Friday, August 21, 2009

Private Info In the Public Domain

A guest editorial posted at predicts the end of privacy as we know it:
Internet denizens and urban dwellers alike need to recognize that an era of anonymity is ending.
The population of the world stands at about 7 billion. So it takes only 10 digits to label each human being on the planet uniquely.
This simple arithmetic observation offers powerful insight into the limits of privacy. It dictates something we might call the 10-Digit Rule: just 10 digits or so of distinctive personal information are enough to identify you uniquely. They're enough to strip away your anonymity on the Internet or call out your name as you walk down the street. The 10-Digit Rule means that as our electronic gadgets grow chattier, and databases swell, we must accept that in most walks of life, we'll soon be wearing our names on our foreheads.
A study of 1990 U.S. Census data revealed that 87 percent of the people in the United States were uniquely identifiable with just three pieces of information (PDF): five-digit ZIP code, gender, and date of birth. Internet surfers today spew considerably more information than that. Web sites can pinpoint our geographical locations, computer models, and browser types, and they can silently track us using cookies. Banking sites even confirm our identities by verifying that our log-ins take place at consistent times of day...
Our physical belongings also betray our anonymity by silently calling out identity-betraying digits. Small wireless microchips--often called radio frequency identification, or RFID, tags--reside in car keys, credit cards, passports, building entrance badges, and transit passes. They emit unique serial numbers. Once linked to our names--when we make credit card purchases, for instance--these microchips enable us to be tracked without our realizing it.

Former DHS Secretary: Threat-Level Manipulation Right Before 2004 Election

From (and other news sources):
Top officials from the George W. Bush White House are disputing claims in former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge’s coming book that they pressured him to adjust the terror threat level for political gain.
“We went over backwards repeatedly and with great discipline to make sure politics did not influence any national security and homeland security decisions,” former White House chief of staff Andy Card told POLITICO. “The clear instructions were to make sure politics never influenced anything.
Ridge's allegation is disturbing, if true. This is the type of story that the media loves to run with, and Ridge will probably be making the rounds of the hand-wringing talk shows before long. To Ridge's credit, he refused to tamper with the pre-election threat level, otherwise we'd already be hearing calls for a special prosecutor (and maybe we'll hear that anyway). There is also some indication that Ridge himself might possibly be backpedaling or at least putting out information inconsistent with previous statements. But one thing to keep mind. In general, when publishers fork over big bucks (or medium bucks) for a boring political memoir that nobody wants to or will read, they also tend to "encourage" the politician/ghostwriter to come up with a sensational revelation to generate buzz. The buzz usually fades quickly along with sales, and before long, the book wind up in the remainder bin anyway.