Monday, April 05, 2010

On Privacy

The NPR is not an exercise undertaken under the Census Act 1948. It is being carried out under the Citizenship Act of 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003. Why should that matter? Because there is an express provision regarding `confidentiality' in the Census Act, which is not merely missing in the Citizenship Act and Rules but there is an express objective of making the information available to the UID Authority, for instance, which marks an important distinction between the two processes. Section 15 of the Census Act categorically makes the information that we give to the census agency “not open to inspection nor admissible in evidence.” The Census Act enables the collection of information so that the state has a profile of the population; it is expressly not to profile the individual.

It is the admitted position that the information gathered in the house-to-house survey, and the biometrics collected during the exercise, will feed into the UID database. The UID document says the information that data base will hold will only serve to identify if the person is who the person says he, or she, is. It will not hold any personal details about anybody. What the document does not say is that it will provide the bridge between the ‘silos' of data that are already in existence, and which the NPR will also bring into being. 

Paul Duguid in The Nation:

The contrasts suggest to me that, while we should continue to resist the intrusiveness of government in the American way, we would be wise to import a little more suspicion of corporations from the other side of the Atlantic. One reason is that companies are not only collecting information about us but also processing it in ways that lead to "decisional interference." Search engines make money by matching our desire to buy with someone else's interest in selling. They are coming to know so much about us, however, that they are increasingly in the position to shape our desires in the interests of their paying customers.

Not long ago, Schmidt wrote cheerfully in the Wall Street Journal about the new digital devices on which we are all expected to be reading soon. "The compact device in my hand delivers me the world, one news story at a time," he wrote. "Even better," he went on, "the device knows who I am, what I like, and what I have already read." It may well know. The question is, Who else is it telling?

That question raises concerns not only about what and how Google is selling us but also the cozy relationship between government and private corporations, for corporations increasingly gather private information that the government wants. Sometimes they are directly complicit. AT&T provided a handy room at the heart of its network for the National Security Agency to monitor huge portions of Internet and telephone communications. Yahoo and Sprint have found ready buyers in government agencies for the data they accrue.

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