Opinion

The Great Debate

from Jack Shafer:

The truth is, you’ve never had the ‘right to be forgotten’

An illustration picture shows a Google logo with two one Euro coins

A recent ruling by Europe's top court has given its people a "right to be forgotten." Google and other search engines must now delete "inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant, or excessive" information from search queries when a European individual requests it, even when the info is true. This isn't a classic case of censorship: the "offending" pages produced by newspapers and other websites will go untouched. Google and the other search engines just won't be allowed to link to them.

The court has largely left to the search engines how best to handle requests to decouple the names of petitioners from search results served, which has already produced major confusion, as well as a comically passive-aggressive response from Google, which has received more than 70,000 requests in the opening round, with 1,000 said to be arriving daily. (See this Washington Post editorial for a few examples of people who have succeeded in persuading Google to "delist" certain search results.)

How did a right to be forgotten become enshrined, even in a place as retrograde as Europe? If you've lived in a village or even a small town, you probably learned the hard way that privacy has never existed in the original state of nature. Everybody in a small town knows that you drink, how much you drink, and what brand, thanks to that rumor-mongering liquor-store clerk. They know where you sleep at night, who you sleep with, and whether your nights are restful or rambunctious because the local pharmacy tech gossips about your Ambien and Viagra prescriptions. The librarian knows what books you've checked out of the local library, the local merchants recall having rejected your overextended credit card, and they all swap this information like chattering birds on a wire.

That big, fat, distributed dossier can't be suppressed. Traditionally, the best way to escape small-town nosiness was to light out for the nearest city, where personal information couldn't be collected so cheaply and couldn't be shared as efficiently. It also helped, of course, that the city's million other inhabitants care not at all about you, and your neighbors barely know you exist. When you did get caught doing something embarrassing, the newspapers and court records might trap it in ink. Those who possess good memories might remember your indiscretion and blab about it. But retrieving all that information and maintaining it was too damned expensive. The only American institution that justified the cost of keeping close tabs on the personal lives of the human hordes was the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose agents and hired clipping services followed thousands.

But the bliss of being an unknown cog in a big city turned out to be temporary glitch, remedied by technology. In the early 1970s, LexisNexis arrived to digitize news and court cases, driving down the cost of information retrieval and encouraging newspapers and other information sources to add their troves to the pile, which it resold at high prices. Not long after, credit bureaus commenced swallowing financial data about the public by the terabyte and regurgitating it for clients. The commercial Web, which arrived in the mid-1990s, drove the cost-curve of information retrieval down and also democratized it to the point that you can download human backstories by the millions -- many of them revealing -- after keystroking a few search terms into Google.

The Republican war cuts through CPAC

The 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference has ended but the harsh debate between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party goes on. Though nothing remains static indefinitely. Things do change.

The venerated conference, for example, begun years ago in a room at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel, has more of a corporate, insider feel than in the Reagan days. During the 70s and 80s, this meeting possessed a revolutionary “up the establishment” flair.

Some in the Tea Party complained that this year’s conference favored establishment incumbents, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex.), rather than offering a platform to their conservative challengers.

Reagan’s true legacy: The Tea Party

 

Challenging the status quo is the correct condition of American conservatism.

At the end of the American Revolution, Benjamin Rush, who had signed the Declaration of Independence, vowed that though the war with Great Britain was over, the Revolution would go on.

The stirrings of original American conservatism were found in such sentiments. For the proper state of American conservatism — from Thomas Paine to Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln — is to be in a perpetual struggle for intellectual revolution.

Ronald Reagan, whose 103rd birthday would have been Thursday, exemplified this. No surprise the Gipper regularly quoted all three men.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Buying into Big Brother

Whatever high crimes and misdemeanors the National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden may or may not have perpetrated, he has at least in one regard done us all a favor. He has reminded us that we are all victims of unwarranted and inexcusable invasions of privacy by companies who collect our data as they do business with us.

Some, like Google and Facebook, pose primarily as software companies when their main revenue source, and their main business, is to mine data and sell advertisers access to customers. We knew this already, of course, though it seems many of us would prefer to forget the true nature of the technology firms that have boomed in the last decade. Seduced by their dazzling baubles, we have bought in to Big Brother without truly understanding the true price we are paying and will continue to pay for access to their brave new world.

We may take pity on the idiot schoolboy who uses expletives on Twitter or posts a picture of himself holding a joint at a party only to discover when he looks for a job that a trawl by an HR department has made him unemployable. But even smart people -- like the New York mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner, who sent lewd pictures to strangers -- can remember too late that in this wired world we are all being recorded all the time. Yet there is little legal protection from abuse by the companies who collate our personal data and store it for eternity.

Social media life: What privacy?

It was almost quaint: Google’s recent apology for privacy violations. Granted, it came in the face of a lawsuit where the company got its hand slapped for “data-scooping,” a wonderful phrase that could be the slogan of our current lives. Google was found to have crossed the line with its Street View Project, where in addition to photographing houses and buildings along the world’s streets and avenues, the Googilians scooped up all manner of personal information from zillions of unencrypted wireless networks.

Really? I’m shocked. Not. Who doesn’t data scoop is my question?

