Want privacy? Take Responsibility.

Want privacy? Take Responsibility.

Summary: What to protect your privacy rights? How about actually doing something about it.

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"Secret information centers, building dossiers on individuals exist today. You have no legal right to know about them, prevent them, or sue for damages. Our liberty may well be the price we pay for permitting this to continue unchecked."

Last week I wrote about the groundbreaking for the NSA's new datacenter and much of the response I got, both here and on sites where the article was linked, made reference to some of the large government programs that are designed to monitor our communications and gather data all in the name of national security.

A few of the comments I received in email referenced the entire spectrum of data gathering, with the writers going off on everything from Google sucking the data out all the email they track and their mapping and imaging projects, to the need for datacenters to handle the huge amount of data collected by retail establishments that use loyalty cards to generate sales data and track purchaser's preferences so they can stock appropriately and use targeted advertising.

I tend to be on the conservative side of things, yet I'm in the middle ground on this topic. I don't think that the government is working hard to destroy my privacy (at least intentionally) and I do understand the value of the data collected to businesses and marketing engines.  Do I really want Google sending a camera vehicle down my driveway to collect images of my house? Of course not (and I do have a personal stake in this as Google Maps lists my driveway as a public road; something that I have been unable to get changed).

But all in all I feel that there must be a middle ground, between the tinfoil hat brigade who thinks that spy satellites are watching their every move and black helicopters are staged for imminent assault, and those who believe that complete, unfettered information availability is the way to go and that the government is inherently benevolent.

Human nature being what it is, this continues to be a difficult problem to address; the quote that leads this piece, despite its tinfoil-sounding overtones, is from a member of the U.S Privacy Protection Study Commission, a group that issued its final report more than 30 years ago. Which indicates that despite the high-profile concerns that privacy has taken on in the last few years, the problem and its known issues isn't a new one. And for those who think that I dug an obscure quote out of an ancient report that never saw the light of day, that exact quote was used at the end of a special 2-hour season finale of the highly rated TV show 'The Rockford Files' in 1978.

There are many organizations today focused on the issue of information and privacy, ranging from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, but the bottom line is that you need to be proactive about protecting what you deem to be private information, be it configuring your smartphone to not include location data in snapshots you post online to getting actively involved with organizations that want to do something about privacy issues, to staying in touch with your congressional representatives and continually voice your concerns when privacy related policies are crossing theirdesk.

Venting at online bloggers or on internet forums may make you feel better in some way, but it is no substitute for actually doing something about the issue. Sometimes we need to step away form the keybaord and get involved..

Topics: Security, Government, Government US, Legal

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8 comments
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  • What need to happen ...?

    What need to happen for people to make them see that their privacy is valuable?
    Privacy man
  • Take control over your private information

    Use Breadcrumbs Privacy Solutions and regain your online privacy
    Privacy man
  • RE: Want privacy? Take Responsibility.

    These are the very reasons I founded and created VitalLock. Please have a look for yourself... https://VitalLock.com
    bob@...
  • RE: Want privacy? Take Responsibility.

    In addition to what you note here, which is valid in my opinion, I'm blown away by the amount of privacy people GIVE away, willingly and knowingly, by handing over, unnecessarily, all sorts of personal information to people who have no business asking for it.

    How many web-based services "require" that you provide your home address and phone number to register with them, even when no money changes hands as part of their service?

    How many businesses "require" home address or phone information to be added to their customer list. More privacy sensitive places have found they can do quite nicely with just my zip code. Why should I provide more?

    When asked to provide personal information about myself, I use a simple rule. If money is not exchanging hands, I'll provide you a user name, an email address, and MAYBE a zip code ... period. You want more than that and we're not doing commerce, then I can live without whatever it is you're providing.

    A brief example: I recently opened a bottle of soda to find a prize code printed on the cap. To see if I'd I'd won the prize (a free soda), I had to go online and register with maker's website. The registration "required" ridiculous amounts of personal information, including home address, phone number and more. Without this information, I got no free soda.

    Remember the old days when the winning cap was enough?

    Whenever someone you're not doing business with asks you for more than an alias and zip code, ask yourself "WHY do they need this information?" If they don't NEED it, don't provide it.
    Trep Ford
    • RE: Want privacy? Take Responsibility.

      @Trep Ford So,,,, what is stopping you from giving those wierd sites your first name "DGSDFGDFGSFGD" and your last name "DFSDFDRET$#$" and you address as 45643 Fake Str.
      And by the way, that it exactly why they gave you free soda - to know your address and your name. You do realize that giving free soda bottles is not their primary business.
      pupkin_z
  • Do you expect the gov. to protect you?

    What if the President of the United States flagrantly violated the Constitution and a law passed by the Congress to protect Americans against abuses by a super-secret spy agency? What if, instead of apologizing, he said, in essence, "I have the power to do that, because I say I can." That frightening scenario is exactly what we witnessed in the case of the warrantless NSA spying ordered by President Bush that was reported December 16, 2005 by the New York Times.

