Privacy in the Information Age

Idle Words has a good article on [The New Wilderness](https://idlewords.com/2019/06/the_new_wilderness.htm} on the nature of privacy in the Information Age. What does it mean when your every move is tracked and recorded online, and increasingly offline as well?

Until recently, ambient privacy was a simple fact of life. Recording something for posterity required making special arrangements, and most of our shared experience of the past was filtered through the attenuating haze of human memory. Even police states like East Germany, where one in seven citizens was an informer, were not able to keep tabs on their entire population. Today computers have given us that power. Authoritarian states like China and Saudi Arabia are using this newfound capacity as a tool of social control. Here in the United States, we’re using it to show ads. But the infrastructure of total surveillance is everywhere the same, and everywhere being deployed at scale.

The author discusses the similarity with the growth of environmental regulation as mankind changed from a being part of Nature to being a threat instead and suggests that we need to start thinking of global regulations around what is and is not acceptable when it comes to mass surveillance.

We’re at the point where we need a similar shift in perspective in our privacy law. The infrastructure of mass surveillance is too complex, and the tech oligopoly too powerful, to make it meaningful to talk about individual consent. Even experts don’t have a full picture of the surveillance economy, in part because its beneficiaries are so secretive, and in part because the whole system is in flux. Telling people that they own their data, and should decide what to do with it, is just another way of disempowering them.

Our discourse around privacy needs to expand to address foundational questions about the role of automation: To what extent is living in a surveillance-saturated world compatible with pluralism and democracy? What are the consequences of raising a generation of children whose every action feeds into a corporate database? What does it mean to be manipulated from an early age by machine learning algorithms that adaptively learn to shape our behavior?

Racial Profiling

In the aftermath of 9/11, governments around the world swung into action trying to ensure that their polices agencies were able to root out all terrorist threats within their communities. These efforts usually included passing some form of stop-and-search laws, whether it was people being taken aside for ‘random’ searches at airports, or being stopping in the street and having their bags searched.

At the time, there were lots of complaints that racial profiling was being used, and that Muslim communities around the world were being unfairly targeted by the new laws, or at least their implementation. Now, it turns out, in the UK at least, police have addressed these concerns, not, as you might expect, by ceasing to unfairly target the Muslim community, but by randomly searching non-Muslims to make up the numbers.

Examples of poor use of section 44 abounded. “I have evidence of cases where the person stopped is so obviously far from any known terrorism profile that, realistically, there is not the slightest possibility of him/her being a terrorist, and no other feature to justify the stop.”

He later said that while the police should not discriminate racially, it was equally important that they should not balance the statistics. “If, for example, 50 blonde women are stopped who fall nowhere near any intelligence-led terrorism profile, it’s a gross invasion of the civil liberties of those 50 blonde women.

“The police are perfectly entitled to stop people who fall within a terrorism profile even if it creates a racial imbalance, as long as it is not racist.”

So, rather than come up with a terrorist profile which is more in-depth than “is a Muslim”, the cops just hassle people who don’t match any terrorist profile to mask the fact that they’re continuing to unfairly target Muslims.

It Gets Worse

Freedom continues to be eroded.

Internet service providers are to keep records of emails and online phone calls under controversial new government regulations that come into force today.

ISPs will be legally obliged to store details of emails and internet telephony for 12 months as a potential tool to aid criminal investigations. Although the content of emails and calls will not be held, ISPs will be asked to record the date, time, duration and recipients of online communications.

The new regulations are contained in an EC directive on data retention that already applies to telecoms providers and is now being extended to ISPs.

People would be up in arms if the UK Government decided to just allocate them each a policeman to follow you around and record all details of your everyday life, yet with laws like these and the prevalence of CCTV cameras, that’s essentially what’s happening.

Bin Laden Still Winning

It seems we continue to be our own worst enemies and the powers that be seem determined to do Bin Laden’s dirty work for him. The G20 have been meeting in the UK this week, and as is usual at these things, people protest. Given the current economic climate, who could blame them really.

Yes, there are always a few idiots determined to cause violence, but the majority of protesters don’t cause any trouble and are just exercising their democratic rights. In the UK in particular, those rights are slowly disappearing. After the protest was finished yesterday, everyone was herded, and coralled and detained against their will for up to eight hours. Once the police finally decided to let them leave, they were required to provide their name, address and have their photos taken. I think it’s a pretty sad reflection of our times, and a complete abuse of power.

This is a strategy called the “kettle”, which sees protesters herded into an area and kept there for hours. Its stated aim is to contain a protest in a small area so it does not spread.

It was justified by the former assistant commissioner (special operations) at the Met, Andy Hayman, in an article in the Times earlier this week.

“Tactics to herd the crowd into a pen … have been criticised before, yet the police will not want groups spilintering away from the crowd,” he wrote.

The containment was backed up at the Bank, first with mounted police and then with police dogs. As people were eventually allowed to leave at about 8pm, they were funnelled out down a narrow exit with a police officer grabbing them by the arm as though they were under arrest, again regardless of age or demeanour.

One officer, asked why people were not allowed to leave under their own steam, replied: “They might fall over.”

People were then asked for their name and address and required to have a photograph taken. They are not obliged to do so under the law, but those who refused were put back in the pen.

Hot on the heels of that are details of the new eBorders scheme, in which the UK police intend keeping a database of every journey on public transport within the UK!

The records of the movements of 60 million domestic passengers will be kept by the police and, if current trends are anything to go by, used for much more than counter-terrorism operations. Not content with introducing what will in effect be an exit visa – you must supply more than 50 pieces of information before you leave the country or will not be able to travel – the government is now erecting internal borders.

A Home Office spokesman confirmed to Lewis the measures would “require passengers to show photo ID, such as a driving licence or the (proposed) government ID cards, when booking tickets for domestic air and sea journeys”.