Thursday, March 02, 2006

Privacy policies

Everywhere you go these days—online and off—there are privacy policies. I presume most of these are boilerplate. It would be nice if there were some standards. Then instead of having to wade through a page of legalese, you might only have to read one or two lines: "We follow privacy standard XYZ except in the following respects ...".

In spite of their verbosity, privacy policies seem like a good thing. I want to know that my private information is kept as private as possible. I don't want my contact details shared with marketers, let alone more personal stuff. It's good to have the rules spelled out in black and white. But let's not kid ourselves: the important stuff is never written down (a piece of wisdom that was imparted to me several years ago, and that I keep returning to).

Now, in a recent post, I noted that even the NSA has a privacy policy (the word ironic seems pathetically inadequate). Which brings me to my point. Intelligence agencies, by their very nature, are the enemies of privacy. But not only do they covertly obtain private information, they have a nasty habit of sharing it with their friends. Consider the infamous case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who suffered an "extraordinary rendition" to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured. All kinds of information apparently changed hands between the intelligence agencies of Canada, the U.S., and Syria. Well apparently this wasn't an isolated case: at least three other Canadians
"... were also all detained by the same branch of the Syrian military intelligence where they were interrogated and brutally tortured before eventually being released. None were ever charged with any crime. All of these men say their interrogations were based on information that they believe could only have originated with Canadian investigators."
The quote is from Amnesty International, who is hosting an open letter to the Prime Minister of Canada calling for
"... the government of Canada to launch a fair, independent, comprehensive and public review of the possibility of Canadian complicity in the detention, interrogation and torture of Muayyed Nureddin, Abdullah Almalki and Ahmed Abou El-Maati"
I encourage you to add your name to the petition.
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Anonymous loves to debate said...

This may be a little to the side of the topic, but to me, how can there be privacy in life when you have the internet? And Google? As in, by googling 'Nick Barrowman', the name which yoiu have given freely, I can have access to many different items/articles that pertain to you, or something which your same name and interests that are listed here. So, they may not be important, but they are written down and not insignificant.

10:51 PM, March 07, 2006  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

That's a good point. My name is all you need in order to access quite a lot of information about me. And thanks to the internet, it's quick and easy. But none of this information is really private.

I would stop there, except I have two nagging concerns. First, the fact that internet searching is so easy, combined with the increasing availability of information online means it's no trouble to assemble a pretty comprehensive dosier on someone. This may be a case where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Second, the line between public information and private information is really not so clear. Health and financial information are clearly private, but some of that nevertheless gets shared (for example with insurance and credit rating companies). Ubiquitous webcams are also invading our sense of privacy in public places. Gives me the willies ...

10:23 AM, March 08, 2006  
Blogger Raywat Deonandan said...

On the other hand, how better to waste a day at work than to spend it happily googling your own name?

10:25 AM, March 08, 2006  

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