Government and your private life!
Most Americans want and expect their lives to be private. They believe they should control who has access to personal information, purchases, entertainment, sexual preferences, social contacts, and everyday movements. They want to interact and live life free from being secretly spied on. A snooping neighbor can make life intolerable for a person who values privacy, when the government does it it can lead to false accusations of wrongdoing and even incarceration. Unfortunately, with data collection technology improving faster than legal safeguards, today it has become unrealistic for most of us to retain the expectation of privacy in our everyday lives.
This editorial is not about government overstepping their authority or even about demanding laws to protect privacy, but more about protecting ourselves, as many already do, and consequently, all citizens from unregulated snooping.
Every time you buy a product at Wal-Mart, or almost any store, reams of information is collected, that is how retailers know what to provide, when to provide it and at what price. Commercial data mining could be acknowledged to be beneficial so long as it does not identify the individual. Likewise, government data collection can be a useful tool in protecting citizens from the crooks and scoundrels of life. The criminal fingerprint database could be one of those tools but would it be acceptable for everyone to be classed as a criminal unless data was available to prove otherwise. Everyone's fingerprints in a national database.
Many security officials believe assuming everyone is an evildoer and allowing data collected on them to prove innocence leaving a list of likely suspects is the way to go. Law enforcement has been under fire for selective profiling so universal profiling is becoming a popular alternative tool that meets politically correct standards. The philosophy is that if you have nothing to hide, why should you care if you are being snooped on. It is an idea being promoted by security agencies and some "protection at any cost" activist groups. The TSA now treat every traveler as a suspected terrorist and has a no-fly database that is proof that data mining can be unreliable with countless false positives. Even critics of government snooping acknowledge data collected in this way can be useful to law enforcement but question the accuracy of data mined solely to be scanned to pick out someone as suspicious. The ability of a computer to automatically match security-camera footage with records of purchases may seem like a dream to law-enforcement agents, but it's the kind of ubiquitous tracking that alarms civil libertarians.
Edward Snowden is currently exiled in Russia because he leaked National Security Agency documents outlining government snooping on a wide range of private activities by ordinary Americans. To avoid treading on privacy laws the US government use data collected by private companies, which is not unlawful. They also obtain orders from special judges to require phone companies and internet providers to hand over data collected of their customers activities in the hope that some wrongdoing could be identified. The federal government's most public experiment with data mining since the terrorist attacks in 2001 failed to get off the ground after the Homeland Security Department spent $200 million on it and the technology failed to prove what it set out to do. It was reported that in 2011, British researchers created an internet game that simulated a van-bomb plot, and 60 percent of the "terrorist" players were spotted by a program called DScent, based on their "purchases" and "visits" to the target site.
Should government be trying to trawl innocent people into nets designed to trick them into appearing guilty or is it nowadays the responsibility of individuals to protect themselves from government snooping?
Successful data mining is like creating a phone book, all the numbers and addresses need to be correct for it to be of any use. Many Americans sensitive over their personal privacy are using this anomaly to confuse unauthorized data mining's reliability. A purchaser after paying cash for a product giving the wrong zip code or phone number at cash-out renders information collected useless. Even if some information collected on a person is correct, the wrong entry makes the rest unreliable so the data is useless. It is unlawful to give untruthful information to government but the data it collects from private companies holds no legal requirement to tell the truth. Much information collected on paper forms or internet logins are routinely substituted for false information. So long as a mother's maiden name is consistent, it doesn't need to be real. Same for your pet's name, phone number or zip code. Your age and sometimes even your sex can be entered wrong and pass into the database.
It must be said that some of the information we voluntarily give needs to be correct for our own benefit but when it is data for data's benefit a few people telling a little lie could go a long way in protecting privacy for everyone.
That's what I think. What do you think?
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