You are not what you read: librarians purge user data to protect privacy
“I was approached years ago at a different library about users who’d checked out certain astrological books,” said Thistlethwaite. The NYPD officer told her he was looking for the Zodiac killer. “Most police investigations are a little smarter than that, but sometimes they’re just not.”
Seems pretty clear to me: one of the principles in the Data Protection Act is that data should not be kept longer than is necessary. Admittedly this is a news article from the US, where there’s no direct equivalent of the DPA, but still.
On owning your own data
The problem, of course, is this wretched business model that has your landlord snooping on you and keeping all that information in the first place. If they didn’t have that information — or if that information was encrypted in a manner that only you could access it — they couldn’t share your information even if they wanted to.
Groklaw, Pamela Jones’s website reporting on legal issues around the Free and Open Source Software community, closed down and she herself wants to “get off of the Internet to the degree it’s possible.” Loss of privacy, forced exposure, the dehumanising nature of total surveillance: issues I’ve been vaguely aware of recently, but never really thought about seriously. Her post explaining why she’s shut down her blog is the first thing I’ve read that I’ve understood, I think, with all this.
“Anyway, one resource was excerpts from a book by Janna Malamud Smith, ‘Private Matters: In Defense of the Personal Life’, and I encourage you to read it. I encourage the President and the NSA to read it too. I know. They aren’t listening to me. Not that way, anyhow. But it’s important, because the point of the book is that privacy is vital to being human, which is why one of the worst punishments there is is total surveillance.”
Do people really care about personal data?
Privacy is difficult to understand as long as it’s presented as an abstract concept. But to those teenagers, the desire to talk to their friends without their parents or teachers knowing everything that’s said is not at all abstract. Similarly, all consumers care very much about the practical effects of today’s centralised data warehouses, such as wasting time dealing with bureaucracy that makes it hard to change the phone number on an account. They care about bad credit histories, misdirected post, and the failure to get what they want. They care when they discover that the photograph they thought they deleted was only hidden from view but has remained in the site’s database, where it has been automatically recognised, reused, and added to profiles that have been sold to advertisers or become the subject of a government applied court order. They care about being erroneously placed on no-fly lists because an online “friend” once watched a terrorist video and feeling that their personal relationships are a commodity.