The future of privacy talk at ORG

Bruce Schneier spoke on the subject of The Future of Privacy at the Open Rights Group on Friday. The ORG is the ‘UK equivalent’ of the EFF and I’m proud to be one of its founder members. I’ve heard Bruce speak a few times, most recently at WEIS 09, and I’ve always been impressed at his relaxed presentation style. This was a great event and ORG will be posting has posted a video of the event on its web site. I’d recommend watching the both the presentation and the Q&A afterwards.

UPDATED: Here are the links to the presentation and the Q&A.

A few highlights (with comments):

  • In relation to large government databases, built to facilitate data mining techniques for suspicious activities, Bruce commented that if you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, it doesn’t seem very sensible to add more hay!
  • On CCTV he posited that we’re living in a unique time. Ten years ago there were no cameras, now there are hundreds of cameras and we can see them all, in ten year’s time there will be many hundreds of cameras, but we won’t be able to see any of them.
  • When ‘life recorders’ become widely used (and they’d only need about 1TB a year to record your entire life) he could see that not having an active life recorder would be seen as suspicious — much like leaving or turning off your mobile phone is now presented as “evidence” that you were up to no good.
  • Ephemeral conversation is dying.
  • The real dichotomy is not security v privacy, but liberty v control. He argued that privacy increases power, and openness decreases power. So citizens need privacy and governments need to be open for a balanced democracy to prosper.
  • The death of privacy has been predicted for centuries (for instance, see Warren and Brandeis’ The Right to Privacy published in 1890). Without a doubt privacy is changing and this is a natural process — but it isn’t inevitable. Our challenge is to either accept this, or to reset the balance between privacy and the mass of identity-based data gathered for commercial gain and state security. Laws are the prime way to reset that balance.
  • When asked the one thing he’d like to change, he replied it would be to implement European style data protection legislation (like our own Data Protection Act) in the US.

One thought on “The future of privacy talk at ORG

  1. XC

    Some thoughts….

    Life recorders will be the end of the police state as we know it. Right now it is your word against the cop’s. If there are 57 view points of the behavior and the incident then suddenly there is a neutral third party in the conversation. The reason cops (here, in the US) like to carry recorders in their cars is that it increases conviction rates and reduces lawsuits. But that is a pretty narrow set of police officers. Imagine how much more effective the policing would be at a trade protest, for example, if there were 57 recordings of a dirty hippie (but I repeat myself) throwing poo at the officer before he clocks him one.

    It also occurs to me that it might kill the sex trade. 🙂

    Finally, can we not have everything European over here? I work in a mega-corp ™ and we struggle with the crazy patchwork of over-restrictive data privacy laws every day. Frankly, from what I can tell, our customers in the US aren’t any more bothered than the ones we have in Germany.


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