We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The photo Panopticon

A public photo pool called The Panopticon: Pictures Of Surveillance Cameras has been set up…

photo_panopticon.jpg

via Boing Boing

Patron privacy

Tom Morris has taken matters into his hands and is asking British Library about its patron privacy policy… The conclusions are not favourable.

My opinion on this is pretty simple: it’s evil and needs rethinking. Patron privacy is one of the biggest issues for me. This won’t affect my use of the library (but I will not be requesting certain books from the BL – rather, I’ll be buying anything controversial or reading it at another library), though I will be making my opinion clear to them in the form of a formal letter. I will also try and get hold of this records management policy. Ideally, they should hold borrowing records only as long as is required for the books to be retrieved from the store, then delete them after the books are returned to the counter. Or, perhaps, a system where patrons can submit a form either online or in person asking that their records be wiped clean. Again, like all privacy concerns, this is simply about ensuring that what should remain private does remain private.

I am sure that the ‘if-you-have-nothing-to-hide-you have-nothing-to-be-afraid-of’ bridage would completely miss the point on this one too…

Putting the pan into Panopticon

Rob Fisher blogs about Monday’s USA Today front page a story about a new X-Ray machine for use in airports that can see through clothing. The machine apparently generates images that, “paint a revealing picture of a person’s nude body”.

He points out that the article does not even touch on the need for such machines.

Are not current metal detectors adequate for preventing people from getting on an aeroplane with firearms?

If an airline says it wants me to walk through this machine as a condition of getting on one of their planes, that is one thing: it’s a private company deciding that this is a necessary measure to protect its customers or keep down its insurance costs. It’s their aircraft, they can quite rightly refuse to allow on anyone they feel like for whatever reason.

But if the government mandates the use of these machines, then that’s the government forcing airlines and airports into doing something they and their passengers likely don’t want to do. It’s governments yet again abusing their power to achieve nothing of value to anyone except politicians who want to look like they’re doing something useful.

Privacy advocates frown on Amazon snooping plan

Post a review of a book or other product on Amazon.com, and the information may find its way into the company’s file on you. CNET has more on Amazon having been granted a patent for a system that gathers clues from reviews about customers’ gift-giving habits in order to suggest future gifts and reminders.

Consumer advocates worry that the company’s profiling practices may have gone too far and could exploit the giving of gifts and the sense of community that customer reviews were designed to engender.

Here’s how the proposed system works, according to Amazon’s patent claim: Amazon would gather information about gift recipients, including their names, addresses and items customers send them. The system would then try to guess their gender, age and the gift-giving occasion based on the type of present, messages written in gift cards, dates gifts are ordered, items on wish lists, and commentary in related consumer reviews.

The system appears particularly geared toward people buying gifts for children, with its ability to recommend “age appropriate” gifts.

Jason Catlett, founder of Junkbusters, a consumer watchdog, said:

They are building a speculative profile on you before you even know you’re dealing with them, because someone sends you a gift.

He’s particularly dismayed by the prospect of Amazon monitoring customer reviews for marketing purposes.

Well, so am I. But I think Catlett is onto something when he says:

People will hesitate to publish reviews if they know the result is to enlarge their profile in some secret marketing database.

What Price Privacy?

Wired reports that huge spending bill signed into law by President Bush on Wednesday could create a new hot job-growth sector: chief privacy officers.

Every federal agency, regardless of size or function, will have to hire a chief privacy officer and employ an outside auditing firm biennially to ensure compliance with the nation’s privacy laws, according to a little-noticed provision.

The officers will be charged with making sure new technologies do not impinge on civil liberties and that federal databases comply with fair information practices.

Privacy Eroding, Bit by Byte

Washington Post analyses erosion of online privacy, this time coming from Google:

And yesterday, the omniscient-seeming search engine Google bested itself by announcing a service to probe for information both online and in your own machine. One company official called it a “photographic memory for your computer.”

