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Outlaw Josey Wales
08-21-2007, 3:11 PM
Electronic surveillance destroys our privacy, but few seem to mind
Steven Winn, Chronicle Arts and Culture Critic

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Largely unmonitored and apparently ineffective in solving any crimes, those video surveillance cameras in San Francisco housing projects have become symbols of futility and waste. The intrusive Big Brother implications of cameras peering into our daily lives were ominous enough. But for many readers who responded to The Chronicle's recent stories about the cameras, the real crime is the money spent on something that simply doesn't work.

However it plays out, the controversy opens a window on a much larger truth: Americans are being closely and constantly watched, carefully scrutinized and meticulously monitored as never before. From government wiretapping, to Google cameras that offer up street-level views of private houses around the world, to mighty digital data banks that record and store everything from real estate loan applications to pizza purchases, the machinery of observation and analysis has become powerful and pervasive.

And how do members of the public react to all this unsought attention? In most cases, they either take it for granted or feel reassured. To a considerable extent, whether through willing acquiescence or willful innocence, people seem surprisingly ready to accept what would have been seen, not so long ago, as alarming invasions of privacy.

Indeed, in an age that empowers anyone with a cell phone camera and an Internet connection, we're all free to participate in this surge of information gathering and revelation. All of us can be spied on and engage in some high-visibility spying of our own.

"People have a desire to be protected," says Oscar Gandy, professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. "We have this expectation that technology will solve the problem."

Jennifer King, a research specialist at the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at UC Berkeley, believes that "surveillance feels comfortable to some people."

"There's a sense of guardianship, a feeling that someone is watching over me. It counteracts that aura of anonymity in the public space," she says.

Gary Marx was a 1960s UC Berkeley activist and civil libertarian who once took a "sky is falling" view that privacy was gravely endangered; he opposed virtually all intrusions. Today the Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor emeritus has a more measured approach to the issue.

"Nobody used to check the backgrounds of adults who wanted to work with children," Marx says. "It's appropriate that we do that now. Children are safer because of it." Marx even argues that the problem of identity theft could be substantially controlled if people were willing to absorb the social and ethical costs of encoding more personal and biometric information, including facial topography and eye recognition data.

While calling some aspects of the Bush administration's Patriot Act and other programs predicated on national security "clearly illegal," Marx does not reject them entirely. "History moves in cycles," he says. "In periods of crisis and perceived threat, there is going to be less liberty."

Much of the current scrutiny is out in the open and freely accepted by the public. As the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks approaches, the screening and shoe-removal rituals at airports are generally viewed as prudent if inconvenient measures. Parents might regret that their children must pass through metal detectors on their way into school, but few would object to the presumed increase in safety with fewer weapons in backpacks and lockers.

Other public programs, such as the National Security Agency's wiretaps, are more problematic. Last week, in a San Francisco courtroom, three federal appeals judges appeared to rebuff the administration's request that lawsuits challenging the wiretaps be dismissed.

A key question that historians of early 21st century America will have to confront is the justification for the widespread erosions of privacy. To what degree did 9/11 and the war on terror mandate a fundamental change in the nature of individual freedoms and autonomy? And to what extent were the policies a product of fear-mongering and politically motivated exploitation?

A number of privacy experts believe that the real concerns lie less in the public sphere than they do in the largely unregulated environs of commerce.

"It's a simple fact that private companies can collect information about people in ways the government can't," Robert O'Harrow Jr. wrote in his 2005 book "No Place to Hide." "At the same time, they can't be held accountable for their behavior or their mistakes the way government agencies can."

The Annenberg School's Gandy focuses on the ways in which increasingly sophisticated data banks can be used to discriminate in everything from housing loans to whether a taxi or pizza delivery truck will be dispatched to a particular neighborhood. "People don't understand how information they are giving away at the shopping center in order to get a discount on something can become harmful to them as individuals," he says. "This segmentation and targeting are tearing us apart."

