On Why Some Measure of Privacy is Still Salvageable

I received a huge surprise some months ago when I was invited to represent the IEEE Society on the Social Implications of Technology (IEEE SSIT) in Geneva at WSIS 2016.[1] This addendum is not a review of the panel session or of my general impressions of the overall meeting both of which were excellent.[2] I only wish to elaborate on two points which I had left unfinished given the time restrictions to do with our brief individual presentations. Afterwards in a more intimate gathering it was good to tease out some of the narrower implications of my summary during the course of that brisk afternoon.

I suggested privacy is not altogether dead, and some measure of it is still salvageable.[3] That we are for the greater part already known and quantified should be taken for granted, especially as regards to informational privacy.[4] That much is absolutely true. However, to completely surrender the privacy borders which are still in place is to give in to ‘Big Brother’ unconditionally and allow for depth-charged uberveillance to be introduced into our flesh for the purposes of constant monitoring, locating, and tracking.[5] Resistance is not futile when it comes to protecting whatever little of the privacy borders remain.[6] But even in the present environment we can still limit and protect our internet data flow. We can limit our use of social media, limit our use of mobile telephony, and make concerted efforts to protect our privacy by not giving in to pressures to release sensitive data or information of ourselves for the sake of rewards or convenience. Crucially, too, software design initiatives such as Privacy by Design (PbD), building privacy into the design specifications and architecture of systems and processes, should be strongly encouraged if not altogether mandated.[7]

WikiLeaks et al. and Snowden (XKS, PRISM) notwithstanding what is still left to fight for is the sacredness and inviolability of our inner space.[8] It is to stop any outside entity from introducing surveillance laboratories on the inside of our bodies.[9] Any unnecessary or unwarranted surveillance -“above and beyond”- will quickly erode human dignity, diminish our freedom, and curtail spontaneity which is the underlying force of imagination. My greatest fear is the universal numbering of human beings via implantables from cradle-to-grave and the use of such automated identification data warehouses in company-centric deposits and more so by totalitarian- and ostensibly democratic- regimes.[10]

During question time I was asked by a remote participant whether I believed uberveillance will happen, and what could we do to stop it.[11] To begin with RFID implants are not new, they are decades old. We have been implanting cats and dogs and cattle for years. In recent years it has become commonplace to find ICT devices in people for a variety of applications.[12] The discernible trajectory being the widespread adoption of embedded surveillance for value added services and [‘perceived’] total transparency. Small doubt uberveillance in one form or another will be realized. Whether this be initially on an opt-in basis and then ultimately so enmeshed in our day-to-day lives to become compulsory by necessity or enforced by political systems. When will it happen or how? I cannot give you the answer. I am not the prophet here. Others might well want to wonder with timelines and introduce apocalyptic rhetoric into the discussion. It is not necessary for the tell-tale narrative increasingly speaks for itself. Can we stop it? I do not know.[13] But what we can and must do, is to form cross national alliances at every level of our civic lives to make it as difficult as possible for governments or corporate conglomerates to force us (or to make us feel it necessary) to go down this shadowy path. It is for example a major obstacle when the UN and the EU have different comprehensions and policies on the protection and rights of privacy. Even individual states within sovereign nations have different privacy principles. We need a universal code of adhered ICT ethics. That is, accepted standards which will help determine our judgements when it comes to implantables along the lines of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.[14] I add here, as I stressed in Geneva, I believe in people power and have only little faith in institutions. Committed individuals can make a difference. Grassroots activism and protest are proven big game changers.

Implantables, of course in themselves are not the problem here, their beneficial use in medical science has been well documented. The problem rests with their blanket and undiscerning use in surveillance. We all need to be aware of function creep and to identify the wrongful uses and abuses of the various veillances in our daily lives. For instance, few would argue that such innovations as BrainGate [15] should be halted, but for the greater part we should ponder a world where such neural interface technologies are repurposed outside the application of the disabled toward every day human augmentation. This is indeed to trespass the last bastion of privacy, our deepest of thoughts, and that which means we remain free. For now we can and must safeguard what some scholars are referring to, and quite realistically too, as “meaningful privacy”.[16] If we should ever totally lose our privacy on which our rights and identity are so vitally dependent upon from top to bottom, it would be a singular catastrophe. Given such a scenario, there would be no comeback and no hope of a re-build even as there is after war.

I also spoke of these “exciting” times in which we live. My audience would have certainly had knowledge of the nuances and synonyms.

[1] http://internetinitiative.ieee.org/newsroom/ieee-to-join-stakeholders-at-the-world-summit-on-information-society-wsis-forum-2016-in-geneva-switzerland

[2] http://www.iloveengineering.org/latest/a1cae09f-68ce-4ca3-b552-6767dd78b146

[3] https://www.itu.int/net4/wsis/forum/2016/Agenda/Session/150

[4] See Roger Clarke, 1999, Introduction to Dataveillance and Information Privacy, and Definitions of Terms, http://www.rogerclarke.com/DV/Intro.html

[5] http://www.igi-global.com/book/uberveillance-social-implications-microchip-implants/76728 See also, Christine Perakslis et al., “Evaluating border crossings in an interconnected world” IEEE Potentials, September/October, 2016, in press.

[6] http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?arnumber=7270446

[7] Privacy by Design: https://www.ipc.on.ca/english/privacy/introduction-to-pbd/

[8] Katina Michael and MG Michael, 2013, "No Limits to Watching?" Communications of the ACM, Vol. 56, Iss. 11, pp. 26-28. 

[9] http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1716&context=infopapers

[10] http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1594&context=infopapers

[11] https://www.amazon.com/Innovative-Automatic-Identification-Location-Based-Services/dp/1599047950

[12] Katina Michael and MG Michael, 2012, “Implementing Namebars Using Microchip Implants: The Blackbox Beneath the Skin”, Jeremy Pitt (Ed). This Pervasive Day: The Potential and Perils of Pervasive Computing, Imperial College Press, pp. 163-206: http://www.slideshare.net/focas-project/implementing-namebers-using-microchip-implants-the-black-box-beneath-the-skin

[13] See Roger Clarke’s Keynote 2nd RNSA Workshop, What 'Überveillance' Is, and What To Do About It': http://www.rogerclarke.com/DV/RNSA07.html

[14]  See Stefano Rodota and Rafael Capurro’s,  Ethical Aspects of ICT Implants in the Human Body (Opinion 20), 2005: http://bookshop.europa.eu/pl/opinion-on-the-ethical-aspects-of-ict-implants-in-the-human-body-pbKAAJ05020/downloads/KA-AJ-05-020-3A-C/KAAJ050203AC_002.pdf;pgid=y8dIS7GUWMdSR0EAlMEUUsWb0000bHgL75Og;sid=fOh6iXL9ReR6niGOclfkLhDYezt8WtA-ALg=?FileName=KAAJ050203AC_002.pdf&SKU=KAAJ050203AC_PDF&CatalogueNumber=KA-AJ-05-020-3A-C

[15] BrainGate: Wired for Thought: http://www.braingate.com/

[16] See Christine Runnegar’s presentation: https://www.itu.int/net4/wsis/forum/2016/Agenda/Session/150

