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Privacy to PreCrime

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

 

When the NSA assumed control of the Cyber Command, it stirred up many privacy concerns. As most know they have been intercepting domestic communications for some time While some people are worried about their phone and email conversations being recorded by the government, the other g-men at Google are doing the exact same thing. Of course deleting your g-mail account only prevents you from accessing the information, deleting your account at the NSA will get you a free vacation to Cuba for waterboarding lessons.

 

Throughout your life, little pieces of information are gathered and accumulated. Your profile is constantly amended as data volunteered by yourself is automatically correlated.  Every time someone forfeits some morsel of information, that data is forever public.  This material goes into a database, the security of which will be compromised at some point. We could blame the corporations when they experience a security breach, but honestly who’s at fault for supplying them with the information to begin with?

 

If we are to address privacy concerns, then it is hypocritical to start the finger pointing with the NSA. Thanks to popular social networking sites,  people are willing to give away the most important details of their lives.  It is this very ignorance of the overall value of information that creates risk on a number of levels. Police officers only require a name and date of birth to positively identify most people. The same details can be used by criminals.  Think about that the next time someone mentions their birthday. If that person has their real name associated with the statement, then all of the facts required to build an extensive profile have been provided.  Such a profile, for example, could be used by a criminal to assume an identity, manipulate a person into revealing more information, or even pose a physical threat.  This same method could be used to launch attacks from within an organization through the user. Imagine a sort of phishing attack that affects the user at home. They enter into correspondence via email with a criminal posing as an old friend.  The employee continues this correspondence at work on the company computer. Since the employee feels safe, they are willing to click links, or even download files.

 

There is a whole industry based on gathering data about consumers, and using their personal details for marketing. The obvious signs of this are places like Amazon that recommend items based on site history.  What does your Amazon account say about you?  I don’t buy into that line about “if you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t have anything to hide”. Would you invite someone into your house to create a behavioral profile based on your possessions?    Just about everything you do reveals some detail about your life.  For example, when you go to sleep your inactivity is noted. Just by looking at your social network updates anyone can know what your sleeping habits are, and possibly where you sleep.  Everything you do is recorded, cataloged, correlated, psychologically analyzed, and put up for sale. The biggest customer for this information is the Federal Government, and because these databases are private, the Freedom of Information Act does not apply.

 

In the past it was common for people to keep a their private names and public names separate.   In Homer’s Oddesy, Ulysses used a clever name to avoid unwanted attention from the other Cyclopes after blinding Polyphemus.  In Christian mythology, God gives Adam the power to name the animals, and so he had some power over them.  What of the clever goblin Rumpelstiltskin who allowed the millers daughter to renege on a deal by giving her a chance to guess his name?  When I first started in networked computing, one of the first things we learned was to contrive a ‘handle’, a pseudonym under which we would carry out our online activities.  Today, it seems, people view this an act of cowardice, or become suspicious to the motivations behind concealing one’s identity.  It wasn’t a hacker thing, it was standing operational procedure. There is no such thing as anonymous internet usage. The best people can do is become aware of how much privacy that has already been lost, and do what they can to hold on to its shredded remains. It’s not about assuming a new identity, it’s about protecting privacy.  Today people  on-line are trading their identity for an illusion of friendship.

 

With the amount of information already in the databases, it is possible for them to know what we want before we do.  Using predictive modeling, marketing companies can already forecast the likelihood of future purchases. This also
means with government access to these details, they can perform similar analysis. Psychographic profiles reveal your personal interests, activities, and opinions, when combined with demographics and other variables, it is possible to triangulate personality in the same manner as physical location. It is trivial to track the physical direction of an individual, the same is also true about their mental direction.

 

Today we have the increased use of biometric identification. It comes with the promise of security, but can pose a new privacy risk.  Clear, the airport security screening service, may be taking the data trade to a new level. The TSA approved company, which required biometric finger and eye scans, has suddenly shut down.  It is likely their database will be transferred to some other private firm which specializes in collecting biometric data.  Since they are working with Lockheed Martin, I’d suggest the database and technology will resurface as part of the new biometric authorization requirement for access to public and private infrastructure.  Unlike passwords, there is no easy way to reset your fingerprints once the database has been compromised. 


Within a few years there will be a global DNA database which will be used for a number of purposes. Utilization of the genome is so important that Francis Collins, who was responsible for the Human Genome Project, has been made director of the National Institute of Health.  If you take a look back at that psychographic profile link, you’ll notice the article was in strategy+business, which is published by Booz and Company the global parent of Booz Allen Hamilton. A representative of Booz Allen was the one who brought to my attention the Global DNA database while giving a talk titled  “Hacking the Genome” at a computer security conference.  Booz Allen is interested in developing psychological and genetic databases, they are also one of the main contractors for organizations such as the NSA . This sort of database, combined with genetic screening, could lead to the ability to determine much of the future of an unborn child.  While this has its merits, like any other system it can be abused. If not kept in check, it could lead to the reincarnation of the eugenics movement of the last century which was forced to re-brand after WWII because of it’s popularity within the leadership of the German National Socialist party as part of their platform for world domination

 

Welcome to the Brave New World!

 

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