    According to the Times, Bush signed a presidential order in 2002 allowing the National Security Agency to monitor without a warrant the international (and sometimes domestic) telephone calls and e-mail messages of hundreds or thousands of citizens and legal residents inside the United States. The program eventually came to include some purely internal controls - but no requirement that warrants be obtained from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as the 4th Amendment to the Constitution and the foreign intelligence surveillance laws require.

    And even after knowing all that there are still plenty of people that would vote for Bush again. This is why politicians will flagrantly violate the law; they know they can get away with it.
    arby.cook@...
    • gov. protection??

      @arby.cook@...

      So if we are so quick to question Pres. Bush, NSA, and the warrantless stuff then, why do we seem to be okay with Pres. Obama having the same power(s) and now it seems building the system to do even more?

      When the Homeland Security stuff was first discussed I was agreeable with the whole thing. But then I wised up. Now I see President Obama keeping the program(s) in place and expanding on those presidential powers and everyone is okay with it? Well, apparently not everyone, but where is all the uproar we saw against President Bush for this same sort of stuff. Maybe we need another Republican president so the Democrats can get all upset and strip all this stuff from the power of the president.... I don't want a Democratic or Republican president with all this power to access our data. Not that I really believe it is that hard to find out what all they want about me using the internet, but why create special data centers? Or special laws? My employer can do a search easily enough on me when I was hired on. They didn't need a special government database.... In fact, I am more scared of a government database because if history is any indication, outside of military research (A-bomb development), government is terrible at keeping secrets. They have a bad habit of losing the equipment with the data (hdd/laptop) or having it leak out onto the internet....
      dedrizen
  • RE: Want privacy? Take Responsibility.

    Please comment on this latest report from CBS which I caught via SlashDot from the perspective of privacy, relevant to the original post here:
    ? Obama Eyeing Internet ID for Americans
    | from the anti-troll-doctrine dept.
    | posted by Soulskill on Saturday January 08, @09:11 (Government)
    | https://yro.slashdot.org/story/11/01/08/1227229/Obama-Eyeing-Internet-
    | ID-For-Americans?from=newsletter
    [0]Pickens writes "CBS News reports that the Obama administration is currently [1]drafting the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, which will be released by the president in the next few months. 'We are not talking about a national ID card,' says Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, whose department will be in charge of the program.
    'We are not talking about a government-controlled system. What we are talking about is enhancing online security and privacy and reducing and perhaps even eliminating the need to memorize a dozen passwords, through creation and use of more trusted digital identities.' Although details have not been finalized, the 'trusted identity' [2]may take the form of a smart card or digital certificate that would prove online users are who they say they are. These digital IDs would be offered to consumers by online vendors for financial transactions. White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt says that anonymity and pseudonymity will remain possible on the Internet. 'I don't have to get a credential if I don't want to,' says Schmidt. There's no chance that 'a centralized database will emerge,' and 'we need the private sector to lead the implementation of this.'"
    Discuss this story at:
    https://yro.slashdot.org/story/11/01/08/1227229/Obama-Eyeing-Internet-ID-For-Americans?from=newsletter#commentlisting
    Links:
    0. http://hughpickens.com/
    1. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-501465_162-20027837-501465.html
    2. http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-01-07/internet-identity-system-said-readied-by-obama-administration.html?

