The Spies Like Us

The Spies Like Us

Why you should care

Because you’re not paranoid. Someone is probably watching you. 

Vive la France, or the spies there. This week lawmakers began debating a surveillance law that would allow for warrantless monitoring of allegedly suspicious activities. Critics compared it to the Patriot Act, though the prime minister insists it wouldn’t allow for mass surveillance. We in the U.S.? We’ve been there, done that, and civil rights groups and others have been desperately trying to beat all this snooping back. This week they won a victory of sorts, with an appeals court ruling that the Patriot Act does not allow mass collection of phone call metadata. Germany is trying too: After revelations of spying on German businesses, the government says it will pull back on cooperation with the United States.

What to make of all this? Well, for starters, we could have predicted some of it. In fact, we did! More than a year ago, OZY’s resident spymaster, John McLaughlin, warned of the depth of German emotion around Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations. In Keep an Eye on Germany, McLaughlin reported “widespread and deep misunderstanding about the goal of American intelligence gathering” and predicted that getting to a shared view about what is appropriate, vis-a-vis spying and surveillance, would require more dialogue. Read more here.

But the government is just the start of it. Many countries have laws that restrain the government from delving into your data — at least in theory. But regulations that curtail private companies? Not so much. The issue will get only more complicated as biometric identification programs and devices become more sophisticated, from fingerprint and iris scans to accelerometers that translate the way you walk into a password. As usual, the technology is outpacing the regulations, and much biometric data are collected without explicit consent, reported Pooja Bhatia in Who’s Ready for the Biometric ID Revolution? Security is at stake too, because biometric data is hard (if not impossible) to revoke or replace. Read more here.

It turns out that the solution might be found not in the courts or legislatures, but in the market. Our era of mass surveillance — and fears of incursions into our privacy — have already spawned one. Last year, in How to Take Control of Your Personal Data, Laura Secorun Palet wrote of a new generation of personal data platforms that aim at allowing users to opt in to sharing their data with companies and then getting paid for doing so. After all, if you generate your data, shouldn’t it belong to you? Read more here.

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