An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Lives of Others are Ours

You can read on Glenn Greenwald's blog (recently moved to a detailed analysis of the scandal involving the FBI's abuse of "National Security Letters" to obtain private citizens' and legal alien's personal information without warrants or oversight. He gives proper credit to Silent Patriot for noticing that

"... the NSL reporting requirements imposed by Congress were precisely the provisions which President Bush expressly proclaimed he could ignore when he issued a "signing statement" as part of the enactment of the Patriot Act's renewal into law. Put another way, the law which the FBI has now been found to be violating is the very law which George Bush publicly declared he has the power to ignore."

I also wrote about signing statements and the slide toward dictatorship earlier. But that's not what this post is about. I found myself once again struck by the speed with which the right (or in some cases the left) will adopt the tactics they once denounced. In the theaters as I write this you can see a German film called (translated into English) The Lives of Others. The movie deals with the East German secret police in the days before the wall fell. The Lives of Others dramatizes the intrusiveness and the harm the East German Stazi did to ordinary people, all in the name of national security. Some people in the U.S. foolishly believe that the FBI can not do any harm if you're not guilty. But as Greenwald points out, the FBI has compiled records it has obtained into a database. This database contains at least 30,000 people's records to date.

The writer and journalist Eric Larsen wrote a book called "The Naked Consumer," in which he explains "Larsen's 4 Laws of Data Dynamics" with examples to verify and illustrate each one.

The First Law (also the "law of data coalescence"): Data must seek and merge with complementary data.
The Second Law: Data always will be used for purposes other than originally intended.
The Third Law: Data collected about individuals will be used to cause harm to one or more members of the group who provided the information or about whom it was collected, be it minor or major.
The Fourth Law: Confidential information is confidential only until someone decides it's not.

From:Larson, Erik. The naked consumer : how our private lives become public commodities. 1st ed. (New York : H. Holt, 1992.), p.

Once your personal information enters a computer database of any kind, you will find it impossible to extricate it. And the process by which data "merges" with other data we have already seen in the seriously defective "no fly" list which has branded infants and U.S. Legislators as terrorist threats. The way your personal data can come to harm you is a book in and of itself. From unscrupulous individuals to identity thieves (no, we never had a person with a high security clearance go bad, have we?) just the unsanctioned mis-use looks scary enough. And what if we have another President such as Nixon who maliciously uses the agencies of government to attack his political opposition? As we recently discovered with Valerie Plame "Confidential information is confidential only until someone decides it's not."

No comments:

Post a Comment