Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bruce Schneier, Internet Security Expert, Tells All

I attended a talk by Bruce Schneier earlier this year. I found it so energizing, I wrote the following response:

Okay, so maybe he didn't tell all, but he did say a lot. And I'm not buying every thing he said. But what can I say about what he said that is pretty much axiomatic?

None of the following is a direct quote because I didn't confirm these statements with him when he spoke at the Twin Cities Media Alliance Brown Bag Lunch With A Journalist, this past noon on Wednesday, February 24 at the East Lake Public Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota. So, these statements are what I thought I heard and my own interpretations. If you wonder about any of this, check with Bruce.

1.Information Technology is invading our privacy on a scale we're never seen before--it's not malicious, it's just the nature of technology.

2.What was once ephemeral has become permanent with regard to shared data on the Internet.

3.What was once a one-time conversation has become permanent. Think about that one. It's easy to pull up posts, conversations from message boards, etc. from five, ten years ago.

4.What was once not worth saving, now is saved. And why not? It's cheaper to save than to figure out if it's worth saving. Again, think of how your parents or even you used to save all those documents and tried to remember the rule of thumb about "how long to save a piece of paper" as if the saving of such could save your life. Now we can just download it to a thumb drive and pop it in a drawer along with all those other thumb drives with wedding photos, baby-birthing-events, and the Top 1000 Songs of the 1970s.

5.It is illegal to market according to race, but it's perfectly legal to offer coupons to a target mailing list. Where do those mailing lists originate? This practice is such an easy, tempting, exploited roundabout to marketing equity.

6.Concerning privacy, it now must be made explicit what was once ad hoc. If you don't tell facebook flatout to keep its nose out of your business, you'll end up looking at ads and apps targeted straight at Who You Are. "How'd they know I was thinking about buying some seeds for the garden?" How, indeed.

7.The death of privacy is inevitable. This slope presented itself to our feet long before computers. Think partyline. Think urban dwellings. When was privacy ever sacred?

Bruce spoke most emphatically on the idea of a generation gap in technology. Yeah, sure, we know that kids can whip together websites and programs with their thumbs. But Bruce was talking more about how kids today (warning #1--a generalization, that's never a good sign.) aren't concerned about their privacy. They have grown up living a public life that's all out there on the Internet and they don't flinch from it.

I agree somewhat with Bruce's perceptions regarding high schooler, but here were my inner thoughts: In contrast to many of today's parents, my own parents didn't micromanage me. It often seemed that they didn't even know all that much about my homework, my classes, my teachers, my extracurricular activities. Nowadays, I see parents at the library with their older teenaged child, copying research for them, carrying their books, and telling them what they need to do.

So many parents have infiltrated their child's life in both academic life and social life, that their child has pretty much resigned him/herself to powerlessness. In the false belief that they are "helping" their child, they are undermining their child's sense of self, their child's self-confidence, their child's ability to become autonomous and self-sufficient.

What are the implications of this interference? Emotional paralysis? Indifference to privacy? Political impotency?

Bruce suggests that this waning control of privacy is detrimental and an acute breach to our security. I'm not buying that, either. Jeremy Iggers, executive director of Twin Cities Media Alliance, which sponsored the brown-bag-lunch talk, smartly asked me, in front of everyone, that if I thought privacy wasn't a big deal, then what was my salary? I quipped, "I don't have one. I'm a poet, remember?"

But the truth is, of course, I do earn money and I wouldn't have qualms about revealing that amount. It's not the information itself, but how it's used that's the problem. If we continue to delude ourselves with thinking we can keep anything private, we'll continue to run into breach of privacy and scandal.

We can choose to become a police state in practice all the while believing that we control our privacy or we can lay it all out on the table and say, "Here are the facts. There's nothing more to see, folks. Now go about your business as usual."

I guess I live, or want to live, in a Utopian World of Respect.