No Place to Hide

No Place to Hide is one of two new books reviewed in a NYTimes article on how little privacy we have in an information age of data mining and post 9-11 security. Some key grafs:

O’Harrow [the author of No Place to Hide] notes that many consumers find it convenient to be in a marketing dossier that knows their personal preferences, habits, income, professional and sexual activity, entertainment and travel interests and foibles. These intimately profiled people are untroubled by the device placed in the car they rent that records their speed and location, the keystroke logger that reads the characters they type, the plastic hotel key that transmits the frequency and time of entries and exits or the hidden camera that takes their picture at a Super Bowl or tourist attraction. They fill out cards revealing personal data to get a warranty, unaware that the warranties are already provided by law. ”Even as people fret about corporate intrusiveness,” O’Harrow writes about a searching survey of subscribers taken by Conde Nast Publications, ”they often willingly, even eagerly, part with intimate details about their lives.”

The author devotes chapters to the techniques of commercial data gatherers and sellers like Acxiom, Seisint and the British-owned LexisNexis, not household names themselves, but boasting computers stuffed with the names and pictures of each member of the nation’s households as well as hundreds of millions of their credit cards. He quotes Ole Poulsen, chief technology officer of Seisint, on its digital identity system: ”We have created a unique identifier on everybody in the United States. Data that belongs together is already linked together.” Soon after 9/11, having seen the system that was to become the public-private surveillance engine called Matrix (in computer naming, life follows film art), Michael Mullaney, a counterterrorism official at the Justice Department, told O’Harrow: ”I sat down and said, ‘These guys have the computer that every American is afraid of.’ ”

The reviewer goes on to note that 10s of thousands of records from data miners have been stolen, likely by identity thieves. Yikes.

Canadians who think they’re immune need to remember that Air Canada shares passenger data from its US flights with the US and the majority of our buying patterns are captured by largely US companies and cross-referenced with census tract-specific patterns stored by Statistics Canada.

Read the first chapter of No Place to Hide.

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