A blog I wrote over a year ago was about Craig Mundie’s solution to all the data mining going on in the world. He advised that the practice was so pervasive, we’d be wise to create rules for how data can be used rather than attempt to prevent its collection. (Blog 4/4/14) Ann Cavoukian in an essay appearing later in the same periodical argues that Mundie’s solution is no solution at all. It relies too much “on after-the-fact remedies for the abuse.” Once data is gathered, she points out, rules or no rules, there is no protection against the unscrupulous. (“Data Mining,” by Ann Cavoukian, Foreign Affairs, Sept/Oct 2014, pg. 175)
Unlike Mundie, Cavoukian isn’t ready to throw in the towel on a person’s right to privacy. (Ibid, pg. 175) She insists that western traditions hold “a fundamental belief that individuals must be allowed to exercise control over the gathering, use, and disclosure of his or her data by others.” (Ibid pg. 176)
Till recently, I’ve always assumed that was the case. Why else do I receive those privacy statements from my bank and my insurance company each year? In 2014, a European court, based on an individual’s right to manage his or her information, ruled against Google and its policy of refusing to take down personal data once it was posted. (Ibid pg. 175) The judges agreed that people have a right to be forgotten. (Click)
Part of the problem with privacy is the public’s ambivalence. We give away a good deal of information about ourselves on social media, for example. Someone I know discovered my birthday, a date I’ve never published, simply by triangulating on my Facebook page and my blog comments. I admit, I was startled.
Besides what we give away about ourselves, a number of agencies are in the business of snooping. Recently, I wrote about the invisible army involved in drone data collection. (Blog 6/22/15) The situation appears to be getting worse. A letter from my Congressmen revealed that, “In 2012, the last year that this data was reported, 4.92 million federal employees, and contractors had access to [our] secret information.” (“Your Liberties Should Not Be Compromised,” Congressman Earl Blumenauer, constituent letter, 5/27, 2015) With so much of our personal life in the hands of so many, we increase the danger to ourselves for its misuse. Yet to whom do we appeal for a remedy? How do we correct false or misleading information gathered against us?
Cavoukian’s war cry against government intrusion into our lives is noble: “When it comes to regulating privacy, let the people decide.” (Ibid, pg. 176) But Pandora’s box has been opened and technology seems to have decided for us. As Mundie advises, we must focus now on how that data, once collected, is used.