...I'm okay with being REALITY-based.

Thursday, April 24, 2003
      ( 11:30 AM )
Private Eyes are Watching You

This is an issue that P brought to my attention several days ago. Because of being sick and not having time, I'm just now blogging about it. But even though it's a little after the fact, I haven't seen much discussion on the topic, and so I'm going to address it. What I'm talking about is the appointment of Nuala O'Connor Kelly as the "Privacy Officer" of the Homeland Security Department. Kelly's role as Privacy Officer will be to ensure that the technologies used by the department do not erode privacy protections.

Well, what's the big deal? Isn't it good that the Homeland Security Office is concerned about privacy? Let's take a closer look at Ms. Kelly's history in the world of "protecting privacy." She was the Privacy Officer for DoubleClick. This was the company that built software to spy on people's online preferences, track the consumers as they traveled the internet, and then sell the information. There was a not-so-quiet scandal about the company's intentions, which ended in DoubleClick settling court cases with attorneys general of several states for privace violations. The company said it was working to ensure that its "surveillance network" wouldn't invade consumers' privacy.

DoubleClick tried to repair its image by setting up a "privacy advisory board" to show that it was sensitive to consumers' privacy protections. When the board was named, consumer rights advocates laughed outloud at who was in charge. None of the members were true privacy advocates. One member of that board was Nuala O'Connor Kelly.

This is evidently the kind of message BushCo wants to send: we don't care what it looks like, we're appointing who we want and you can't do anything about it. The fact that Homeland Security's chosen privacy advocate was an apologist for DoubleClick, the most scandalous name in privacy abuse in recent history boggles the mind. Is there no end to the brash, unthinking moves this administration is capable of? At this point, it doesn't seem like it. Actually, that they would even appoint a privacy advocate is curious, since two of their main pet projects are about the total abrogation of privacy rights: TIPS, where everyone is encouraged to spy on their neighbors and report the government, and TIA (total information awareness), where the government can keep complete logs on everyone.

And yet, there has been little to no outcry from Democrats in Congress to the fact that BushCo and Republicans want to make the PATRIOT Act permanent. When are people in this country going to wake up to what is happening? The whole attitude of "well, I don't do anything wrong, so it doesn't bother me" seems to be so pervasive that no one gets that this is beside the point. It doesn't matter if you do everything right in your whole life, if the government decides to keep computerized information on its citizens, things are going to get messed up, and your rights are going to disappear.

Are we Americans so incredibly flustered and scared and victimized after 9/11 that we are willing to give up our most basic rights for some false sense of "security?" Could it be true that we're willing to pompously wave our flags and bombast our patriotic propaganda all over the place when we're bombing other countries, but when it comes right down to defending the very foundation of our own Constitution, we'll just lay down like doormats so the government can roll over us and glean whatever information it wants from our private affairs?

Science fiction has become real: the government can get your list of checked-out books from your library without your permission, schools can demand that your child be fingerprinted in order to get his lunch, you can be arrested as a "material witness" and held indefinitely in jail without being charged with a crime, and the media only reports what the government talks about.

In an interesting aside to the whole Nuala O'Connor Kelly appointment, this news went widely unreported last week: the president's top IT advisor quit last week, leaving the administration without a high-ranking official in charge of cybersecurity. What this basically means is that the Administration has a total lack of understanding of the importance of cybersecurity.

Is no one paying attention? Is no one concerned?

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