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Former Head of CIA Think Tank Talks Privacy, Technology 147

blackbearnh writes "Carmen Medina, until recently, helped run the analysis side of the house at the CIA. She also ran the agency's think tank, the Center for the Study of Intelligence. A self-proclaimed heretic, she has a number of controversial views about how we gather intelligence and how technology is changing the game. She talked to O'Reilly Radar about this and other topics, including the possible ways that intelligence analysis could be crowdsourced, why government technology procurement is so broken, and how the public may need to readjust its views on what things such as privacy mean. Medina said, 'Government is viewed as inefficient and wasteful by American citizens. I would argue that one of the reasons why that view has grown is that they're comparing the inefficiency of government to how they relate to their bank or to their airline. Interestingly enough, for private industry to provide that level of service, there are a lot of legacy privacy barriers that are being broken. Private industry is doing all sorts of analysis of you as a consumer to provide you better service and to let them make more profit. But the same consumer that's okay with private industry doing that is not okay, in a knee-jerk reaction, with government doing that. And yet, if government, because of this dynamic, continues not to be able to adopt modern transactional practices, then it's going to fall further behind the satisfaction curve.'"
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Former Head of CIA Think Tank Talks Privacy, Technology

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  • uh-hu (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sir_Lewk ( 967686 ) <sirlewk@gmaRABBITil.com minus herbivore> on Monday May 03, 2010 @03:08PM (#32075606)

    Correct me if I'm completely off base, but I'm reading this as the former head of the CIA whining about how "if business can do it, the government should be able to too". She correctly points out that the public doesn't seem to care when businesses invade their privacy, but she is using that to claim they shouldn't care when the government does it either, not to claim that the public should be concerned about both.

    And come to think about it, what the hell does a former head of the CIA care about what the American public thinks about privacy anyway? Isn't the CIA only supposed to operate outside of the US or something like that?

  • CIA need to provide the public some awesome free service and then people won't mind giving up data for analysis. It worked for Google. If their product is foreign intelligence.. may be some service for the public regarding that?
  • "Knee-jerk" my ass (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Scareduck ( 177470 ) on Monday May 03, 2010 @03:12PM (#32075654) Homepage Journal
    It's not "knee-jerk" because the government has a monopoly on force. The government can take your property without compensation and throw you in jail, courses of action denied to insurance companies and banks.

    This person is a "heretic"? Only among people who value their privacy. She sounds more to me like a typical apologist for Big Brother.
  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi AT evcircuits DOT com> on Monday May 03, 2010 @03:31PM (#32075882) Homepage

    Is this basically a call to let down our guard and let the government walk all over our privacy and constitutional rights?

    What she's saying is wrong anyway, government is broken not because they can't track everything we do - it's broken because they try to track everything we do. There is a whole slew of agencies that don't even need to exist (or can be slimmed down significantly) just by reducing the reach of the government.

    DHS is one of those departments (although I know it houses several departments), it's a layer of bureaucracy designed to give people a false sense of security while bogging down the whole process of immigration and border control while throughout it's existence all it has done is created large databases to track US citizens and non-citizens traveling around the globe. But when you need something from them, it's a lot of manual paperwork, going to see somebody in a booth, get rejected for a misspelling, go back etc. etc.

    Same goes for IRS - every year for the past 5 years I had to file (portions of) my paperwork on paper instead of e-filing. Whether it's because I worked in multiple states or because I bought a house and qualified for one of the stimulus packages, when you reach a certain number of papers, you have to manually send it in. Off course this means somebody has to manually file my paperwork in the computer with all the errors that gives which results in an even greater feedback loop of paperwork and manual labor (on both sides) to correct all of that.

    Here in NYS you can't pay almost anything at the DMV online without incurring a $5 or $10 convenience fee. They rather you snail mail them a hand written cheque and print out your forms than process your paperwork and payments online. Talking about being inefficient - they already have all my information. I can do everything online except pay them.

    In the mean time, businesses find better ways to be more efficient using computers. They can retain certain information without breaching my privacy (unless you're stupid and allow them to retain your full credit card and SSN) and they rather let you do stuff online than going into their offices. My insurance even gives me discounts for not having to walk into a physical place.

  • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Monday May 03, 2010 @03:38PM (#32075968) Homepage Journal

    I'll be OK with it when we have real control over how the government/police can choose to treat us.

    Tight geographical control by warring tribes can be seen as a historical artifact of poor communications technologies. Real panarchy ought to be viable in the very near future.

  • by mindbrane ( 1548037 ) on Monday May 03, 2010 @03:42PM (#32076038) Journal

    , privacy is going to have to adjust to what is now possible. While some of the things that are now possible are scary to people, many add to the public good.

    "While all things are possible, not all things are permitted."Francis Bacon (17th C)

    Bacon made his remark in a different context but I think it's germane in that privacy is legislated and enforced, and not naturally occurring.

