No good answers

Privacy is more and more a thing of the past:

In one experiment, Acquisti’s team identified individuals on a popular online dating site where members protect their privacy through pseudonyms. In a second experiment, they identified students walking on campus — based on their profile photos on Facebook. In a third experiment, the research team predicted personal interests and, in some cases, even the Social Security numbers of the students, beginning with only a photo of their faces.

Carnegie Mellon researchers also built a smartphone application to demonstrate the ability of making the same sensitive inferences in real-time. In an example of “augmented reality,” the application uses offline and online data to overlay personal and private information over the target’s face on the device’s screen.

“The seamless merging of online and offline data that face recognition and social media make possible raises the issue of what privacy will mean in an augmented reality world,” Acquisti said.

Cloud computing will continue to improve performance times at cheaper prices, and online people-tagging and face recognition software will continue to provide more means of identification.

“Ultimately, all this access is going to force us to reconsider our notions of privacy,” Acquisti said. “It may also affect how we interact with each other. Through natural evolution, human beings have evolved mechanisms to assign and manage trust in face-to-face interactions. Will we rely on our instincts or on our devices, when mobile phones can predict personal and sensitive information about a person?”

This technology has profound implications for both good and evil. Surveillance cameras can scan our sidewalks for wanted criminals as well as political dissidents. And the app for your cell phone can do a background check on your daughter’s date or identify a TSA agent in line at the grocery store.

I worry about this but don’t have any good answers. It seems that about the best you can hope for is that you have a twin* such that you can raise reasonable doubt in those situations where it really matters.

* My twin was discovered by AntiTango.


19 thoughts on “No good answers

  1. High time for a strongly worded constitutional amendment protecting one’s right to privacy. It will never go anywhere, though–too many people in high places have too much to lose.

  2. Privacy is a recent illusion caused by growing population and increased mobility. Technology is allowing the return to the historical lack of privacy that has been the normal human condition for thousands of years.

    You can’t fight it any more than the RIAA or MPAA can fight file sharing. Better to start thinking how we’re going to adapt to everyone knowing everything.

  3. Except, of course, for how there is no right to privacy ITFP. Your need to demonstrate otherwise first, Publius.

    Joe, what kind of situations do you have in mind where that would be appropriate? I can’t imagine any where I would want to raise reasonable doubt by blaming another innocent person, so I’m curious.

  4. I really don’t understand how there isn’t one…please elaborate?

  5. Certainly; I apologize for not being clear.

    You’re the one asserting that it exists, so the onus of proof is on you. Please note that ‘penumbras’ and ’emanations’ and similar equivocations aren’t proof, just more unsupported assertions. AFAIK, no “right” to privacy has ever been established by valid and legitimate means, including by judicial fiat.

  6. I hold that it is part and parcel of the right to be left alone, barring evidence of a crime being committed.

  7. Except, of course, for how there is no right to be left alone ITFP, and so you still need to demonstrate otherwise. Please keep in mind that we’re discussing this in the context of the Constitution, as per your original assertion.

    That being said, I honestly don’t believe there is a natural right to privacy even outside that context. TTBOMATD, property or other rights already cover every example of “violations” I’ve encountered.

  8. Actually there kind of is (see 9th and 10th amendments)–this is a negative right–and the Constitution doesn’t grant rights, although it specifically protects some of them. The fact that it’s not in there, and is not in fact protected, is kind of my point about why we need an amendment…

  9. If you want someone to go look at the 9th and 10th Amendments in order to make an argument on the basis of the 9th and 10th amendments, please do so yourself. Again, your assertion, your onus of responsibility. I’m not going to make your arguments for you. Also, it’s unacceptably rude of you to attempt to jerk me around like that, and you should apologize.

    Nothing personal, but you do know that a proper apology includes at minimum 3 specific things — the expression of regret, the description of the wrong done, and a promise to at least attempt not to do it again? I only ask because so many people do not seem to have been taught this or ever learned it on their own, and anything less is actually just a non-apology insult, and I wouldn’t want you to compound your error.