Paul Krassner, the satirist, author and stand-up comic who came to prominence as a journalist and founder of the Realist magazine in the late 1950s, is struck by "blatant" changes in "fearful, control-freak invasions of privacy" in recent years. He recalls an event put on by author Ken Kesey in Bend, Ore., in the 1970s, when "the one constant, across the spectrum from liberal to conservative, was the importance of privacy."

The current zeitgeist shift alarms some observers. "The way we create trust and friendship is by selectively revealing aspects of ourselves to others," says Mark Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy and Information Center, or EPIC, in Washington, D.C. "That's how we form bonds. One thing that is very disturbing about these various systems of surveillance is that they tend to dismantle a lot of the social architecture that foster those connections."

Such uneasiness registers across the culture. One of the most honored foreign films of recent years, the 2006 Oscar-winning "The Lives of Others," depicts the unraveling of a spy operation by the East German secret police in the 1980s. In the ironic climax, the psychologically battered Stasi spy and his prey are hauntingly united. "Surveillance," a recent dystopian novel by Jonathan Raban, is set in a near-future Seattle clouded by police-state tactics. In "1996," novelist Gloria Naylor recounts a partially fictionalized experience from her own childhood of a neighborhood quarrel that escalated into an investigation by the National Security Agency.

Even Google encountered some friction when the company launched its StreetView feature this year. People and places that might not necessarily welcome a worldwide audience were suddenly accessible to anyone. A statement from the company defended the new program: "The imagery is no different from what any person can readily capture or see walking down the street."

It's a response that bordered on the disingenuous to some. Taking a photograph is one thing. Posting it on the Internet is another. What's strikingly distinct about privacy in the digital age is not only the thoroughness with which it can be penetrated, but the ease of sharing that information widely. In an odd but somehow perversely logical reaction, self-revelatory tools like YouTube and MySpace have flourished. It's as if people were seizing control of their own privacy and serving it up to the public before anyone can seize it away from them. Gandy labels the trend "counter-exhibitionism, since there's no privacy left."

Musing on the broad ramifications of the issue, from a convenience store camera that might help identify the shooter in a holdup to warrantless government wiretaps, Krassner compares invasion of privacy to a hammer. "You can use it to fix something," he says, "or you can use it to give somebody a big bang on the head."

E-mail Steven Winn at swinn@sfchronicle.com.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/08/21/MNLTRM4TR.DTL

This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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Bishop
08-21-2007, 3:40 PM
Three words...

One-time notepad :D

odysseus
08-21-2007, 4:16 PM
This is THE topic of the years coming up. Really we are only in the beginning of the information technology revolution, so while everyone grasps for the next big hit, issues of privacy and information security are not usually considered. It's not just a conversation of Patriot Act snooping and Bill of Rights violations- this is about private entities grabbing and misusing data as well.

There is a big push to video up our streets and anything "public" by big government interest, ala the U.K. There is on going audio surveillance despite what I believe is being said. Etc, etc, etc. It's a wonder how weak so many are against this tide and accepting, giving the "I don't do anything illegal" lip service when asked why they aren't concerned. Principle turned to dust.

Though they are a usually left wingy group to my understanding, I think eff.org has done a lot to keep the message of privacy alive in current media. It's worth keeping up on what they are up to.

Outlaw Josey Wales
08-21-2007, 4:34 PM
"A key question that historians of early 21st century America will have to confront is the justification for the widespread erosions of privacy. To what degree did 9/11 and the war on terror mandate a fundamental change in the nature of individual freedoms and autonomy? And to what extent were the policies a product of fear-mongering and politically motivated exploitation"?


