Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Serious about privacy?

I think the current notion of privacy is pretty much dead or dying.  I'd still like to keep some things private, but I think the measures I take really only help give the perception of privacy rather than actual privacy.

For example, I haven't mentioned the names of my boys on this blog.  You could easily find out their names if you wanted to, so why do I avoid naming them? Somehow, it makes Lynn and I feel more comfortable.  I guess by the omission of their names, I'm at least implying that I don't want to have a detrimental effect on their privacy.

A friend of ours doesn't have a Facebook, Twitter or even a LinkedIn Account.  She doesn't like the privacy implications and specifically worries about the effect that such accounts may have if she looks for a new employer.  As she works in the music business, you can probably understand her wariness.  

However, her privacy is lost anyway.  I recently updated our computers and found that the our photography software has facial recognition and can link to tags on Facebook.  I have 13 photographs of my friend's lovely face that were taken since we arrived in this country.  OK, so I'm not going to post these photos to Facebook, but others would/will.  

All this makes me think of a time, about a decade or so ago, when I had an idea about putting facial recognition into the public arena.  At the time, the software was kept for the exclusive use of the intelligence and security communities as a valued capability; some algorithms still remain that way.  It seemed to me that this was a mistake.  

If you want to know who someone is, why not have their parents, friends and colleagues create digital records for you?  You see a known bad guy talk to someone you don't know, search Facebook.  There'll always be a proud Mom or Dad.  Perhaps Mom will have posted a photo of the day their son graduated with a degree in microbiology.  Friends will probably have posted photos of where they've visited and people they hang out with.  There might be enough interesting data that next time they catch a flight, a more thorough time from the TSA would be prudent.

Should this scare us?  I don't think so.  Soon, if there are no digital records of someone, that will be the more interesting fact.  No friends? No parents or carers? No work colleagues? I think you're hiding something. You might duck out of photographs whenever you can, because you dislike your image or think they steal your soul, but I doubt you could be 100% successful at dodging every lens nowadays.

The key for me, is that if you are hiding your intentions and doing cruel or disreputable deeds, then there are fewer places to hide.  Obviously, the flip side is that as we lose privacy, we must as a society become more accepting of different cultures, views and practices.

Wikileaks is disreputable only because of their complete lack of balance.  I want to know what the European, Russian, Iranian and Chinese cables said.  When only one is exposed we see their nudity and notice their imperfections.  If we were all exposed together, perhaps the issues of our world would properly become our focus.

It seems to me that the secrecy of nations is similar to the privacy of individuals.  You cannot expect technology to erode the privacy of the individual and not have a similar effect on the secrecy of nations.  In the fight against terrorism and the tyranny of nations, secrecy is the biggest weapon of the protagonists we fight.  Secrecy allows terrorists and criminals to move freely, corrupt governments to remain in power and ultimately it erodes our modern society.

Wikileaks merely distracts us from the issues whilst we enjoy the titillation and search for who to blame.  Like the paparazzi standing outside an exclusive restaurant, their exposures would be worthless if the celebs freely posted accurate photographs themselves.