    I have made very clear to my Presidents, Members of both houses of Congress, and state legislators, of both parties, over many years before and since the Internet, that I am very concerned about preservation of personal privacy, which is essential to liberty and democracy, and that what I may either keep on my computer, my third-party off-site backup, or necessarily with my ISP, etc., is, and I expect them to protect it as, the modern functional equivalent of the Founders' roll-top desks. Furthermore, just as Congress may and should provide for nondiscrimination on the basis of race, religion (of which atheism is one by my definition), disability, etc., by businesses that offer public accommodations, they have the same, or broader, powers to regulate the gathering, aggregation, accuracy, access, and use of personally identifying data, particularly of certain types including medical data (think HIPAA as it was supposed to work rather than as a subsidy for paper companies.
    I use a lot of ad-supported Internet content, and my address and listed home phone, and the fact that I voted in the primary of the party I agree with more of the time, are not that private in my view, though I can think of a lot of very legitimate reasons people might need to hide them--as a retired lawyer I really didn't want to be called at 3:00A.M. from jail by most strangers because we need the sleep and you can't get someone out then without doing things that are illegal most places anyway. On the other hand, American politics has needed and protected privacy since key Framers and Founders published the Federalist papers urging ratification of the Constitution anonymously in the name "Publius," and the Supreme Court wisely protected the membership and contributor list of the NAACP in the sixties.
    Congress should long ago have required federal and state authorities to get warrants?which, as a lawyer, I know are not that hard to get?to search Email and other computerized material. Unlike some other evidentiary search warrants, I think some of these should be available only from legally-trained magistrates or judges. In the state system, the police can get warrants from justices of the peace or even the small town mayor with little or no legal background. The courts have not been sufficiently or consistently protective in this area. Private snooping into Email and other computer data is a crime whether or not you agree with or like Sarah Palin, President Obama, or even Paris Hilton or someone charged with a newsworthy crime. Terrorism, murder, child trafficking and child pornography, and some other serious state and federal crimes involving imminent danger to individuals, may call for some invasions, reasonable in some such cases, of what would otherwise be privacy rights that should not be extended to crimes not involving such direct threats to human life, but who really trusts the government with the keys to back doors to our computers or our homes.
    My law practice unexpectedly came to involve representing an awful lot of survivors of mostly incestuous child sexual abuse, leading to a lot of courses and research. I have also represented some rapists and murderers, etc., and had to become an expert on NSF cashier?s checks and various con games. I don?t want to have to explain to some politically-appointed official, or the one who appointed them, with both of whose incestuously molested daughters, sisters, and nieces I may well have had privileged and confidential relationships, or some stranger, why I have visited a lot of sites I have legitimate occasions to visit. What bothered me more was that, whenever I visited one apparently legitimate medical site which covers, among other things, sexual matters, I received Emails from another entity, using the less than common spelling of my wife?s name [she has her own home page and Email address and subscriptions on this computer], alleging, in gutter language she would never use, that she had said I was no good in bed and trying to sell me some fake Viagra substitute, and nobody has yet explained this to me. I can only guess, too, why the New York Times? Emails and site always push ads for psych meds and residential treatment centers for my non-existent teenage daughter to me. Visiting or signing up for a newsletter for some sites backing candidates or positions I do not support, for information, got me listed and Emailed thanking me for my support. You really ought to be able to visit both parties and all Presidential candidates? sites, and sites supporting both sides of issues, ranging from the death penalty to whatever, and get their broadcast Emails, which are sometimes newsworthy, without identifying yourself as a supporter or at all.
    I hadn?t given much thought to this when I took a position, on paper rather than on line, with the Supreme Court of Texas? and the State Bar of Texas? Rules Committees, about protection of the privacy of experts in child sex abuse cases, and some other things that I had posted on line in open forums, until I Googled myself in preparation for a lawsuit and re-read all of these. Some of these other things I have posted were based upon the incomplete information then available and, after more information came out, or after I considered some later arguments, and no longer represent my position on the issues involved. Hey, I?m smart enough that I did not vote in the poll on MSN about the guilt or innocence of Kobe Bryant in which 300,000 people had voted, about 40:60, when I first saw it before charges had even been filed much less before actual and alleged evidence was published, rightly or wrongly. I did have, and expressed, some positions on issues and tactics in the case and wish it had gone to trial so legal and factual issues had been resolved. It was on that same visit that I read MSN?s troubling advice to, and how to, invade current and potential employees? and their families? medical privacy. Of course I?m not complaining about anything I posted in my own name, and sometimes use some repeated and not very secure screen names. However, to protect persons with whom I have diverse privileged and confidential relationships, and some of my own privacy rights, I wish there were more secure ways to post, and particularly to search, anonymously and to send and receive Email without risking exposure of these either by hacking or court orders. One site on which I inadvertently posted something personal I intended to Email was able and helpful to delete it, hopefully before it was picked up by anyone else.
    One would not ordinarily have to worry about privacy in relation to the house, car, or boat you own and use, or the dog you own and on which you also have a license, much of which would not be a secret locally even without public records either available on line or gathered and sold by data miners and sellers, whose activities I believe should be more strictly regulated including requiring them to reveal anything they keep or publish about you as an identifiable person or entity. However, this can change globally or in individual cases. In another life, I was an enumerator for the R. L. Polk City Directory, assigned to survey two wealthy island suburbs of Dallas. The mayor?s wife refused to tell me what her husband did for a living, but I suddenly realized that the CEO of a bank having told me certain details about her children, routinely gathered, might endanger them and deleted that. The wife of an undercover federal officer told me enough to unmask him and we deleted that. Someone used the public database to misuse details about my wife?s dog in a terroristic threat. If you are being stalked, all bets are off.
    Now the question becomes how to get enough people, in both parties, aware and actively involved in privacy issues to get the attention of our politicians, so we can get more than empty words from them on privacy issues. The original author?s advice is fine as far as it goes but it?s too general. I?ve been involved in party and issue politics for over fifty years. It is a lot harder to get the attention of, or action from, a politician of either party now than then. All too many want is money and the other side of this issue will always have more of that to spend. One tends to think of the fellow hired to train a mule who walked up and knocked it in the head with a two-by-four. The owner protested, and the trainer said ?Now, the first thing you have to do is get their attention.? Mules are better at listening, paying attention, and doing what is needed than politicians, regardless of party.?
    Transaction7