They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Franklin's Contributions to the Conference on February 17 (III) Fri, Feb 17, 1775

ETD1010
08-21-2007, 5:51 PM
Not that I advocate cameras in public (I don't), but "IN PUBLIC" implies that you are not in private... I mean, if anyone can see me walking down the street, what difference does a camera make pointed in the middle of the street. I just don't see that as an invasion of privacy like I would someone being able to tap my phone lines search my computer. . . I find the camera more just plain stupid since people should be helping people, not ignoring things while someone in a room staring at monitors notices something fishy.

odysseus
08-22-2007, 9:44 AM
Not that I advocate cameras in public (I don't), but "IN PUBLIC" implies that you are not in private... I mean, if anyone can see me walking down the street, what difference does a camera make pointed in the middle of the street. I just don't see that as an invasion of privacy like I would someone being able to tap my phone lines search my computer. . . I find the camera more just plain stupid since people should be helping people, not ignoring things while someone in a room staring at monitors notices something fishy.

There are some assumptions and issues not being addressed here.

1) You are assuming that the camera is pointed in the middle of the street, but actually they move around at the operator's hands and look into cars, into bags, through windows of buildings, etc.

2) They record this data. This data can be analyzed and held in a database. You could see it come up in a court saying you should have been somewhere or it looked like it was you someplace at some time you shouldn't have been. EFF.org brought an example of the "street view" in google maps, in how one person was said to have quit smoking, but when they looked at their house, they were caught taking a drag in front of their house for anyone to see. More importantly there are plenty of sites showing stuff inside of peoples homes and actions that some would consider a private matter.

3) Future tech such as recognition is moving fast. Now face recognition is still off a bit, but a new tech was communicated that can track very well a person by the gate of their walk. Putting a few items together, and already today people can be tracked this way. You think this info is "secure" and other "eyes" wouldn't be able to use it?

The devils in the details. Someone can tell when you come and go in and out of your house. "Hey - looks like John is going to go shooting today at the range, hey wow he has a lot of rifles..."

MrTuffPaws
08-22-2007, 10:27 AM
Not that I advocate cameras in public (I don't), but "IN PUBLIC" implies that you are not in private... I mean, if anyone can see me walking down the street, what difference does a camera make pointed in the middle of the street. I just don't see that as an invasion of privacy like I would someone being able to tap my phone lines search my computer. . . I find the camera more just plain stupid since people should be helping people, not ignoring things while someone in a room staring at monitors notices something fishy.

Yeah I know. If you have got nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear :rolleyes:


This is not so much as a public/private thing. It is more along the lines of the ability of the authorities to abuse it.

hardkore909
08-22-2007, 10:32 AM
If you are a law abiding citizen and have nothing to hide and aren't doing anything that can be seen as illegal then you shouldn't have anything to worry about. On the otherhand laws don't apply to criminals because they are the ones who break the laws. I feel cameras would be a waste of time because the crooks will just move to areas that do not have cameras.

odysseus
08-22-2007, 10:58 AM
If you are a law abiding citizen and have nothing to hide and aren't doing anything that can be seen as illegal then you shouldn't have anything to worry about.

Unfortunetely this is an idealistic and unrealistic mindset. Laws change, can be used against you wrongly, and you have certain inalienable rights that this statement is actually not in parallel with. That type of "nothing to hide" thinking went well in 1936 Germany, or 1976 China, or 1955 USSR, but that's not the framework of how we are supposed to operate our system of government on. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but people need to start believing more on principals in this country while we see certain facets of individual protection be eroded.


On the otherhand laws don't apply to criminals because they are the ones who break the laws. I feel cameras would be a waste of time because the crooks will just move to areas that do not have cameras.

Now this is exactly true. The cameras will only be watching non criminal people as though they are criminals, looking for a crime. Criminals know this and will be operating and doing things outside of these cameras. Since we are all intelligent people (right?), what really are these cameras for then?

hardkore909
08-22-2007, 11:17 AM
IMHO they hope to get more $$$ from taxes, voter approved leo measures, and fed $$ as a way to boost the city budget and overspend on useless items as well as raise their already overpaid salaries.

