March 13, 2006

I promised a bunch of links on privacy issues

As promised in my column in today’s Computerworld, I’m throwing up a bunch of links on privacy issues. Let me confess that I’m finding these in the last moment by searching, and these are not necessarily articles I’ve carefully read through or analyzed myself. (It turns out I didn’t bookmark anything when I first read about these various subjects.)

1. Your Google searches can be used against you as evidence in court. Prosecutors won a murder conviction against Robert Petrick for killing is wife in part by showing that, using his computer(s), somebody had Googled on a lot of murder-related terms, and visited a series of websites that gave information potentially useful in a murder of the kind actually committed. This information was gathered from his hard drive; it was not turned over by Google. Here’s another article on the Petrick case.

2. Search Engine Watch has extensive discussion on actual search engine privacy. It was inspired by the Federal government’s requests to the major search engines for general data (nothing personally identifiable) about child porn in search results. Google refused; MSN and Yahoo complied. EDIT: Google and the Feds are going to court, as per a 3/13 USA Today article. FURTHER EDIT: They cut a deal, as per the Reg’s cynically funny (as usual) article.

3. David Brin’s 1998 book The Transparent Society — focused on video surveillance, actually — has been highly influential in my own thinking. It appears he has an extensive web site that grew out of that discussion, but the link EDIT: IS NOW WORKING AGAIN.

4. The Register writes extensively about the British government’s attempts to institute national ID cards, biometric drivers licenses, and such like. It also writes about a number of other privacy-related issues.

5. Perhaps the most extensive single site covering Internet privacy issues is the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s.

More later, but that should be enough to get you started.

EDIT: I’ll keep adding some here.

6. One issue that probably has gotten more hype than it urgently needs is the theoretical risk of tracking consumer good usage via their embedded RFID chips. Retailers and consumer packaged goods manufacturers are being held back somewhat — or at least are being sensitive to — political and activist pressure.

7. Even the CIA is easy to trace. Never mind government and large-enterprise databanks; even web searches and other techniques open to the general, law-abiding public produce a lot of information — including the identities of many covert CIA agents and facilities. While not exactly a repressive-goverment fear point (quite the contrary, if anything), this still serves to illustrate one of my core points — information will inevitably be gathered. Hence tighter controls on the USE of information are needed now than were necessary before.

8. Lauren Gelman seems to be teaching a course on law/technology/privacy, and raises a number of specific issues in one of her blog posts.


2 Responses to “I promised a bunch of links on privacy issues”

  1. Rick Fowler on March 13th, 2006 3:01 pm

    You have a decent start, but two very good additional resources include the
    Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC, and the International
    Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP, One of
    the biggest problems we currently face is not that there are insufficient rules
    regarding privacy, but how we can detect and prosecute violations when they occur.
    Another issue is how to apply variations in state laws and international laws in
    the age of the global economy. Not that I have a solution — if I did, I would be
    both wealthy and famous (I’m currently neither) — but I think it is critical to
    have a global view of the issues, current regulations, and economic implications
    when trying to develop the solutions, especially in such an emotionally charged
    subject as privacy.

  2. Jim Horning on March 16th, 2006 5:15 pm

    Other sites worth mentioning:
    – The US public policy committee of the Association for
    Computing Machinery (USACM,, and especially
    – RISKS Digest ( and
    PRIVACY Forum (, both sponsored by ACM’s
    Committee on Computers and Public Policy.

    Jim H.

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