    Britain, at least from my POV, has undertaken a huge, perhaps unprecedented social experiment in immigration and mosaic, cultural restructuring. Significant immigration is necessary to bolster a competitive country's domestic workforce and it's international competitiveness, but, as everyone knows, it almost always brings with it social problems. The hue and cry [wikipedia.org] historical precedent, in a skewed way speaks to a more European openness to a community policing itself whether by a sort of neighbourhood watch or a ring of cameras monitoring the streets. It's possible that North Americans, especially in the U.S.A. and Canada, are more sensitive to privacy concerns because development of the new world permitted far greater degree of privacy.

    The above aside, I'm deeply vested in the concerns of the article because I'm interested in statistical modeling of political decisions and ways of abstracting inferences from personal data. I was fairly well schooled in statistics and probability to an undergraduate level but don't pretend to as wide an understanding of the field as I once had. While my interest is keyed to the problems of the individual in relation to the group, the relationship between an individual to the social unit speaks directly to privacy concerns. If my fledgling hypotheses are in any way indicative of what might be on the horizon then it's likely that along with the milieu that has spawned our current privacy concerns there are new tools that will let data be abstracted from the new milieu in a way that not only safeguards the privacy of individuals but might enhance one's privacy. Without blurting out my tentative ideas, possibly lucrative, and getting bitch slapped by some stats prof, I still think it's fair to say there's lots of room and time for the data that is now available to spawn a new tool set that will correct any current incursions into personal privacy.

  • by mschuyler ( 197441 ) on Monday May 03, 2010 @04:07PM (#32076352) Homepage Journal

    And yet, if government, because of this dynamic, continues not to be able to adopt modern transactional practices, then it's going to fall further behind the satisfaction curve.

    Ha ha ha ha! Let me tell you how well private industry is doing. Last week I got on my online account with B of A. I discovered a deposit of $210.50 had been made to my account from out of state. I looked at the counter deposit and discovered that a Ms or Mr Chu from Virginia had deposited the $210.50 into their own account, but somehow in data entry a 'proof code' had been changed that put it in my account, with the exact same number, in another state. The deposit slip itself was filled out correctly and gave me enough information to figure out what had happened.

    I tried to call them up. No dice as no number provided a human. So I carefully set about emailing them (online form) giving them ALL the information they needed to fix it, all the secret numbers, everything they needed to know. The next week I get a reply when I signed onto the account saying they considered this situation URGENT, but not only could they NOT email me at the address I provided, they also were not allowed to make outgoing calls to the contact number I provided. They gave me an 800 number to call, but only during 9-5 business hours.

    Meanwhile Mr. Chu is out his $200 bucks.

    Un fucking believable!

  • by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Monday May 03, 2010 @09:44PM (#32080520)

    True, they almost never catch anyone using CCTV, really like never, but the British love their useless feel good bandaids.

    This is one of those remarkable areas where "surveys" sometimes show a significant degree of public support for greater use of CCTV, yet I never seem to run into any of those people. Of course, my collection of friends and family may not be completely representative of the nation's population as a whole, but they certainly do represent a diverse range of political and ethical views on this sort of subject, and still I've never heard any of them argue that ubiquitous CCTV is a good thing. At some point, you have to start questioning what those surveys really asked and who they asked it to.

    Meanwhile, I have met plenty of people who doubt whether CCTV brings significant benefits in terms of reducing crime and who don't believe in the surveillance state in general. Also, after the only crime I am aware of where CCTV footage might have helped to identify the thieves, the authorities didn't even care enough to check the previous night's tapes within a window of a couple of hours when several thousand pounds was known to have been stolen, and a prominent CCTV camera overlooks the only public access to the building from which it was taken. If that's the kind of benefit CCTV brings us, screw it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 03, 2010 @09:54PM (#32080604)


    Re: "Private industry is doing all sorts of analysis of you as a consumer to provide you better service and to let them make more profit."

    I can't think of a single instance where this provided me a better service. I really can't. That which some people see as convenience, I see as inconvenience. The more I can grab gasoline for my car using a gas card and leave, instead of going inside and paying cash, the more IN-convenienced I feel. The more I go to a store and hear, "Oh, Mr. Anonymous, you don't need to give us that data, we can call it all up on the screen right now," or whatever, is the more I feel less well-served by that company. I don't see these things as serving my ends, my needs. I see them as creating cumbersome, bureacratic intrusions which singly and collectively cause me more ultimate hassle and poorer service.

    And don't even get me started on the wrong results, the "Oh, we see you bought a book about Medieval armies in the past. That means you will likely enjoy this audio disk of drunken cricket sounds." The more you try to predict me, the more wrong you are, the more annoying you are, the less service it is.

    I don't necessarily disagree with several of her points, but the idea that a Minority Report world somehow equates to better service is only true from the eyes of the privacy invaders, not from the eyes of those whose privacy they are invading.

Garbage In -- Gospel Out.