March 10, 2006

The inevitable breaches of privacy, and what to do about them

Let’s continue the discussion of infomation privacy. Basically, governments and other large enterprises will be able to track almost everything about you — purchases, movements, medical details, communcations, even the things you think about (if you think about them long enough to search the Web for a bit of information). This trend can realistically be slowed, but it probably can’t be stopped.

Other than surrendering to 1984ish oversight, what is to be done? I see only one practical choice — the laws regulating use of information must be greatly strengthened. For example:

1. In the United States today, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of an employee’s, job applicant’s, loan applicant’s, etc. race or sex or religion or national origin. This information is often available to companies (e.g., just by looking at the person). But even though companies have the information, they’re not allowed to use it.

2. Many safeguards against overzealous police and prosecutors take the form of limiting what information is admissible as evidence in court. If the police didn’t follow proper search procedure (in the US), tough on them; they can’t use what they found.

Indeed, it’s an almost universal myth that the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution precludes a person being forced to give testimony. Actually, the government can very easily compel testimony. But if it does, it has to give a grant of immunity so that that testimony can not be used against the person in court — and if that means the person can’t be tried at all for a specific crime, so be it. Once again, the law allows the government to gather information which it is then precluded from using.

I think the ultimate solutions to the dangers of privacy invasion will have to in large part follow this model. For example, I’d like to see a prohibition on the legal use of “state of mind” information such as web searches, library research, and so on. If there must be exceptions to such a prohibition, they should be explicitly and narrowly carved out.


3 Responses to “The inevitable breaches of privacy, and what to do about them”

  1. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » Flash drives and security — a modest proposal on April 20th, 2006 8:08 am

    […] “But wait!”, you cry. “Doesn’t that mean anybody who legitimately carries a secure Flash drive around can have her movements nefariously tracked?” Well yes, it does, but that genie is out of the bottle anyway. We just have to deal with it on another level. Technorati Tags: Flash, security, privacy, RFID • • • […]

  2. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » The US government wants web surfing to be 100% trackable on June 2nd, 2006 1:53 am

    […] We need to strengthen our legal defenses against government (and private sector) use of data. Opposing the collection of data is a worthy tactic, but will only delay the inevitable. The ultimate solution has to be one that works even assuming near-infinite data collection and integration. […]

  3. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » Universal surveillance of vehicle movements on July 24th, 2006 8:34 am

    […] This is scary stuff. And we’re not going to wind up stopping it, even if we try. We can only hope to blunt its ill effects, by adopting new laws and legal principles that prevent misuse of data the government has already collected. • • • […]

Leave a Reply

Feed including blog about enterprise technology strategy and public policy Subscribe to the Monash Research feed via RSS or email:


Search our blogs and white papers

Monash Research blogs

User consulting

Building a short list? Refining your strategic plan? We can help.

Vendor advisory

We tell vendors what's happening -- and, more important, what they should do about it.

Monash Research highlights

Learn about white papers, webcasts, and blog highlights, by RSS or email.