AJAX22
08-22-2007, 11:46 AM
cameras aren't intended to catch crime, its a means of 'behavior modification' for the law abiding

Riodog
08-22-2007, 11:47 AM
The cameras are all about intimidation, fear and power. The very thing that big brother thrives on. They can be used to get bogus search warrents, blackmail and too many other things to list they I am not even capable of thinking of. It's just more eroding of our rights and privacy by gov't workers that think they are the elite and the rest of us should be considered subjects.

Rio

Outlaw Josey Wales
08-22-2007, 12:01 PM
Scientists Drug-Test Whole Cities
By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

(08-21) 18:05 PDT WASHINGTON (AP) --


Researchers have figured out how to give an entire community a drug test using just a teaspoon of wastewater from a city's sewer plant.


The test wouldn't be used to finger any single person as a drug user. But it would help federal law enforcement and other agencies track the spread of dangerous drugs, like methamphetamines, across the country.


Oregon State University scientists tested 10 unnamed American cities for remnants of drugs, both legal and illegal, from wastewater streams. They were able to show that they could get a good snapshot of what people are taking.


"It's a community urinalysis," said Caleb Banta-Green, a University of Washington drug abuse researcher who was part of the Oregon State team. The scientists presented their results Tuesday at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.


Two federal agencies have taken samples from U.S. waterways to see if drug testing a whole city is doable, but they haven't gotten as far as the Oregon researchers.


One of the early results of the new study showed big differences in methamphetamine use city to city. One urban area with a gambling industry had meth levels more than five times higher than other cities. Yet methamphetamine levels were virtually nonexistent in some smaller Midwestern locales, said Jennifer Field, the lead researcher and a professor of environmental toxicology at Oregon State.


The ingredient Americans consume and excrete the most was caffeine, Field said.


Cities in the experiment ranged from 17,000 to 600,000 in population, but Field declined to identify them, saying that could harm her relationship with the sewage plant operators.


She plans to start a survey for drugs in the wastewater of at least 40 Oregon communities.


The science behind the testing is simple. Nearly every drug legal and illicit that people take leaves the body. That waste goes into toilets and then into wastewater treatment plants.


"Wastewater facilities are wonderful places to understand what humans consume and excrete," Field said.


In the study presented Tuesday, one teaspoon of untreated sewage water from each of the cities was tested for 15 different drugs. Field said researchers can't calculate how many people in a town are using drugs.


She said that one fairly affluent community scored low for illicit drugs except for cocaine. Cocaine and ecstasy tended to peak on weekends and drop on weekdays, she said, while methamphetamine and prescription drugs were steady throughout the week.


Field said her study suggests that a key tool currently used by drug abuse researchers self-reported drug questionnaires underestimates drug use.


"We have so few indicators of current use," said Jane Maxwell of the Addiction Research Institute at the University of Texas, who wasn't part of the study. "This could be a very interesting new indicator."


David Murray, chief scientist for U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the idea interests his agency.


Murray said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is testing federal wastewater samples just to see if that's a good method for monitoring drug use. But he didn't know how many tests were conducted or where.


The EPA will "flush out the details" on testing, Benjamin Grumbles joked. The EPA assistant administrator said the agency is already looking at the problem of potential harm to rivers and lakes from legal pharmaceuticals.


The idea of testing on a citywide basis for drugs makes sense, as long as it doesn't violate people's privacy, said Tom Angell of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a Washington-based group that wants looser drug laws.


"This seems to be less offensive than individualized testing," he said.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2007/08/21/national/a135839D48.DTL

BobFirewood
08-22-2007, 1:26 PM
If you are a law abiding citizen and have nothing to hide and aren't doing anything that can be seen as illegal then you shouldn't have anything to worry about.

A rather long essay on the topic of "having nothing to hide" and the various meanings of privacy.

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=998565

Just because you have nothing to hide doesn't mean that you want to tell everybody or even a single person everything about you.

Outlaw Josey Wales
08-23-2007, 9:22 AM
Anybody remember the former Soviet Union and how they monitored citizens every move. Spies tripping over one another gathering information. Just look at 'em now! Something to think about, huh.:rolleyes: