PM (#39479349)

    Dear author:
    Puleeze. Science fiction (scifi) and fantasy fiction are separate genres. Everybody knows this most basic fact! To use the adjective "scifi" to describe the noun "fantasy" is Not correct.
    Signed,
        Comic Book Guy

  • by LittleBigScript (618162) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:43PM (#39479431) Homepage Journal

    My two cents:

    Companies which ask for Facebook login information are wasting money on non-work related information gathering. In other words, the company has too much money and is spending it on a non-recoverable cost center. Potential employees who deny access are saving the company money and should be the preferred hires. When I took a computer ethics class in my bachelor of science degree, I was amazed there were people in the class were willing to play cop and "get him" without any evidence that the suspicions are affecting job performance. I was even more amazed at the majority of the class who were against the searches and would said they would not assist an employer by writing software to do so, but began to do so in class when it was re-framed as an "interesting exercise" to demonstrate competance. The IT and IS fields are becoming the Catch-22 of legal responsibility.

  • by holophrastic (221104) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:47PM (#39479471)

    There were never any laws stopping someone from watching the outside of your house. There never needed to be. Long ago, the only ones who could were your neighbours, and long-distance enemies camping out. Either way there were very easy deterents. But when remotely operating camperas and such appeared, the law said supported my right to see the outside of your house. So I was allowed to aim a camera at your house. That camera later became infrared and could see through walls. But you posted a photograph of your living room online, so you had no expectation of privacy for your living room, even to my camera. It spiralled like that a few times to wind up here.

    The problem is that there was no old law not because people should have the right to view other people's houses. There was no old law because there didn't need to be -- it wasn't an actual problem. When it became a problem, well, our laws are based on precedent. In this case, a lack thereof.

    The real law should have been aimed at objectives, like supporting privacy not as an abstract concept but as a control over something. That something can become public but the control over that something should never have been.

    We see this in commercial IP all the time. "reserve all rights", duplication rights, publication rights, and more. But those never existing to the outside of your house. So I could publish the outside of your house any way I choose. The result is this.

  • Or maybe (Score:3, Insightful)

    by koan (80826) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:48PM (#39479487)

    Maybe the right to privacy we were told so much about has simply become old-fashioned, a barrier to progress.

    Just maybe the generation growing up is more accepting of the intrusions, the same way manners and morals dissolved over the years, compare TV in the 1950's to TV today to see a graphic example of this.

    For the record you can maintain your privacy, just learn to think like this; that everything done on the Internet is like shouting in a restaurant so don't post or discuss things you wouldn't yell in a restaurant.

  • by losttoy (558557) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:51PM (#39479513)
    Only slashdot visitors get all worked up about privacy invasions. As far as I can tell, the rest of the world is pretty happy openly letting everyone know of their social, economic, emotional, physical, geographic or mental status. People want to share all this information. We get a kick out of it. Remember that thing about humans - Humans are social animals. Somehow, we want humans to unlearn their biological craving to share information and close themselves in? Good luck!
  • by kheldan (1460303) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:58PM (#39479571) Journal

    Maybe the right to privacy we were told so much about has simply become old-fashioned, a barrier to progress

    Memo to Mr. Venezia:
    GO TO HELL!

  • by Shavano (2541114) on Monday March 26, 2012 @08:09PM (#39480125)

    Misspelled "barrier to profit."

  • by Guppy06 (410832) on Monday March 26, 2012 @08:10PM (#39480135)

    Maybe the right to privacy we were told so much about has simply become old-fashioned, a barrier to progress.

    The "right to privacy" you've been "told so much about" didn't really come into play in the United States until the Supreme Court was looking to overturn states laws banning contraception in Griswold v. Connecticut. Currently, we're looking at a GOP presidential primary where at least one of the major candidates would like to see that overturned outright, to be able to ban contraception specifically and other privacy protections generally.

  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Monday March 26, 2012 @08:18PM (#39480205)

    I guess somebody didn't get the memo about GPS searches requiring a warrant.

  • by Oligonicella (659917) on Monday March 26, 2012 @11:20PM (#39481149)
    "Maybe the right to privacy we were told so much about has simply become old-fashioned, a barrier to progress.'"

    Knowing that someone would seriously entertain that concept kinda tastes like mental bile.
  • by rsborg (111459) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:39AM (#39481473) Homepage

    "...Maybe the right to privacy we were told so much about has simply become old-fashioned, a barrier to profits".

    Privatized profits, socialized losses - socialism for the rich and megacorps.

  • by pmontra (738736) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @03:21AM (#39481995) Homepage
    We can progress in many directions. Maybe progress in a direction that destroys everybody's privacy for the profit of a few people is not the right direction to progress to.
  • by cheros (223479) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @07:20AM (#39482901)

    1 - Privacy is a right. Yes, that's right - a Human Right [un.org]. Quite a lot of expensive people sat around a large table for quite some time working this stuff out, and if they didn't think it was important I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be in their list [un.org].

    2 - Laws are made to be followed. Excuses such as "too big to comply", "we're from abroad" or "too costly to comply" (Google Streetview) are not acceptable.

    3 - Law enforcement gets a privilege to break the laws to fight crime. It has to be kept VERY clear, that this is a PRIVILEGE, and absolutely NOT a right.

    Now, was that so hard?

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