…because anonymity is non-operative in the new world, we are told.
As Congress debates new rules for government eavesdropping, a top intelligence official says it is time that people in the United States changed their definition of privacy.
Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people's private communications and financial information.
Let me make my position perfectly clear: I don't trust the government or private industry as a whole to safeguard my communications or financial information. I've seen no evidence that either should be trusted.
Kerr said at an October intelligence conference in San Antonio that he finds concerns that the government may be listening in odd when people are "perfectly willing for a green-card holder at an (Internet service provider) who may or may have not have been an illegal entrant to the United States to handle their data."
The "green card holder" is a nice scary touch. I like that he didn't go all the way to "a brown person," which would have been a bit too obvious. I do worry about the hypothetical minimum wage employee selling my personal data to identity thieves for purely financial reasons. But I'm not worried about that guy mining my data to see if I'm an impediment to government policy. Moreover, I can dump Citibank and go to another bank if they react weakly to security problems; in California I can rely on a law that requires them to tell me if data is compromised. But if Congress permits all private sector entities to bend over for government inquiries, where do I go?
He noted that government employees face up to five years in prison and $100,000 in fines if convicted of misusing private information.
Yeah, that's what happened to the Wen Ho Lee leakers, right? Or the Richard Jewell leaker? And all the … wait a minute.
Millions of people in this country — particularly young people — already have surrendered anonymity to social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, and to Internet commerce. These sites reveal to the public, government and corporations what was once closely guarded information, like personal statistics and credit card numbers.
"Those two generations younger than we are have a very different idea of what is essential privacy, what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs. And so, it's not for us to inflict one size fits all," said Kerr, 68. "Protecting anonymity isn't a fight that can be won. Anyone that's typed in their name on Google understands that."
Well to be more accurate, protecting anonymity is not a fight that can be won if the government cheats. Anonymity has a long and honorable history in this country, and I don't see why we should abandon it as a value just because Eula Mae from Fresno mentioned which branch of the Shop-Rite she works at on her MySpace page. Plus, the argument is circular. Anonymity is difficult to protect because the government is aggressive in seeking to pierce it, and because it has enjoyed the capitulation of some segments of private industry.
"Our job now is to engage in a productive debate, which focuses on privacy as a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety," Kerr said. "I think all of us have to really take stock of what we already are willing to give up, in terms of anonymity, but (also) what safeguards we want in place to be sure that giving that doesn't empty our bank account or do something equally bad elsewhere."
You have to admire the sheer gall. First, there's the explicit reference to "appropriate" balance of safety and security. And then there's the suggestion that giving up privacy results in more informational security, which is ridiculous.
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