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Roger Clarke's 'HCC Position Statement'

Privacy Panel at HCC - Position Statement
GenY, iGens and Privacy & Geolocation

At the Human Choice and Computers Conference (HCC), held as part of the World Computer Congress (WCC), Brisbane, 20-24 September 2010

Version of 21 September 2010

Roger Clarke **

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The Panel

Renato Ianella of Semantic Identity convened a panel loosely entitled 'Privacy - Going, Going, Gone?'. The other panellists were Linda Matthews - since June 2010 Queensland's first Privacy Commissioner, Kai Rannenberg of Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, legal consultant Anna Sharp, and Malcolm Crompton of IIS.

The topics suggested as focal points were Social Networking, Geolocation and Government. I addressed only the first two (because the actions of governments give rise to a vast array of issues, and two topics was more than enough anyway).

GenY, iGens - and Privacy

It's conventional to declare that young people aren't interested in privacy, with the implication that they never will be. So 'Privacy is dead. Get over it'.

On examination, a more accurate statement is that:

A little reflection suggests that the proposition may be wrong. And in fact it's pretty easy to construct an argument that the opposite is true.

First, a simplified definition of a couple of terms: GenY means people born 1980-95 and in 2010 aged 15-30; and iGens are those born since 1995 and aged 15 and under in 2010.

Consider these longstanding 'facts of life':

Now reflect on a big change from the 1960s to the '00s (for good reason referred to as the noughties):


Now add in the further reality that, as people mature:

GenYs are tireless self-promoters, and took up the beguiling invitations of YouTube, Facebook and their ilk with wild enthusiasm and no thought of self-preservation (much like I once rode my motor-cycle). They have been taking a pounding, as their statements, their pictures and other people's pictures of them, appeared before their current and prospective employers.

GenYs have been slow learners, but the nature of Facebook is gradually getting through to them. iGens, meanwhile, have witnessed what's been going on. And they're much more circumspect and e-mature in their social networking behaviour than the people 5-15 years their senior.

What this all leads to is that:

GenY & iGens will be much more privacy-conscious & privacy-demanding than the largely compliant, and even complacent, Baby Boomer and GenX groups.

A more carefully argued version of the argument is here.

And if you're in any doubt about the increasing privacy-sensitivity of the currently young generations, consider the outbursts during 2010 about Facebook and about Google.

Geolocation Privacy

Handsets now include mobile phones, PDAs, and many convergent and divergent forms. Those handsets are 'a spy in your pocket'. That's because it's inherent in all cellular technologies that 'the network' knows the location of devices, of the SIM-cards within them, and hence with high probability of the particular person who almost always has the handset close by them.

Because the handset sends a stream of messages, not just the current location is evident. By storing the series of locations, person tracking becomes feasible. This may be real-time tracking of a person as they move through space. It may be retrospective tracking, to re-construct where they've been. And indeed it may be predictive tracking, to infer where they're likely to be going, and in many cases what their intentions might be. The mechanics and their implications are considered here and here.

There are geolocation threats beyond 'the spy in your pocket'. Here are two examples based on the location and tracking of people through vehicles that they are associated with.

User-pays road transport is denying anonymous travel. This is because toll-road operators have been closing cash booths and providing no non-identified payment mechanism, or at best highly inconvenient forms of anonymous payment. Public-private partnerships create substantial risks of leakage of personal data between corporations and government agencies, and data retention, data re-purposing, and function creep.

Another serious threat arises from Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR). ANPR can be engineered so as to balance policing interests against privacy. Instead, law enforcement agencies - not least in Australia - are indiscriminately collecting all vehicle ids rather than only the ids of blacklisted vehicles. Police forces then want to retain all of this data long-term. And their intention is to mine that data in order to generate suspicions - many of which will be unwarranted, and, because of the nature of policing, all of them are dangerous.

There are even emergent means for directly subjecting the human body to location and tracking. Chips are finding their way into adornments such as wrist-watches, brooches, belt-buckles and body-piercings in the ear, nose, navel and tongue. They are also in lightly-attached RFID Tags, commonly inserted into wristlets and anklets. There are even instances of embedded chips - in the hand, the arm, and perhaps in tooth-enamel and gums.

Current data protection laws are empty, and what little they nominally provide is unenforced. They are completely incapable of protecting people against the ravages of new technologies. Intrusive behaviour by organisations will attract increasing amounts of negative media coverage, the ongoing downward slide in trust by people in the institutions is likely to be exacerbated, and the risk exists of the kinds of sporadic, knee-jerk micro-legislation that afflicts the USA.

Author Affiliations

Roger Clarke is Principal of Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra. He is also a Visiting Professor in the Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre at the University of N.S.W., and a Visiting Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the Australian National University.

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