Monday, January 21, 2008

And the beat goes on

The US is certainly not the only nation that has databases of citizens and others. In fact, the UK is worse in that regard and several European countries gather a lot of data. At the same time, though, those countries tend to have much better privacy protection, so it's a mixed bag. But like all such databases, the bigger they are, the more information they sweep up, the bigger a threat to privacy they become. And we're about to create a doozy. The Guardian (UK) had the word last week:
Senior British police officials are talking to the FBI about an international database to hunt for major criminals and terrorists.

The US-initiated programme, "Server in the Sky", would take cooperation between the police forces way beyond the current faxing of fingerprints across the Atlantic. Allies in the "war against terror" - the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand - have formed a working group, the International Information Consortium, to plan their strategy.

Biometric measurements, irises or palm prints as well as fingerprints, and other personal information are likely to be exchanged across the network. ... The database could hold details of millions of criminals and suspects. ...

The FBI told the Guardian: "Server in the Sky is an FBI initiative designed to foster the advanced search and exchange of biometric information on a global scale. While it is currently in the concept and design stages, once complete it will provide a technical forum for member nations to submit biometric search requests to other nations. It will maintain a core holding of the world's 'worst of the worst' individuals. Any identifications of these people will be sent as a priority message to the requesting nation."
"Worst of the worst?" Wasn't that what the prisoners at Guantanamo were, according to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumplestiltskin? Yeah, that was them, the prisoners at Guantanamo - half of who have been released and 90% of who ultimately will be, say US officials. That hardly inspires confidence in this latest list, particularly when the current database used by Customs and Border Protection to screen passangers has generated a 95% false hit rate and no terrorism-related arrests. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic,
the UK database [holds] 7m sets of fingerprints and other biometric details used by police forces to search for matches from scenes of crimes. Many of the prints are either from a person with no criminal record, or have yet to be matched to a named individual.
Yes, I feel much safer now.

By the way, the other day I said that
[c]ertainly its easy to understand how, say, something done openly on the street would not be considered "private" in a legal sense.
I want to emphasize that that was, again, in a legal sense. While it may be legal to observe and record whatever you do in public, the increasing use of spy cameras are a threat to our cultural sense of privacy, the sense that even in public there is a certain field of privacy, of anonymity, around you unless you actively draw attention to yourself. Losing that sense of anonymity, creating a sense that you are being watched all the time, can be very intimidating and inhibiting to free expression and even, through that, to expressing freedom.

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