Richard M. Smith, an Internet security consultant says:

It’s this whole new world. It’s sort of like all these little details about our lives are being recorded. We love the conveniences. We love the services. But people kind of instinctively know there’s a dark side to this. They just hope it won’t happen to them.

Under-skin ID tags generate concerns

ZDNet has an article about the implanted RDIF chips and the debate about its pros and cons.

Advocates of technologies like radio frequency identification tags say their potentially life-saving benefits far outweigh any Orwellian concerns about privacy. RFID tags sewn into clothing or even embedded under people’s skin could curb identity theft, help identify disaster victims and improve medical care.

Critics, however, say such technologies would make it easier for government agencies to track a person’s every movement and allow widespread invasion of privacy. Abuse could take countless other forms, including corporations surreptitiously identifying shoppers for relentless sales pitches. Critics also speculate about a day when people’s possessions will be tagged – allowing nosy subway riders with the right technology to examine the contents of nearby purses and backpacks.

The notion of embedding RFID tags in the human body, though, remained largely theoretical until the 11 September, 2001, terrorist attacks, when a technology executive saw firefighters writing their badge numbers on their arms so that they could be identified in case they became disfigured or trapped.

Richard Seelig, vice president of medical applications at security specialist Applied Digital Solutions, inserted a tracking tag in his own arm and told the company’s chief executive that it worked. A new product, the VeriChip, was born.

Trading Privacy for Convenience

Washington Post has an article about a test project, which aims to give frequent fliers a quicker pass through security checkpoints, is underway at four US airports. It relies on the latest biometric technologies to verify a passenger’s identity with increased precision. Digital fingerprint scans and photographs are already used to identify foreigners traveling on a visa, and U.S. officials plan to encode a facial recognition technology into passports.

The program offers the first wide application of iris-scanning technology, which had previously been used only for government employees with access to classified sites or for employees with access to nuclear facilities, said Paul Mirenda, director of field operations for LG Electronics Inc., one of the TSA’s contractors that makes the scanners. The technology takes a close-up photograph of the iris, which has more unique characteristics than a fingerprint, and applies digital codes to the photograph to store it as a bar code. The photograph and fingerprint are then stored in a file along with other information about the passenger.

But some security experts worry that terrorists could apply to become a registered traveler and score an easier pass through security checkpoints. “If you look at 9/11 hijackers, some of them would have qualified as frequent fliers. All they had to do is run a few tests and find out what the parameters were and get people registered.”

Travelers who signed up for the program yesterday said they were impressed with the technology and were eager to be afforded special privileges at the checkpoint. None of the enrollees said they had a problem with providing the government with their personal information.

Life After Death for CAPPS II?

Wired has more on the government’s controversial plan to screen passengers before they board a plane. The Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System II (CAPPS II) is dead – but it may return in a new form with a new name.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge bluntly told a reporter Wednesday that CAPPS II was effectively “dead” and jokingly pretended to put a stake in its heart. His comment went far beyond Tuesday’s statement to members of Congress by the Transportation Security Administration’s acting chief, Adm. David Stone, who said the program’s main components were being “reshaped”.

For its part, the American Conservative Union warned that it would oppose any successor program that is not fundamentally different from CAPPS II. ACU spokesman Ian Walter said:

Renaming a program does not satisfy the civil liberties concerns of conservatives so long as that program turns law-abiding commercial airline passengers into terrorism suspects. Civil liberties-minded conservatives will never support it.

Any new program will likely not be deployed anytime soon, as the TSA will likely need to reissue a Privacy Act notice detailing how the system will work, collect comments on the notice, issue new rules or a secret order to force airlines to provide passenger data to the system and have it certified by the GAO (General Accountability Office).

Privacy in Iceland

Bjarni Ólafsson of Great Auk draws our attention to an onslought on civil liberties by the Minister for Transportation, the Chief of Police in Reykjavík and the state “Traffic authority” have launched in the last two days. Böðvar Bragason, Chief of Police in Reykjavík muses:

New ways to cut the number of road accidents have to be found, and one possible way is to install computer chips in every car and thereby increase the amount of government monitoring of driving.

