31 January 2006

Google Fights for Our Privacy?

I remarked on Google's resistance to the U.S. authorities concerning its demands for data in this post last week. I casually remarked that perhaps its objections were a bit overblown. While concerned that lessening privacy is a slippery slope (you very rarely get freedoms back), I wondered, cynically, if it was an attempt to counter other negative news that week.

Well, reading this article at Security Focus by Mark D. Rasch, J.D., (a former head of the Justice Department's computer crime unit) certainly clears my mind up! (Link found via Paul Kedrosky's Infectious Greed site).

The Google subpoena fight isn't really about the anonymous data at issue here today. It is really about the way the government can "deputize" unwilling private companies who collect and maintain massive databases to act as their agents in the future.
Let's just create a single massive database of what everyone is doing all the time, and let anyone "dip" into it whenever it is deemed to be relevant to settling some dispute.

And just to add dramatic flourish, Mark finishes with:

It seems Orwell was off by about 22 years.

I have to say it's a compelling article (should make you a bit paranoid about using GMail, Linked-In and Plaxo if not the whole internet!). And, I think things in Europe are heading the same way too, if not worse (at least the US has Free Speech as a fundamental component of its Constitution).

There are dangerous signs of our freedoms being eroded, and we need to become more vigilant and more organised about this. Can we rely on people like Google to do it for us? Absolutely not. Returning to my cynicism, Mark makes many points in his article showing how the provision of such data to 3rd parties could become a huge burden to Google and also risk exposing many of its trade secrets and business model practices. While I applaud Google's stance here, given their recent decision on doing business with China, this again is at least as much about "do no evil to Google" as it is "do no evil".

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