Monday, 4 February 2013

ACLU blog cites my research on DHS travel logs

My insightful friend Jay Stanley of the ACLU had a thought-provoking article last Friday in the ACLU’s “Free Future” blog, using as examples some of the records I and other travellers obtained through my lawsuit and other Privacy Act and FOIA requests from our files in the DHS “Automated Targeting System” of travel records:

Hasbrouck found this database contained records not only of an American”s precise travels, friends” phone numbers, car license plates, timestamped IP addresses, hotel reservations, and much else—but also details of things he said to agents about his travel and about his life, and even details on the books he was reading and other First Amendment-protected content such as the designs on his flashlights.

Jay makes an important point about how data aggregation and institutional memory change the balance of power between individuals and institutions:

The creation of these kinds of systems, whether in the government or commercial context, has enormous implications. Once upon a time, we might approach a government agent who has a frightening amount of power over us, such as a border guard, with trepidation. But if you had a bad encounter at the border, at least it was a one-shot deal. Now, your encounters can be permanently recorded and become available to all subsequent agents and can keep coming back to haunt you.

This greatly increases their power, and reduces yours. For example, suppose an agent is rude or abusive toward you. How do you respond — as a proud, free citizen who refuses to submit to unjustified treatment, or as a cowering subject, afraid to attract the wrath of some petty martinet? Given the fact that rising to your own defense might prompt some notation in your permanent file and produce ongoing bad repercussions, a person today is more likely to shut up and just take the abuse. That”s a shift in power from you to them.

There’s more, and it’s well worth the time to read and mull over.

Two phrases that Jay doesn’t mention in his article, but that seem to be on the tip of his tongue, are “chilling effect” and “right to be forgotten”. The former is an important principal of First Amendment law; the latter is an important principal being fought for in the current debate in the European Union (in which the US government has joined US corporations in lobbying aggressively for wider permissible dataveillance by both governments and corporations) over reform of EU data protection law. The example of travel companies’ and governments’ records of my travels makes clear, I think, that only through the right to be forgotten can the chilling effects of dataveillance be checked.

Link | Posted by Edward on Monday, 4 February 2013, 18:23 ( 6:23 PM)
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