Posts Tagged ‘privacy’

The passing scene: March 22, 2021

March 22, 2021

Here are some articles I think are interesting.  Maybe you will, too.

Steve Donziger Ecuador Case: Q&A With Human Rights Lawyer Under House Arrest by Jack Holmes for Esquire.  This lawyer won a lawsuit against Texaco (since acquired by Chevron), which lasted from 1993 to 2011, on behalf of farmers and indigenous people who lived in the Amazon rain forest, who accused the company of dumping cancer-causing toxic waste where they lived.  THey won a $9.8 billion award.  Chevron refused to pay and counter-sued their lawyer. Awaiting a verdict, he has been under house arrest for more than 580 days for refusing to hand over his computer and phone with confidential lawyer-client information on them.  Incredible!

How the West Lost COVID by David Wallace-West for New York magazine.  “How did so many rich countries get it so wrong?  How did others get it so right?”  This is the best article I’ve read on this particular topic.

Your Face Is Not Your Own by Kashmir Hill for the New York Times. “When a secretive start-up scraped the Internet to build a facial-recognition tool, it tested a legal and ethical limit—and blew the future of privacy in America wide open.”  (Hat tip to O.)

Nina Turner: “Good ideas are not enough.  We need to marry our ideas to power”, an interview for Jacobin magazine.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

New study shows microplastics turn into ‘hubs’ for pathogens, antibiotic-resistant bacteria by Jesse Jenkins of New Jersey Institute of Technology.

The Crow Whisperer by Lauren Markham for Harper’s magazine.  “What happens when we talk to animals?” 

Your life on the Internet is an open book

March 28, 2017

Double click to enlarge

How Google Tracks You—And What You Can Do About It by Jeff Desjardins for Visual Capitalist.


The right to be forgotten.

June 16, 2014

The great dream of John Perry Barlow and other Internet pioneers back in the 1990s was that it would become a force for human freedom—that government and corporations would become transparent, and that individuals, through the power of cryptography, would be empowered to act freely and anonymously.

Instead individuals are becoming more and more transparent not only to police and spy agencies, but to employers, lenders, credit rating agencies and advertisers.   The fact that the information is not necessarily accurate or complete makes the situation worse.

It is corporations and government agencies that have the power to alter records and send embarrassing facts down the memory hole, as Winston Smith did in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.  

This is not a question of technology, or at least not exclusively a question of technology.  It is a question of whether we the people have the power and the will to set legal limits to power and enforce those limits.

We should start by insisting on transparency of government.  We can’t protect our privacy until we have the means of knowing what is done to invade or privacy.   And we can’t rely on government to protect us from corporate exploitation if its operations are hidden from us.


Yes, Jimmy Wales, There Is a Right to Be Forgotten by Ted Rall for PandoDaily.

The Internet With a Human Face by Maciej Ceglowski at the Beyond Tellerand 2014 Conference in Dusseldorf, Germany.

The world of surveillance, private and public

January 16, 2014

Senator Jay Rockefeller is rightly indignant that somebody has compiled lists of rape victims, which are sold to marketing companies for who-knows-what purpose.

But the fact is that we all provide information to private businesses that, when shared, enables them to know all about us. Short of never using a store discount card, never buying anything over the Internet and never using a credit card, there is no realistic way to get around it.

What I worry about is not so much what people in these companies know, or think they know, as what they do with the information. If the information is used by marketing companies to guess what products I might buy, this may be annoying, but it does me no great harm.

If it is turned over to lenders or employers and affects my chances of getting credit or a job, this would be a serious problem.  If it is turned over to government agencies to determine whether I am a potential terrorist or even a troublemaker, this would be an even more serious problem.

Knowledge is power, and there is a lack of balance of power. These people know, or think they know, a lot about me. I ought to be able to know who they are and what they know, or think they know, about me. If my life is an open book to them, I ought to be able to read that book.

So long as the information that companies and agencies have about me is secret, there is no penalty for wrongful derogatory information about me, and no incentive to double-check to make sure it is correct. All the incentives are to err on the side of suspicion.

The right to privacy only extends to individuals. Organizations and institutions should be transparent. (more…)

Surveillance, corporate and governmental

September 25, 2013

fact.terroristClick on Ted Rall’s Rallblog for more from this cartoonist.

We need transparency more than privacy

September 9, 2013


When I start to rant about the NSA and its threat to the right of privacy, some of my friends point out that I already gave up much of my right to privacy years ago.

In return for a supermarket discount card, I let the supermarket monitor my purchase and (no doubt) sell the information to advertising agencies.  The same with my credit card company.  The same with Google.   There’s lots of information about me available on-line, and anybody with access to all of it can put it together to draw a picture of me—which may or may not be accurate.

Most of this doesn’t bother me partly because it doesn’t touch on the things I really want to keep private, but more importantly, it is largely harmless.  Amazon’s computer algorithm guesses what books I might like, sometimes correctly and sometimes not, but this is something that doesn’t affect my life.

On the other hand, when a credit rating agency compiles information about me behind my back, this can do me great harm, even if the information is incorrect.  I can image the NSA using algorithms similar to Amazon’s to guess what kind of political activity I might like.  All this affects my life, but in the case of the credit rating, it is very difficult to correct wrong information and, in the case of the NSA, I don’t even know what it is.

transparentsocietyAll this put me in mind of a book some friends told me about when it first came out in 1997—David Brin’s The Transparent Society.  I never read it, but I’m familiar with Brin’s argument.  He said that improvements in recording and information processing technology, plus the Internet, make it possible to discover more about what people are doing than ever before.

The question for Brin is not whether government and corporations know what we the people do as whether we the people know what they do.  Rather than engage in a futile effort to prevent the use of universally available technology, we the people should use it to level the playing field.

He gave the example of the surveillance cameras that are ubiquitous in Britain and more and more common in the USA.  Rather than get rid of them, he said, make the recordings universally available.

Brin coined the word sousveillance as an alternative to surveillance—scrutiny from below rather than scrutiny from above.   Imagine being able to access what the surveillance camera sees, in real time or on your smart phone.  Wouldn’t this contribute just as much to public safety as having somebody at a police station trying to monitor all the cameras?

As for myself, I think it is a good thing, not a bad thing, that there is a public record of what goes on in public places.  If I get into an altercation with someone, especially a police officer, and there is a dispute as to what happened, I am glad there is a public record so that the judge doesn’t have to decide whose word to take.

Barack Obama back in the days when he was an Illinois state senator got the legislature to pass a bill for videotaping of police interrogations to be made available to juries.  That’s a positive example of transparency.  Another is the citizens videotaping police when they make arrests.  It is a reasonable tradeoff that the police make their own videotapes, provided they are available to the public and especially to courts.

This is a deep and complicated subject.   Biven a choice, I would rather know what government and corporate officials are doing that affects me than to be able to hide from them.   I want to take down the one-way mirror through which they watch me, and replace it with a pane of glass through which we both can see each other.  What do you think?


Big Brother in your mobile phone

August 10, 2012

And it’s not just in Germany, and not just mobile phones.  Almost any routine electronic communication or use of the Internet can be monitored.