“We’ve moved from an era of privacy keepers to one of privacy peepers and data-mining reapers who want to turn our information into products…The product is our records, our privacy, our family’s history. We wouldn’t let the government do this, so we have to protect against companies that want to do this.”
Congressman Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), House Energy and Commerce Subcommittees on Commerce, Trade, and Commerce Protection and Communications, Technology, and the Internet Hearing on “Exploring the Offline and Online Collection and Use of Consumer Information.
In the past month or so, there have been a number of hearings in Congress exploring privacy issues relating to the collection, distribution and use of consumer information online and the emergence of new technologies (such as Web 2.0 and social media sites). While not “homeland security issues” in the strictest sense, the increasing synergies between the two that HLSWatch has explored this week make them relevant to the larger security efforts of our nation.
Rep. Markey’s quote above is not only poetic it raises a deeper problem. In his rhyme, he has focused on the keepers, peepers, and reapers – assumingly the companies that are collecting and marketing consumer information. The various “eepers,” however, have little to do if creators are not creating. (Unfortunately, I could not come up with a synonym for “creator” that ends in “eeper” though I welcome suggestions.)
It seems in today’s increasingly online society, the new generations just are not as concerned about privacy as their parents and grandparents. Chris Bellavita’s post on Tuesday on security clearances and facebook/twitter is a testament to that growing phenomenon. In some ways, social networks have become our public diaries where we record our thoughts, dislikes, likes, indiscretions, and, in some cases, our every action.
As a society we have created a market for peepers and reapers. So what does it mean for privacy as we have traditionally thought of it when the expectation is distorted with the emergence of new technologies? Will those who grew up on facebook and twitter even care in twenty years? Those are certainly topics worth exploring in future postings. Getting back to Rep. Markey’s quote – what does it mean for homeland and national security that so much information is out there for gathering? Putting aside the debate over what the U.S. government and the corporate world should be doing, should we be worried about what potential foreign and intelligence operatives are doing with that information (assuming it can be accessed through open source culling or, in more sinister cases, through social engineering or hacking)?
For example, should we be doing more to educate government employees, especially those with sensitive but not necessarily classified, responsibilities on what they should be saying about themselves and their work online? Something as innocuous as someone broadcasting their travel itinerary or favorite restaurant could set someone up for becoming an unknowing source of information from a friendly stranger. Likewise, in the corporate realm, should companies be thinking about economic espionage and how to keep their employees protected in today’s open society? We know that some agencies and companies have banned the use of social media while on the job but will we see others go as far to try to ban their employees from even participating in the social media phenomenon, putting aside the obvious 1st Amendment issues?
At the same time, can an argument be made that we have strengthened some aspects of our national security by making people less susceptible t0 blackmail and compromise by becoming a society that advertises our flaws and weaknesses? In today’s reality tv environment, we are so much likely to post our embarrassing moments or, at the very least, have friends who will do it for us.
We started the week at HLSWatch wondering if the U.S. government should be using social media and emerging technologies more to prepare and protect its citizens. We end asking whether our citizens social media participation is providing adequate protections to U.S. security.