Access Grid failure hobbles identity debate

Not the first time the Access Grid has malfunctioned, says Impact '08 chairman

A failure in the Access Grid disrupted a planned multi-site debate at the Impact ’08 seminar on identity, held in Wellington this month.

The failure resulted in the main venue, at Victoria University’s railway station campus, being cut off from sound access to the other venues. These were at the main VUW campus, as well as Canterbury, Auckland and Otago universities. The other sites could hear Wellington, and one another, but the Wellington station site could only receive visual images, and a hastily contrived text-based messaging channel that allowed some questions to be put from other sites to those in Wellington.

The failure also meant a planned presentation on global travel surveillance and its effect on personal autonomy, from ethics specialist Eamon Daly in Christchurch, could not be given.

This isn’t the first time the Access Grid — supposed to be one of the key advantages of the KAREN network — has malfunctioned, says Impact ’08 joint-chairman Don Hollander.

“The idea is great, but the technology sucks.”

The Impact ’08 seminar on identity included addresses from well-known blogger David Farrar, on the potential uses of location data services delivered via cellphones and PDAs.

Farrar painted an appealing picture of the advantages location-dependent data could bring. These included, for example, alerting you to the presence of a friend in the same part of town and recommending a nearby coffee bar where you could meet up. Another example was of a jeans shop that might know you were passing, and that you had shopped there often before but hadn’t done so in the past few years; it could perhaps make you a special offer to rekindle your interest.

On the negative side, the possibility of the GPS in your hand-held machine being used to record your movements gives cause for concern, says Farrar. He gave the hypothetical example of such a record being linked up with a police video-camera image of you dropping litter and then this being followed up with an automatic fine.

It would be the user’s decision who he or she might want to favour with personal location information, in most cases, but the management of such permission might suffer from neglect or the illicit insertion of entries. This might, for example, result in a former partner being allowed access. Because of this, it would be a good idea if list entries expired and required explicit renewal every few months, says Farrar.

Privacy Commissioner Marie Schroff was invited to the seminar but declined to attend. She sent two staff members from her office, with particular responsibility for technology aspects of privacy, instead.

Previous story: Business must wait to use govt ID scheme

The media and identity

COMPUTERWORLD REPORTER Stephen Bell spoke at the Impact ’08 conference on the changes the new technologies have made to journalism — and to journalists’ and the readers’ understanding of identity issues.

The emergence of bloggers, “citizen journalists” and technology-aided whistleblowers has blurred the boundaries of journalism as a profession. At the same time, the narrow focus of news-website search engines means it is now comparatively easy for a reader or viewer to select material that caters exclusively to his or her interests and personal prejudices, and resist influences that might broaden or enrich his or her concept of identity.

A delegate asked whether such search-engine data could be made available to third parties, who could then tie it back to an identified individual and, perhaps, develop a misleading picture of that person’s character. Google has already been criticised for making accumulated search data too generally available, although it contends no individual identities can be deduced from the data.

Bell’s presentation garnered insights into the nature of identity from such diverse characters as Superman (alter ego journalist Clark Kent), Lewis Carroll’s the Mad Hatter and Homer Simpson — and The Simpsons’ distinguished journalist, Kent Brockman.

The hat as a surrogate for identity was a recurring theme.

“Stephen has confirmed my suspicion that everything I need to know about life I can learn from The Simpsons,” commented government CIO Laurence Millar.

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