Notes from our travels across a mysterious world.

Category: Privacy (Page 2 of 2)

Not just ChoicePoint anymore

Well, guess what. Another large company that collects personal information about people without their knowledge has been hacked. This time it’s Seisint, owned by Lexis Nexis. This is a database used to supply the MATRIX (Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange) system with data. In other words, a system designed to help law enforcement fight terrorism left itself open to a group with stolen passwords.

But don’t worry, everyone, the data that was stolen about 32,000 people “included names, addresses, Social Security and driver license numbers, but not credit history, medical records or financial information,” according to a spokesperson. We know no one can do much damage with that, right? 😐

I guess ChoicePoint should feel a bit better now. At least they were just socially hacked. (Previous entries here and here.)

From the Wider World: “ChoicePoint Says ‘Please Regulate Me'” from the Schneier on Security blog

Surveillance Nation

Technology has the unfortunate quality of tempting people to use it, no matter how deleterious the effects. The growing ability to keep everyone under some sort of surveillance is a good example. Just today, I ran across a couple of stories that really creep me out in terms of what kind of society we are building.

The first story is a classic case of how good motives don’t necessarily excuse ill effects. A school in California tags its children with RFID badges and scans them wherever they are in the school. Apparently this gives them a good way of keeping out trespassers, keeping an eye on the kids, and taking accurate attendance. (Hmm, that doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult. I’m thinking it’s a matter of convenience in collecting data, kind of like the idea of checking out an entire cartload of groceries at once by running it under a scanner.)

But does it send a good message to the kids? Should they be growing up with the idea of casually accepting tagging as a means of surveillance? I know, it won’t be long before face-recognition technology just keeps track of them without even the need for an RFID tag.

The second story is a good example of another way surveillance enters your life: Silently, without permission, and for the most prosaic of reasons, money. ChoicePoint Inc. is a private firm that busily collects data about you from everywhere, starting off with credit records — they’re a spinoff of Equifax — and moving on through many things you wouldn’t imagine were kept, and then provides screening services and “actionable intelligence” to the government and various Homeland Security functions.

In the world of the Internet and databases, there’s a lot of information out there that folks don’t know is being kept on them, and ChoicePoint and other companies, such as LexisNexis, are looking to get in on the ground floor of a growth industry. Problem is, we don’t have a lot of restrictions or oversight on how that data is used. If we’re not comfortable with a governmental entity having easy access to our credit reports, dental records, genetic data, insurance information, driving record, email history, school records, criminal records, shopping receipts, video rentals, library books, etc., a private entity has even less oversight.

Update: Looks like the company providing the student RFID tags and tracking technology decided they didn’t agree with the idea that any publicity is good publicity. They’ve terminated their contract with the school.

Update, again: ChoicePoint illustrates a “small” problem with collecting your information and selling it to anyone who asks.

Relevant to public office?

Over the last several years, the question of the relevancy of past behavior — indeed, even current “private” behavior — for a person’s ability to fulfill the duties of public office has come up many times. Aside from Vietnam service and/or its lack in the current Presidential election, current reporting by The Oregonian about a U.S Representative’s past is probably the the most recent example of a big story concerning the relevancy of an act years in the past.

While relevancy is an issue that could be argued forever, and seems like it already has, what I find interesting is the lack of respect our own gut reactions have received. I know it’s not exactly correct to say “I know it when I see it,” isn’t that really how we judge the relevancy of past behavior, not by some set-in-stone moral code? Maybe it’s the final level of democracy…voting with your gut.

Link Courtesy of Romenesko

Watching for Ted Kennedy

If dissent is unpatriotic, then apparently Senator Kennedy dissented his way all the way on to the no-fly list.

(Of course, my first thought was that past legal troubles…ahem…might have something to do with it, but that should only affect his voting status in Florida. Oh, wait, he’s white. Florida doesn’t care about revoking his right to vote.)

Seriously, though, if the terrorist watch list includes possible terrorist aliases like “Edward Kennedy,” how do folks named John Smith ever manage to get on board a plane?

Courtesy of The New York Times (free registration required)

Ethnicity, Subdivided

A debate at Harvard about the efficacy and results of minority-recruitment programs is fascinating, if largely because it starts to illumine the conflict between trying to divide the world into groups and dealing with actual individuals.

In this case, there doesn’t seem to be a question that Harvard has succeeded in increasing the number of black students in the University. However, once you start subdividing the ethnicity they have used as a touchstone, some odd differences start to come to light: Students of recently-immigrated black families — Africans and West Indians, for example — make up the bulk of the increase. Descendents of African-American slaves — familes that have been in the US for more than three generations — have not been as successful.

This leads to an interesting couple of comments by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Lani Guinier, but no one seems to bring up the problem, particularly among smaller groups, of how one achieves aims of ethnic and socioeconomic balance when the decisions are largely being made about and by individuals who each are going to be located in a fairly unique space, even if you just look at ethnicity, class, and gender. What is balance, and how do you measure it?

Courtesy of The New York Times (free registration required)

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