Privacy squeeze demands attention

This book is written for the US, where laws protecting privacy and inhibiting the aggregation and exchange of such information are weak. European and Commonwealth laws and ours are better. But we need constant review of such laws.

Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century by Simson Garfinkel

(O’Reilly, $US17)

Personal information is being captured as never before — CCTV in most stores, public buildings and street areas is now accepted by the public as essential for public safety reasons. Human identification is now possible with the latest TV cameras to new levels — the driver of a car crossing through red lights can be identified.

Shopping using loyalty cards and credits cards in shops or on the web mean that our purchases and personal choices are now being recorded in detail.

Bar codes on all products are now universal. They are now identifying the smallest unit manufactured and shipped using ERP systems — and the bar code is recorded at the supermarket counter along with loyalty card and credit card IDs. Quality management will extend the traceability of all distributed products. The bar code on a piece of cheese was used to find the Wellington bunker kidnappers.

Smart chips and cellphones with GPS units will leave behind a log of where they have been.

The public has little idea of how the logging of traffic from email and the internet may be recorded at many sites as the data passes through various routers and servers and that it may be logged at each point with different persons (be they called systems administrators) having total access to it. This is the usual source of addresses for spammers.

This book is written for the US, where laws protecting privacy and inhibiting the aggregation and exchange of such information are weak. European and Commonwealth laws and ours are better.

But we need constant review of such laws to ensure that new technologies are covered by existing legislation and to ensure new practices are also addressed.

The final risk is from police and security agencies. They will have access to this information and we all hope it will assist police catch criminals and now intercept terrorists. But this information can be used by any corrupt member of these bodies — it is always a risk. Just leak a password for $10,000 in cash!

A rising issue is identity theft. Credit cards and US social security numbers are captured by thieves who then rack up debt in your name. Legislation is needed to ensure you can clear your name quickly.

Unfortunately this book was written before 9/11. US sentiment has probably turned against privacy in favour of law enforcement. I would like an update.

Mitchell is past-president of the Auckland branch of the NZ Computer Society.

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