Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Privacy is Dead, Part 2: The Real Issues

I posted a couple of comments, following up on my original "Privacy is Dead" post. Unfortunately, the hyperlinks I included in those comments do not seem to be working correctly, so I want to repeat them here:

The International Herald Tribune: Bush's spy program 'lawful' and 'vital'

The New York Times: In Limelight at Wiretap Hearing: 2 Laws, but Which Should Rule?

And a three-part transcript presented by The Washington Post: U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Holds a Hearing on Wartime Executive Power and the National Security Agency's Surveillance Authority

In summary, United States Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where several Democrats and two prominent Republicans (including committee chairman Senator Arlen Specter, R-Penn) bring forward reasonable arguments about balance of power and the importance of the precedents we're setting.

I breathe a little easier knowing that I am not the only one thinking along these lines. I can't take any credit for the content of those hearings, but it is refreshing to know that I'm not the only one who sees things in this light.

At least, that's what Simon says today...

Thanks,
-Simon

4 Comments:

At 11:32 AM, February 09, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A relevant article I found - US plans massive data sweep.

Can't comment much because there are four geeks sitting behind me who can see the keyboard.

 
At 12:33 PM, February 09, 2006, Blogger Simon Ayesse said...

Dear Anonymous:
Am I to understand that you are posting a comment VISIBLE TO THE ENTIRE INTERNET, but you feel you shouldn't add your personal thoughts and opinions because FOUR PEOPLE MIGHT SEE YOU?

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and assume that there are additional details that you also did not include? Perhaps I can even relate this back to the trust issues I mentioned in Part I -- it's not the information that I'm worried about; I'm worried that I can't trust some people to play nicely with information when they have it. And perhaps these four are people you feel you cannot trust to behave decently if they are in possession of the truth?

On the other hand, I just want to keep harping on my original point a little more, and speculate that one of the reasons people sometimes act so shady is that they believe others are lying to them. Only makes it worse if they're right, and I really am misleading them, eh?

At the very least, I hope those four didn't mind that you called them "geeks". But then again, anybody so snoopy as to shoulder-surf your typing deserves a little picking on, if you ask me. Don't they have better things to do, or is your keyboard the most interesting item in the vicinity?

Here's a tactic I enjoy, that you might find useful once in a while: when somebody is obviously shoulder-surfing, I don't ask them to stop. Instead, I ask them to please proofread for me, as long as they're going to read what I'm typing anyhow. It's my way of holding up a "mirror" -- letting them see their own actions for themselves. And you might be surprised how many would-be snoops are awfully reluctant to make themselves useful, and would rather bugger off instead. Either way, I win -- I remove an annoying distraction, or I get some useful assistance. Win-win.

Of course, I don't make a lot of new friends that way. But then again, some people who compulsively read everything within their line of sight are also pretty good proofreaders.

I guess there are no pat answers to these dilemmas, and there's no single principle to guide me. I'll stick to my three-prong test for "harm, waste, and what I believe is truly decent" to bracket my decisions, until something better comes along.

Please post again, when you feel you have more "privacy"?

Thanks,
-Simon

 
At 1:19 PM, February 09, 2006, Blogger Simon Ayesse said...

I forgot to mention another game I like play with annoying snoopy people. I was inspired to this tactic by a short story that I heard turned into a radio-play a couple of decades ago. I cannot remember the name of the story, or the author, but the content of it was unforgettable:

The story is about a man living in the former USSR who discovers that somebody is reading the mail that he receives, to screen it for information. Rather than becoming cagy about the information he sends and receives, he takes a more subtle approach. He begins mailing letters to himself, the whole content of which is written to the man whose job it is to read that mail. He writes about how boring and terrible a job it must be to read such inane mail all day long, what a waste of a man's life, a man who must have a wife and children somewhere longing for his company if only he were not sitting alone, reading all this pointless mail... etc. And it goes on like that, until one day a stranger in a gray suit knocks on his apartment door holding an opened envelop and says, "Please stop."