    And if you find that objectifiably offensive, try looking at your own behavior. The only reason I’m doing it is because you displayed a comparable disrespect for my time and attention first.

    Apart from that, the fact that it’s not in there, and is not in fact protected, is a lot more supportive of my point about how you haven’t even shown it exists yet. Why should the Constitution restrict government violation of a right that does not exist? No, Publius; you do not get to assume the antecedent.

  10. The Ninth Amendment states that “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” This means that just because a right is not specifically enumerated by the Constitution, such as privacy, does not mean that it does not exist.

    The Tenth Amendment states that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This means that since the federal government is not explicitly given the power to invade privacy by the Constitution, it has no power to do so. Having said that, I do admit that this does leave open the possibility of the states stepping in.

    Finally, I’d like to quote James Madison in Federalist # 45 (the real Publius):
    “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

    I can honestly say that I meant no offense here; I may have left some things out for brevity and/or on the assumption that some things were obvious which perhaps were not, and I should have clarified them or been more specific. Perhaps also we are speaking at cross terms here–a part of my argument might be rephrased by saying that, in a strict Constitutional sense, whether or not the right exists is something of a moot point, as said government is not supposed to have the power to infringe upon it in the first place.

    However, at the risk of sounding arrogant, i regret nothing I have typed, and i feel no need to retract it. I have made no personal attacks, indulged in no profanity (for once), no insult or disrespect was intended, and I am sorry that it was felt, but at present I feel no need for further apology and none will be forthcoming unless I am convinced otherwise.


  11. 1st, nor does any of that prove that it does exist. Unless and until you prove it does, by default it doesn’t. Again, you’re the one asserting that it does exist, so you’re the one obligated to prove it. Every time you post on the subject without doing that, or at the least admitting that you haven’t really considered the subject critically, it’s not only rude but increasingly so.

    2nd, the Constitution doesn’t say that there is no right to shborgk either, and shborgk supersedes privacy. What’s shborgk, you ask? Hmm, well, that is a valid question, so I will gladly define it and explain how it is a right. Just as soon as you define privacy and explain how it is a right. Now are you beginning to understand how you’re being rude?

    3th, to what argument of yours are you referring? You haven’t made any. If you think you have, please specifically identify it, because I’m not seeing one.

    4th, the wrongness is not in what you’ve typed, but in what you haven’t. You have not respected my time and attention the way a normal person should. It’s not what you’ve done; it’s what you continue to refuse to do: actually make an actual argument that actually supports your assertion. I.e., you’re telling me that there is a right to shborgk, and when I challenge you to prove it, you simply say the Constitution doesn’t say it doesn’t exist. I don’t know what the social standards are like in your circle, but according not only my upbringing but my observation of others’ attitudes over the years, that sort of thing is considered obnoxious provocation, regardless of intentions — let me repeat that, regardless of intentions — and unacceptably rude.

  12. again, perhaps (almost certainly) we are speaking at cross terms. I suppose I take the right to be left alone to be axiomatic. You can’t prove that; either you accept it or you don’t.

    I might take a stab at arguing that this stems in some sense from property rights–as you own yourself, you own your own actions (and their consequences) and thus have freedom of choice regarding whether or not to allow them to be made public (standard disclaimer applies that once your actions violate someone else’s rights your right to privacy/se3crecy ends in matters relating to said action), but I think I need a little help fleshing this out. Lyle is much better at this sort of thing than I am.

    If you feel I am wasting your time, you are of course free to do something else with it besides argue with me. But in my personal opinion (not that anyone really cares) I believe in the case of negative rights, the onus is on the person who says they do not exist, as they cost no one a dime. In the case of positive rights, however, the onus is to prove that they do exist, because positive rights are expensive and usually involve forcible takings of others’ money, time, and talent.

