Tuesday, January 31, 2006

surveillance/ privacy/ data protection

I blogged this last week in some format, but deleted that entry. Yes. Well, here it is again. We have been dealing with the theme of privacy and data protection these past two weeks or so. For one I was reminded of my own lecture that I gave on this theme to the MIKM (www.sun.ac.za/mikm/ ) students last July, and of how I could have changed or improved on that. A remembrance which also served to remind me of data that I seem to be missing. There´ve been a lot of those realisations of late - missing or I guess misplaced data, as a result of my move. We´ve had a number of persons, some from a law firm, to deal with this theme. But mostly we´ve had lectures with the MDTTI deputy Director, Mª Nieves de la Serna Bilbao.
I prefer it when the proper Professers (i.e. those with said titles) give the lectures. They´re just better at conveying the conceptual essence usually of the lesson.

So, I was looking for the story that I´d read about in the Guardian newspaper on my way back from London on 1 Jan, regarding the high level of citizen surveillance in the UK (higest per capita in the world). I could not find the story that dealt with the surveillance and tracking of cars, by way of their license plates (registration plates), and of course by implication the tracking of people. I did find the following opinion piece:

Get the feeling you are being watched?

Victor Keegan
Thursday January 5, 2006
The Guardian

If you think surveillance in Britain has reached the limits of acceptability, then think again. Last week's successful launch of Europe's Galileo global satellite navigation system will take surveillance into a whole new era. When it is fully operational in 2010 it will be able to locate people, cars, mobile phones, planes, trains, goods in transit, front door keys, and maybe even footballs, to within a metre of where they are - and it will be able to tell how far off the ground they are as well. It will make the present US-controlled global positioning system (GPS), which claims 10-metre accuracy if the location is right and you are outdoors, look like an early Meccano set.

The piece is a bit "light in the pants" when concluding, but nevertheless contains some good points.

Another piece, related to a theme that has always fascinated me, viz. how to augment one´s brain capacity. Yet, it also dealt with what kind of data management is needed to record the subtleties of any one life in its minutiae over a timespan of years, as well as the question of whether having everything recorded of one´s life is good for you. As the article suggests, as I recall it and which an acknowledged fact in learning theory, forgetting is part of the human learning process. (recall the movie: eternal sunshine of the spotless mind?) So, what consequences are there for human learning if everything is recorded? Thinking about my own functioning, I´ve come to rely a lot on external memory (yes, my computer, often my blogs of the past years) to remind me of themes I´d visited (e.g. a book I might have read, details that I might have forgotten). Anyhow, the story of the man with the perfect memory is fascinating also from the point of view of privacy and questions about what should be recorded and/or revealed. Some non-contiguous excerpts below:

The man with the perfect memory - just don't ask him to remember what's in it

· Digital technology records scientist's every step
· Experiment could help sufferers of brain disease

Ian Sample, science correspondent
Wednesday December 28, 2005
The Guardian

Gordon Bell doesn't need to remember, but has no chance of forgetting. At the age of 71, he is recording as much of his life as modern technology will allow, storing it all on a vast database: a digital facsimile of a life lived....

Dr Bell has now stored so much of his life on computer that he is in danger of forgetting how to remember. "I look at it as a surrogate memory," he says. If he wants to recall something, he switches on and picks his way through days and months of information until he finds what he is after. It was all dreamt up at Microsoft's Bay Area Research Centre in San Francisco, where Dr Bell works. ...

How much memory does a life need?
Microsoft researchers believe that technological advances will ensure one terabyte of memory is enough to store everything except video for 83 years. Many iPods have 20 gigabytes of memory, or one fiftieth of a terabyte. If we recorded video constantly, we would need an extra 200 terabytes of memory.


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