When someone is annoyingly shoulder-surfing, I sometimes like to make sure they know that the annoyance they are providing is not lost on me. An example might look like this:

"Today, I read in the Washington Post that... hey. Some guy is reading over my shoulder. Hello, guy. How are you today? I hope that what I am writing is very interesting. It must be -- you seem very eager to read it. What do you think so far? Is my grammar correct? I'm not too worried about grammar, but I think the content is boring. Would you like to sit down and type for me? I bet that you would have something much more interesting to share, and then I could read over your shoulder and we would have lots of fun. I am a very good proofreader -- I bet I could help you a lot. What do you say? Let's trade seats?..." and so on, and so on, etc.

Most folks will snort or laugh pretty early on, and then wander off quickly. (Others require a swift kick in the shins -- I don't like to be bothered until I'm finished writing something.)

I once worked for a company where there was a documented email policy we all had to sign, stating we acknowledged that a representative of the company had the job of reading any email on the company mail server to serve as "due diligence" to prevent spam, hate mail, adult content, etc. (This was back in the days before we had good software to do that for us.) And I happened to know the IT guy whose job it was to spot-check all email. It was an incredibly boring job, and he pretty much hated it. So, every once in a while, I would go home and send myself something with a nice, juicy subject line like, "Do NOT Open at Work," or, "Do NOT Share This Information," or, "Secrets of Marijuana Growth," or, well, you get the idea. And then I'd start with a few lines of random crap before switching to a letter addressed directly to that guy in IT, saying something like, "Sorry to disappoint you with the lack of criminal content, but I thought you might enjoy reading a letter written to you, after all that mail written to other people. We do appreciate all the hard work you do to help keep this company honest. Next time, I'll try to find a funny cartoon or a good joke for you to read. Hang in there, buddy."

The first time I did it, he came into my office laughing. The third time I did it, he came to my office and said that I really shouldn't do that -- but I pressed him for a reason why, and he couldn't come up with one. When I quit, at my going away party, he confessed that he had not bothered to check anything addressed to me or from me ever again after that third letter. You can draw your own conclusions.

Sometimes, I think a LACK of privacy is my best defence against unwanted intrusions.

But I'm strange like that.

Peace,
-Simon

 
At 12:13 PM, February 10, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

> Am I to understand that you are posting a comment VISIBLE TO THE ENTIRE INTERNET, but you feel you shouldn't add your personal thoughts and opinions because FOUR PEOPLE MIGHT SEE YOU?
> I'm going to go out on a limb here, and assume that there are additional details that you also did not include? Perhaps I can even relate this back to the trust issues I mentioned in Part I -- it's not the information that I'm worried about; I'm worried that I can't trust some people to play nicely with information when they have it. And perhaps these four are people you feel you cannot trust to behave decently if they are in possession of the truth?

Heh. Ok. Privacy now.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you stated that the issue of privacy is more about trust than the privacy itself.

I feel comfortable posting to the internet because I'm relatively anonymous. As long as I'm smart about how I post and what I post I am relatively 'private'. Examples: I don't post to a discussion forum using my primary email account, nor do I post my credit card number to a discussion forum. Yeah, there's crackers (bad hackers, black-hat hackers, whatever) that could packet sniff me. Yeah, the govt is going to have software at some point that lets them coordinate every bit of information I've created and sent to/through the internet. For now, I'm safe enough.

When I posted it, it was a matter of 'immediate' concerns. Those close to my desk at work. I work in an ubercube with three other people, my back to them. It's crunch time at work so there's a lot of activity and other people in the ubercube. I am choosy about when, what, and how long I surf websites when other people are around. Not because what they think about me matters. I do it because what they think about me affects how they interact with me. I'm interested in a productive working relationship with my cow-irkers.

Even now, typing this comment from my work computer and doing it from home, I'm not guaranteed safety. I don't know enough about computers to be 100% certain there isn't some corporate spyware on this machine. Yet I feel 'private' in writing correspondence using it, when not at work. Strange, no? I think it comes down to the awareness of my privacy, and what I want/need my privacy for. If I know I do not have privacy I will make different choices that I would if I believed I have privacy.

At citizens go I'm law-abiding, tax paying, and productive. If government/corporation chooses to spy on me for whatever reason, that's fine. I know it could be happening right now. I can't prevent it 100%, so why worry about it? But as long as I have the rights to secure communication, encryption, identity masking, spyware removal software, and whatnot I think the playing field is level and I'm satisfied with that.

-- BH

 

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