Walkabout in Geneva

Geneva, Switzerland

Café de Paris; Hotel Cristal; Genѐve-Cornavin Railway Station; a little girl on crutches chasing after the chocolate wrapper; a man with a huge bag carrying the stories from the night before; a woman smiling into her mobile twirling her black hair; the Holy Mother sculpted from granite is interceding for me; her Only-Begotten carved from fine wood afloat in mid-air; a homeless angel with a yellow scarf sleeping beneath the pew; not long from now one of us will be dead; I was here three decades ago when I would consume Him; let go, Michael, let go; you hear me, let go, Jeremiah, let go; who is eating the flowers; Edelweiss; leaflets in the shape of stars; beware of the pickpockets; lost and found; an angel searching for his wings; an old woman ferrying a broken pram with a blue wedding dress; please, I am still waiting; Pauline always replies even as she orbits the earth; Tchaikovsky’s letters from fevered rooms and anticipating cities; “Once I was seven years old” (Lukas Graham); happy birthday dear Father beneath the earth; Fauré’s Requiem in D minor; a man with an umbrella hanging from his back is riding a scooter; a young man with big eyes is arguing with the mischievous Cupid; Lac Léman is undulating like Rilke beneath the surface of things; will they be interested in what I have to say; they will not stop that which is soon to come; the second death as unexpected as a spider’s web around your left ear; it is getting dark and pieces of water are starting to break; two silver bicycles tied to a light post; “Bicycle Thieves” (Vittorio De Sica); “Seven Samurai” (Akira Kurosawa); “A movie as rich as a buttered steak topped with grilled eel” (a discerning critic); a man and a woman outside are exchanging photos which will prove them wrong in the morning; Harry Chapin and Bob Dylan; story tellers and word painters; a little bird nested on my laptop; Icarus flew too close to the truth; the flying trapeze tricks and catches; 1234, 12, 1234, 12…; OCD the disease of the prophets reminding us of the return; Arrivée; Départ; Place de Cornavin; Rue des Alpes; a bald Chinaman; a blackbird resting on the balcony; a bouncy girl with bumped up ponytails is on the look-out for the old woman with the pram; Thomas Aquinas the simplicity of God; Beethoven loved poets; Irina Ratushinskaya’s old parrot wanted “to swear in every language known to man”; TinTin was here; more homeless angels with baseball caps; “Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom” (Siddhartha, H.H.); John Calvin; Karl Barth; Hans Küng; the sounds of a didjeridu; music will remain free but there will be a cost to water; seventy-three of the Psalms are attributed to King David; equality and upward mobility the great paradox; save the middle-class; it is very cold and the nose is running; stories written on shivering skins; I should buy a scarf this morning; the great trees of Notre Dame; Hermann Hesse and Patrick White venerated trees; “Giant Trees of Switzerland” (Michel Brunner); every day twenty two thousand children day from preventable pathologies; quantum mechanics and the smallest unit of time; the age of irreversible innovation; Famous Fresh Baguettes; EdelWeiss Shop; Swiss Watches; booming sales of advertising; Facebook profits surge; Google air balloon Wi-Fi hot spots over parched land; A Father walking with his Son who has a bent back; Jean Dubuffet Métamorphoses du paysage; a woman on the corner waiting for a book; I saw you many years ago in Zermatt outside the bakery; a little boy with winter gloves drinking hot chocolate; “Old man look at me now I’m a lot like you were” (Neil Young); did anyone enjoy the Joe Cocker post; the prophetic insights of Pink Floyd; Sachin Tendulkar does not like Greg Chappell; the umpire’s finger will eventually go up; howzattt; your love dripping down my right shoulder like scalding water; yes, Katina, tear open the envelope; it probably has to do with the little stories from Saigon; Jorge Luis Borges is waiting; tronc pour les fleurs; Ave Maria; La basilique Notre-Dame; I have to go to the post office; Rue du Mont-Blanc; Victorinox is everywhere; I wish I didn’t have to do this; I can’t speak without notes anymore; I only want to collect words and images; “We drilled with wooden rifles” (W.H. Auden); the Venus of Brassempouy; on the tusks of elephants an infallible biography; demand for ivory for piano keys; sucre.cannelle; nutella.banane; Grand Marnier; an angel with long hair and a leather jacket recognizes me and points to the post office; he gives me my ticket; I am writing postcards; keep walking else you will get lost; next to me two friends sharing a joke; a man with a groomed moustache enjoying a beer; a teenage runaway missing two fingers is filling his pockets with milk and sugar; rises in quarterly revenue people dying of hunger; slavery on the rise in the supply chain; human rights versus computer rights; 1234 12 1234 12…; nose bleed last night; dear Jesus how did I get here; the Panopticon; George Orwell; Uberveillance; a man far away from home is playing the harp; a woman lost on the streets nearby is brushing her hair and screaming; a blind man stops to listen; Agnus Dei choral music; help us all dear God; convection another name for thunder storms; Läderdach chocolates; I skipped breakfast this morning; the food industry; “Death in Venice” (Thomas Mann); “Death by Internet” (Joe Cavalko); death by degrees; Michael Eldred introducing Plato to the Blues; B.B. King buried with Lucille; Ray Charles swinging the ivory like on a trapeze; Billy Holliday Ripe Fruit; Consuelo Velasquez Bésame Mucho; Dalida Je suis malade; a man speaking with his mouth agape; an old man with a white ponytail and beard pointing to his walking stick; a couple with their little daughter in the shopping trolley next to the detergents; two women carrying shopping bags see me transcribing them into history; nothing is insignificant all acts touch upon the eternal; “Sonata Mulattica: A Life in Five Movements and a Short Play” (Rita Frances Dove); tomorrow I leave for the Inter Continental; conferences will not change the world; love and destruction change the world; the Apocalypse of John; thanks for the adaptor Charlie; the remote control never works the first time; the body sinks into the bath where for a minute it must drown; “Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky...” (Prufrock, T.S. Eliot); a tall man with an ill-fitting suit smiles at me; I catch a glimpse of myself on the glass where the colourful balls are; where have I been all these years; like the “five star” squatters in Mozambique; the four men next to me discussing the ‘miracle’ of Leicester have left; the tall man with ill-fitting suit has returned with a young child to buy a red and blue ball; a woman opposite me has fitted her star-studded sunglasses into her hair; a quarter of a century ago she would have cast a furtive glance my way; “I want to eat the sunbeams flaring in your beauty” (Pablo Neruda); I will never get this talk down to three minutes; but I can get it down to three words; surveillance kills context; I miss you Father; old men are as prone to clichés as the hair growing out of their ears; “When you are old and grey and full of sleep, And nodding by the fire…” (When You are Old, W.B. Yeats); the tooth hurts poison seeping into the jaw; another nose bleed; all pain is childbirth; a young woman carrying flowers and apples; Saint Catherine of Siena Giovanni Battista Tiepolo; hullo Katherine Albrecht all will be well; Palais des Nations; the Broken Chair; Cathédrale Saint-Pierre; Jardin Anglais; Avenue Giuseppe Motta; Rue du Rhone; Quai Wilson; Bongo Joe Records; Bon Génie; ICT Discovery; The Art and History Museum; 1234 12 1234 12…; Aleppo cries tonight; baby girl rescued in Kenya from beneath the rubble; authoritarian populism on the rise in America; Pindar already speaks of animated figures; “they appear to breathe in stone” and “move their marble feet”; see Michael Crichton’s Westworld “where nothing possibly can go wrong”; “Car 54, Where Are You”; the great late Fred Gwynne; The Munsters; Bus No. 5; where did the hours ago; packing almost done; airports; cemeteries; the late evening resurrection; Flight EK 414L; Seat 61D; home sweet home.