  13. “I might take a stab at arguing that this stems in some sense from property rights. . . .”

    “TTBOMATD, property or other rights already cover every example of ‘violations’ I’ve encountered.”

    I think I understand the problem here now, and since it’s something I can’t fix, I’m done.

  14. What does TTBOMATD mean? And aer you talking about privacy, or are you actually talking about the a-word-which-I-have-no-intention-of-touching-with-a-ten-foot-pole?

  15. What does TTBOMATD mean?

    Was wondering that myself… There is something absurdly ironic about an individual obnoxiously demanding that someone else spell out the 9th and 10th Amendments for him while simultaneously employing an acronym for which there are no Google nor Bing search returns.

    Mote, plank, etc.

    More topically, the assertion that “no “right” to privacy has ever been established by valid and legitimate means, including by judicial fiat” indicates a marked ignorance on the part of the speaker – an ignorance that is almost unquestionably willful, given how easy the information was to find.

    “Obnoxious provocation”? Odds are… good.

    Even more topically, there are ways of ensuring your privacy on the internet even today, but it basically boils down to keeping your interaction with (not necessarily use of) it to an absolute minimum… Which is a more-realistic way of portraying our “privacy” over the past few thousands of years – your information was “private” in that only a few people knew it… the people of your village. Inside that circle, most people knew most things about most other people, but the overwhelming mass of humanity was completely oblivious. “Privacy”, such as it was, was generated through a lack of communications/transportation.

    Now, with the internet, we have instantaneous communication around the world, and the whole world as turned into our “village”. People in China may, and probably do, know more about you than your closer friends, and the implications of that are indeed disturbing… However, I do not think the new ability to datamine each other should preclude a further strengthening of our right to keep to ourselves, and keep our information to ourselves.

  16. One of the sources I look to in this issue is David Brin’s “The Transparent Society”. I don’t think Brin is right about everything, but the fundamental idea that the loss of privacy isn’t such a big deal provided it’s applied equally in society, I think is a reasonable concept. My government probably knows more about me than any government ever has in the past, but I probably also can know more about my own government more than any citizen has in the past. As long as the weak can equally shine the light on the powerful, as the powerful can shine it on the weak, there’s no real problem. Problems only arise when the government reserves certain information for itself. For instance, police cameras could become a problem, because it gives the powerful an opportunity to spy on the weak, but what if the weak could equally spy on the powerful through cameras available to anyone in the police station? Or public cameras that are easily accessible by ordinary citizens as they are the police.

    I’m not sure I trust that this technology will be distributed equitably in society, but the technology is coming, so we have to figure out ways to deal with it as a free society. I suspect Brin is right, however. Any technology that allows my government to spy on me isn’t quite so bad if it also allows me a greater ability to spy on my government. Think about the Canton, OH videos. Ten years ago we never would have heard about that, and the man who suffered that abuse would had suffered it quietly. I think as long as we have the technology to discover the brand of toothpaste the CEO of Proctor and Gamble uses, it’s not such a big deal if he has the technology to discovery the brand I use.

  17. John D. MacDonald had a recurring bit about this problem in the Travis McGee novels. McGee’s solution was to increase the “noise” for anyone looking at you. Have multiple bank accounts that you just randomly move money to and fro from time to time. Open multiple businesses, business addresses, and have accounts for them. Use some of them for legitimate purposes when you feel like it; let the others die on the vine, resuscitate them in another state a couple years later. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    People are human, and even a computer-assisted human looking at you and your transactions will tire quickly of trying to decipher everything that’s going on, especially if you’re just toodling around at random whenever you think about tweaking something in your little empire.

    Can FINCEN pierce through all that in short order? Sure, but if you’ve attracted that sort of attention you have bigger problems. For everybody else, this sort of information fencing can work pretty well.

  18. TTBOMATD probably means “To The Best Of My Ability To Determine.”

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