When Your Data Is Currency, What Does Your Privacy Cost? Linda Holmes, NPR

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Big DataA very insightful post on the latest revelations that the US Government is accumulating vast amounts of personal data.

From monkey see, NPR, by Linda Holmes

“There was considerable mouth-dropping from publications such as The New York Times at initial reports this week that NSA programs are gathering both telephone records and information gleaned from large tech companies like Google and Microsoft. But as those reports have settled in, reactions have gotten more complex.

One intriguing line of thought came from David Simon, a Baltimore Sun crime reporter turned TV writer who created, among other projects, the acclaimed HBO show The Wire. Literally named after police surveillance tactics, The Wire largely exists as a critique of the failures of government institutions — especially the way the government investigates and responds to crime.

In a lengthy post on his own site, Simon argues that the sheer breadth of the information being collected by the NSA means that very little of it is actually being looked at; it’s being put into a database to be used later in ways that will more seriously raise privacy concerns and implicate policy.

“That is tens of billions of phone calls,” he argues, “and for the love of god, how many agents do you think the FBI has?”

Simon posits that what will determine whether these programs are illegal, unconstitutional, discriminatory or otherwise privacy-violating will be what happens to this data and what decisions are made about how to use it. If they abuse the information, he says, the problem will be the abuse, not the possession of the data, which is a horse both (1) out of the barn and (2) of a different color from targeted eavesdropping.

But for a lot of us, this certainly had the feeling of sharp, strange intrusiveness, and as is often the case, very real discomfort came out through semi-dark jokes like the ones NPR’s Andy Carvin collected under the hashtag “#CallsTheNSAKnowsAbout.”

“I rarely answer my mother’s calls the first time she tries to reach me,” offered one reader. “Sometimes Grandma and I have long, uncomfortable pauses,” offered another. We envisioned the NSA reading our e-mails, looking at our status updates, and seeing that we haven’t called the dentist like we said we would.

This was it, in the popular imagination — some supercomputer of intrusive eyeballing come to life, a combination of Skynet and HAL 9000 and the guys on Law & Order who can improve the quality of a bank surveillance video until they can make out the logo on your underwear through your pants.

But would we really care? Would the growing number of people who willingly share so much of what they do on Twitter and Facebook and Foursquare be horrified that the government could, in theory, look at a database of their phone calls? If you spend your time posting, “Here’s a map showing where I am, a list of people I’m with, a description of what I’m doing, a picture out my window, a list of the companies I buy from, a list of political causes I support, three articles I just read, and my review of the movie I just saw and where I saw it,” what are the odds that the existence of a database saying your phone called this other phone for 4 minutes and 19 seconds will shock your conscience?

The way we live now, we use our data as a currency. Maybe we should, maybe we shouldn’t, but we do. In fact, any time you appear to be getting something for nothing, there is an excellent chance that you are paying in part with your personal information. Store loyalty cards give you discounts, which you get in return for overlooking or accepting that someone now has (or could have) a history of everything you’ve ever bought”.

Read the rest of Linda’s post