I want to propose an increase in the number of surveilance cameras on intersections in the city, but I also want a task force to inspect wether technology can be used in the cars themselves. I have the idea, which can easily be implemented, to put a computer chip in every single car. The Police then could stop a given car, connect with the chip and see the way the car has been driven that day, and even before that day.

Aarrrgh. We share your frustration, Bjarni.

The statist can never be happy as long as individuals have some modicum of freedom of action and travel, hence these proposals. This kind of surveilance system, coupled with a court system which allows for any and all evidence to be submitted in a criminal trial – without regard to how it was obtained (f.ex. illegal wiretaps are admissable), is a brutal attack on the personal liberties of Icelanders.

Minnesota demands to know who has what PC?

James Lileks today, on where anti-Microsoft mania can lead:

So I’m not a big fan. But I will come to their defense for the anti-trust suits. Minnesota just settled a suit with the state of Minnesota, where millions of consumers were apparently forced at gunpoint to buy Windows machines. Microsoft once again promised to hand over its wallet if the kicking stopped, and agreed to remain rolled in a fetal position until the money is counted. The verdict was around eleventy trillion dollars or so. When it came to distribute the organs of the corpse the lawyers got the liver, spleen, lungs and most of the brain; the consumers got some regulatory glands, some teeth and a selection of minor toes. I think we get a certificate for ten bucks off on future Microsoft purchases. If the consumers don’t claim the money, some goes back to Bill and some goes to an education fund. The trick, of course, is to get people to claim their money. Florida lead the pack: 18 % of the consumers stepped forward. Obviously they need higher participation rates, since it looks bad when you advocate on behalf of an Inflamed Public that turns out to be utterly indifferent to the supposed offense. So the state has come up with a novel means of informing citizens that Microsoft owes them money. It was buried at the end of the story in the local paper last week.

The state will subpoena local computer resellers to learn who bought PCs.

Maybe it’s just me, but: imagine the outcry if the Justice department decided it wanted a database of computer ownership in America. Who had what. Oh no you don’t would be the general reaction, even if people couldn’t quite explain why they didn’t like the idea. It smacks of typewriter-registration laws in totalitarian states, even though we all know no one will kick down the door and demand to know where you put that 386 you bought in ’92. But this is the mindset of the well-intentioned government lawyer: gee, people might not claim their rebates. How about we use the power of the state to force private businesses to turn over customer lists so we can mail informational material to computer owners? It’s for their own good. Who could complain?

Grrr.

Indeed.

Privacy Wrap

A couple of interesting stories caught my eye.

First, the Queen is working hard to use legal means to include privacy clauses in the employment contracts with palace employees, in an effort to prevent leaks and protect the privacy of the Royal Family.

The new contracts cover more than 300 staff from gardeners and cleaners to the lord chamberlain, but will also affect those working for other leading members of the royal family such as the Prince of Wales whose accounts are published separately.

The move forms part of a broader royal strategy, including the appointment of a director responsible for internal security and vetting, aimed at halting the spate of damaging leaks in recent years.

It is a sign of the times that the palace requires a Director for Internal Security to provide them with a modicum of privacy.

Meanwhile, in another sign of the times, US airlines and the US government are under fire for privacy breaches during background checks.

Four airlines — including Continental, Delta, America West and Frontier — and at least two reservation systems provided the information to the government or its contractors, the acting head of the Transportation Security Administration, David Stone, told a Senate committee. Some of the companies denied that.

The agency previously had said only two airlines had done so.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, top Democrat on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said the agency ”may have violated” the Privacy Act, which says the government must notify the public if it intends to collect records on people.

An agency spokeswoman, Yolanda Clark, said the Homeland Security Department’s privacy officer is investigating the agency’s involvement in the data-sharing from airlines. The information, known as passenger name records, includes credit card numbers, travel reservation details, address and telephone number. It also could mean meal requests, which can indicate a passenger’s religion or ethnicity.

The potential for abuse here seems clear, and I hope that firm action is taken to prevent a reoccurance.