Evil (Information) Scientist

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Archive for the ‘Privacy and Security’ Category

They know what you read last summer

Posted by Nathaniel on September 16, 2007

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usIf I were truly an evil information scientist I would be rubbing my hands together and chortling maliciously at this article on developments in surveillance technology. While not completely pertinent to a course on how libraries use technology to share information, it certainly gives one pause to consider how technology may be used to gather, store, and disseminate information.

Described in this innocent looking single column piece from the BBC is a terrifying look at our future. One scientist is developing software to recognise individuals in a crowd simply by the way they walk, their charcteristic “gait DNA”. Another has technology that can read individual heart and breathing rates through walls. In 10 years, the scientist claims, technology will have been developed to read individual thought patterns. Couple this with work on pilotless surveillance drones that can remain in the air for 5 years, and we all become Winston and Julia from 1984.

What responsibility do information scientists have to ensure ethical use of technology, since the developers seem to take none? There is obviously an enormous difference between storing data from an online library directory and flying spy drones peering through walls to record your dreams, the United States Patriot Act already gives government agencies access to information on individual library users, including the books they’ve check out, catalogue searches they’ve made, and emails they’ve sent and received at library terminals. The American Library Association (ALA) condemns these sections of the act, but it’s an empty condemnation when one is faced with subpoenas, the confiscation of library hardware by law enforcement agencies, and possible incarceration. We’ve come a long way since card catalogues.

The ethics of data collection, storage, and distribution are of interest to me. I would like to work in privacy and security policy in health records, where some of our most private and vulnerable information is kept. The advancement of technology that can be used to gain access to anyone’s private information – be it literary interests, psychiatric notes, or the way they walk – terrifies me, both professionally and personally. What can we do in our jobs to reign it in? Anything?

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Posted in Information Sharing, Privacy and Security, Technology | 7 Comments »