8 December 2007

Privacy protection obsolete in a world of ambient technology

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Robert Ellis Smith, publishes of the Privacy Journal, writes in Forbes Magazine:

Government and corporate officials responsible for compliance with privacy laws in Canada and Europe are using a whole new language in 2007. Much of the jargon has passed by the American public. So listen up. This is important.

At their annual meeting this fall in Montreal, there was little of the traditional talk among the international privacy people about the nuts and bolts of data protection. Instead, there were urgent and distressed discussions about “uberveillance,” “ambient technology,” “ubiquitous computing,” “ingest ible bugs” and nanotechnology.

The terms may be overlapping and may in fact be somewhat synonymous. They all refer to an environment in which electronic media are everywhere, gathering and processing information in a seamless way, beyond the control of each human being. The discussions began a few years ago with recognition of a coming “Internet of things,” much as public awareness of the Internet began in the 1980s with talk of an “information super highway.”

In short, this new environment may render obsolete the three decades’ old regime for protecting privacy, which merely gives certain rights of access to citizens. What good is checking the accuracy of your own information in a system if the essence of the system is to keep track of where you are? What good is notification about a new system if it’s quite simply everywhere?

“We are entering a new era in privacy. Current concepts of consent will not be adequate for this,” says Ian Kerr, Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law and Technology at the University of Ottawa, who seems to be the scholar in North America most aware of this trend.

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