I look at a bathing suit on line. For the next few weeks, whenever I open my laptop it pops right up. It’s like I am being stalked by a bathing suit. I vow to never ever succumb again to online shopping, a resolve that crumbles faster than my New Year’s resolutions.

Every day I am online giving away — not just bits of information but bytes of my soul, or at least that’s the way it feels. Obviously the social media sites, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, et al, are the most glaring examples. We can complain about Google and about the predatory identity thieves out there who hack into our so-called private information. But the truth is we are the saboteurs of our own privacy.

Collateral damage of our surveillance state

As the surreal sex scandal that forced CIA Director David Petraeus’ resignation reveals another prominent general’s “flirtatious” emails, the serious scandal here may well be the breadth of the FBI’s power to launch fishing expeditions through Americans’ most intimate communications.

This investigation began in May, as we now know from copious FBI leaks, with a series of rude anonymous emails to Tampa socialite Jill Kelley. The messages criticized her cozy relationships with military officers at a local base, where she volunteers as a social planner. Although the e-mails have been described as “cat-fight stuff” rather than threats, a friend of Kelley’s at the FBI, Frederick W. Humphries IIwho had sent Kelley shirtless photos and was ultimately barred from the case by superiors worried he had become “obsessed” ‑ urged the bureau to investigate.

The FBI obliged ‑ apparently obtaining subpoenas for Internet Protocol logs, which allowed them to connect the sender’s anonymous Google Mail account to others accessed from the same computers, accounts that belonged to Petraeus biographer Paula Broadwell. The bureau could then subpoena guest records from hotels, tracking the WiFi networks, and confirm that they matched Broadwell’s travel history. None of this would have required judicial approval ‑ let alone a Fourth Amendment search warrant based on probable cause.

The people’s business is none of our business

Politicians have always loved to keep the political process as shrouded in mystery as possible. But for a brief time, thanks to the increased use of computers, it seemed that technology would finally shine some needed sunlight on the political process. Due to the extensive virtual paper trails created by emails, and assisted by ever-improving search technology, what went on between government officials was opened up for public examination in new and unexpected ways.

But now, political figures are fighting back. As reports continually show, politicians are pushing to ensure that the people’s business is none of your business.

It was recently reported that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo refuses to use email. He sends and receives messages only by using a BlackBerry-to-BlackBerry messaging system that immediately deletes the message. No paper trail, no negative campaign ads based on anything he wrote in an email, which now even a Freedom of Information Request or an inopportune leak will not reveal. Cuomo has apparently also tried to “clean up” his records from his time as state attorney general, having aides remove key documents from view.

How to resist Big Brother 2.0

The ubiquity of digital gadgets and sensors, the pervasiveness of networks and the benefits of sharing very personal information through social media have led some to argue that privacy as a social norm is changing and becoming an outmoded concept. In this three-part series Don Tapscott questions this view, arguing that we each need a personal privacy strategy. Part one can be read here, and part two here.

As the Net becomes the basis for commerce, work, entertainment, healthcare, learning and much human discourse, each of us is leaving a trail of digital crumbs as we spend a growing portion of our day touching networks. The books, music and stocks you buy online, your pharmacy purchases, groceries scanned at the supermarket or bought online, your child’s research for a school project, the card reader at the parking lot, your car’s conversations with a database via satellite, the online publications you read, the shirt you purchase in a department store with your store card, the prescription drugs you buy – and the hundreds of other network transactions in a typical day – point to the problem.

Computers can inexpensively link and cross-reference such databases to slice, dice and recompile information about individuals in hundreds of different ways. This makes these databases enormously attractive for government and corporations that are keen to know our whereabouts and activities.

Can we retain privacy in the era of Big Data?

The ubiquity of digital gadgets and sensors, the pervasiveness of networks and the benefits of sharing very personal information through social media have led some to argue that privacy as a social norm is changing and becoming an outmoded concept. In this three-part series Don Tapscott questions this view, arguing that we each need a personal privacy strategy. Part one can be read here.

Privacy is nothing if not the freedom to be let alone, to experiment and to make mistakes, to forget and to start anew, to act according to conscience, and to be free from the oppressive scrutiny and opinions of others.

It may seem an odd notion today, but in its infancy the Internet was a favorite refuge for many seeking privacy. A famous New Yorker cartoon published almost 20 years ago featured two dogs sitting in front of a computer, with one saying to the other: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

Should we ditch the idea of privacy?

The ubiquity of digital gadgets and sensors, the pervasiveness of networks and the benefits of sharing very personal information through social media have led some to argue that privacy as a social norm is changing and becoming an outmoded concept.  In this three-part series Don Tapscott questions this view, arguing that we each need a personal privacy strategy.

Since I co-authored a book on privacy and the Internet 15 years ago I’ve been writing about how to manage the various threats to the security and control of our personal information. But today I find myself in a completely unexpected discussion. A growing number of people argue that the notion of having a private life in which we carefully restrict what information we share with others may not be a good idea. Instead, sharing our intimate, personal information with others would benefit us individually and as a society.

This is not a fringe movement. The proponents of this view are some of the smartest and most influential thinkers and practitioners of the digital revolution.

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