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Privacy roundup.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:45 pm on 7 December, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance, the database state.
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Here’s a round-up of various recent privacy related stories, not including stuff about ID cards or the uploading of medical records into a database on the NHS, both of which I’m treating separately to this round up:

  • Back in August, the Guardian reported that the British government is proposing to allow the sharing of personal data between government departments and other public bodies, if it is deemed to be in “the public interest”. The report referred to a (then forthcoming) statement, published in September from the Department of Constitutional Affairs. Sure enough on page 5 of the statement, it states:

    Our vision is to ensure that information will be shared to expand opportunities for the most disadvantaged, fight crime and provide better public services for citizens and business, and in other instances where it is in the public interest.(emphasis added)

    The government’s plans on this are due to be published in April. A crucial question here is how “the public interest” is defined — there’s a serious danger that it will end up meaning that if the department/public body concerned believes it’s policy objectives are more important than your privacy, then they can get your personal data and/or pass it on to someone else to use for whatever purpose they had in mind. The document also suggests making it easier to share personal data with private organisations.

    See also this article in the Register.

  • The Register also recently reported that the US and EU are planning to set up a global immigration database, with immigration data shared between participating countries, to try and prevent terrorists and criminals crossing borders:

    The US is to corral “like-minded” nations behind a global immigration database after proving with a trial link to British computers that such an ambitious, global plan is technically feasible.

    Allies of the US have joined it in talks to formulate an international policy framework that would allow the sharing of immigration databases, effectively creating a global border control.

    Their aim is to stop criminals and other undesirable migrants at a vast, biometric border that is likely to include, at the very least, the EU countries, Australia, and Canada.

    Note that at one point an official is quoted as suggesting that what they want to do may not be compatible with current privacy and data protection laws:

    “We would violate the privacy laws of individual countries if we shared data as we wanted to,” said Potter, but added: “The last thing we want is for someone who has changed their ways and then we keep harassing them.”

    Also, it seems they want as much information as possible to be accessible through the system:

    It could take years for the US and its allies to form an agreement that deals with all the emerging privacy and legal concerns about sharing immigration data. Other developments at the Department for Homeland Security could complicate matters further. It is developing a permanent link between immigration and criminal databases, while US law enforcers also want links to civil databases so they can get a full biographical history of people who catch their interest.(emphasis added)

  • Meanwhile, a story to warm the cockles of those who want us chipped and tracked 24/7. According this report from the Times, a survey suggests large numbers of people are willing to be chipped so that they can go shopping without their wallets:

    The idea is already catching on with today’s iPod generation. According to research released today by the Institute for Grocery Distribution (IGD), a retail think-tank, almost one in ten teenagers and one in twenty adults are willing to have a microchip implanted to pay shop bills and help to prevent card or identity fraud and muggings.

    But now the retail industry is looking at body chips among a range of biometric payment methods, including fingerprint and iris recognition. So far the only example of a human body chip being used is at the VIP Baja Beach Club in Barcelona, where people wear bikinis and shorts and there is nowhere to carry wallets and purses.

    The club offers clients a microchip, injected in the arm, which gives them access to certain areas of the club and acts as a payment method at the bar. This chip, made by the VeriChip Corporation, is a glass capsule about the size of a grain of rice, which sits under the skin. It carries a ten-digit personal number that can be linked to a person’s bank account, and has been a success at the club.

    Note that bars in Glasgow and Rotterdam have also been reported to be offering to chip it’s “VIP” customers for similar purposes.

    It seems some of the sheep are quite willing to tag themselves.

  • It seems that CCTV cameras are being put to more and more uses. Not only are councils using CCTV to monitor people dumping rubbish(entirely legally - the councils are monitoring who’s using the facilities and what they’re dumping), but now the cameras are starting to listen in on conversations as well.
  • And in the land of the free, the Total Information Awareness program seems to be reappearing under different names each time it gets thwarted by public opinion:

    Whenever the US government runs afoul of public opinion with some data-mining scheme threatening to invade the privacy of millions, it changes the name and then goes ahead as planned. We had the “Total Information Awareness” (TIA) federal scheme to mine official and commercial databases, which morphed into the MATRIX, an interconnected state scheme to mine official and commercial databases, to which the federal government has access.

    We had the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System (CAPPS-2), a scheme to mine official and commercial databases and produce a threat assessment of each passenger. After the public indicated its displeasure, its name was changed to the warmer and fuzzier “Secure Flight”, but Congress still shut it down due to privacy and accuracy concerns.
    Are you a great IT Manager?

    Now it’s back, with a new name and acronym, the Automated Targeting System (ATS). Nothing warm or fuzzy about that; it sounds like part of some hi-tech weapons system. But naturally, it’s just CAPPS/Secure Flight by another name.

Still never mind, I’m sure the authorities are doing this is all for our own good…

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