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    World Privacy Forum: The Scoring of America

    Monday, April 7th, 2014

    The World Privacy Forum has released a new report, “The Scoring of America” (pdf), concerning new types of consumer scoring and how they can affect individuals. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

    To score is human. Ranking individuals by grades and other performance numbers is as old as human society. Consumer scores — numbers given to individuals to describe or predict their characteristics, habits, or predilections — are a modern day numeric shorthand that ranks, separates, sifts, and otherwise categorizes individuals and also predicts their potential future actions.

    Consumer scores abound today. Credit scores based on credit files receive much public attention, but many more types of consumer scores exist. They are used widely to predict behaviors like, spending, health, fraud, profitability, and much more. These scores rely on petabytes of information coming from newly available data streams. The information can be derived from many data sources and can contain financial, demographic, ethnic, racial, health, social, and other data. […]

    Predictive scores bring varying benefits and drawbacks. Scores can be correct, or they can be wrong or misleading. Consumer scores – created by either the government or the private sector – threaten privacy, fairness, and due process because scores, particularly opaque scores with unknown ingredients or factors, can too easily evade the rules established to protect consumers. Read more »

    Pew Research and USA Today: Obama’s NSA Speech Has Little Impact on Skeptical Public

    Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

    A new survey by USA Today and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press finds that even after President Obama’s speech last week announcing changes and proposed reforms, the public remains skeptical of surveillance programs revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

    The new national survey by the Pew Research Center and USA TODAY, conducted Jan. 15-19 among 1,504 adults, finds that overall approval of the program has declined since last summer, when the story first broke based on Edward Snowden’s leaked information.

    Today, 40% approve of the government’s collection of telephone and internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts, while 53% disapprove. In July, more Americans approved (50%) than disapproved (44%) of the program.

    In addition, nearly half (48%) say there are not adequate limits on what telephone and internet data the government can collect; fewer (41%) say there are adequate limits on the government’s data collection. About four-in-ten Republicans (39%) and independents (38%) – and about half of Democrats (48%) – think there are adequate limits on the information that the government can collect. […] Read more »

    New York Times: As New Services Track Habits, the E-Books Are Reading You

    Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

    The New York Times reports that electronic books are gathering information about readers’ habits, which raises privacy questions:

    SAN FRANCISCO — Before the Internet, books were written — and published — blindly, hopefully. Sometimes they sold, usually they did not, but no one had a clue what readers did when they opened them up. Did they skip or skim? Slow down or speed up when the end was in sight? Linger over the sex scenes?

    A wave of start-ups is using technology to answer these questions — and help writers give readers more of what they want. The companies get reading data from subscribers who, for a flat monthly fee, buy access to an array of titles, which they can read on a variety of devices. The idea is to do for books what Netflix did for movies and Spotify for music. […]

    The move to exploit reading data is one aspect of how consumer analytics is making its way into every corner of the culture. Amazon and Barnes & Noble already collect vast amounts of information from their e-readers but keep it proprietary. Now the start-ups — which also include Entitle, a North Carolina-based company — are hoping to profit by telling all. […]

    The services say they will make the data anonymous so readers will not be identified. The privacy policies however are broad. “You are consenting to the collection, transfer, manipulation, storage, disclosure and other uses of your information,” Oyster [a New York-based subscription start-up] tells new customers.

    NIST Issues Draft of Preliminary Cybersecurity Framework

    Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

    The National Institute of Standards and Technology has released a “Discussion Draft of the Preliminary Cybersecurity Framework” (pdf). A February executive order, “Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity,” included instructions to NIST “to lead the development of a framework to reduce cyber risks to critical infrastructure (the “Cybersecurity Framework”). The Cybersecurity Framework shall include a set of standards, methodologies, procedures, and processes that align policy, business, and technological approaches to address cyber risks.” (Read the full executive order to learn more details about what President Obama required of NIST.) Such technological requirements could affect individuals’ privacy rights.

    NIST will soon post at its site instructions on how the public can comment on the preliminary framework. Here’s more from the draft’s introduction: Read more »

    Associated Press: Montana studies background checks for mentally ill

    Monday, September 23rd, 2013

    The Associated Press reports that, in the aftermath of the shootings at Sandy Hook in Connecticut and Navy Yard in D.C., Montana lawmakers are considering background checks for the mentally ill.

    HELENA, Mont. — Mass shootings such as the recent Washington Navy Yard killings have prompted Montana lawmakers to examine whether the state should turn over mental illness records to the federal government for background checks in gun purchases.

    The Montana Department of Justice fielded calls from the public and lawmakers about how the state handles background checks for the mentally ill after the deaths of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December, Deputy Attorney General Jon Bennion told a legislative panel Thursday.

    Monday’s shootings that killed 12 people and the gunman at the Navy Yard only increased that scrutiny. […] Read more »

    ACLU: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used to Record Americans’ Movements

    Thursday, September 12th, 2013

    I’ve written about the privacy and civil liberty issues connected with the use of license-plate-scanner recognition technology to gather and record drivers’ movements. Often, we don’t know what the restrictions are on the collection and use of the data. (See a previous post for more information on the camera surveillance technology.) The American Civil Liberties Union has released a new report(pdf) on license-plate readers and how they are used as surveillance devices. The ACLU says in its press release: “The study found that not only are license plate scanners widely deployed, but few police departments place any substantial restrictions on how they can be used. The approach in Pittsburg, Calif., is typical: a police policy document there says that license plate readers can be used for ‘any routine patrol operation or criminal investigation,’ adding, ‘reasonable suspicion or probable cause is not required.’ While many police departments do prohibit police officers from using license plate readers for personal uses such as tracking friends, these are the only restrictions. As New York’s Scarsdale Police Department put it in one document, the use of license plate readers ‘is only limited by the officer’s imagination.'”

    The ACLU says its report “has over a dozen specific recommendations for government use of license plate scanner systems, including: police must have reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred before examining the data; unless there are legitimate reasons to retain records, they should be deleted within days or weeks at most; and, people should be able to find out if their cars’ location history is in a law enforcement database.”

    Here’s an excerpt from “You Are Being Tracked: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used to Record Americans’ Movements.” Read more »