My wish list for a few things we need in the privacy world

trailmixbanner.gif

Okay, okay… It’s still a few months away from the Holiday season and the New Year. Regardless, they’ve given me the pen for this spot and I’m making a list. I figure if I get my wish list in early this year, maybe I’ll get a few of the things I want!

So, here’s my wish list for a few things we need in the privacy world:

1. Laws that break through or work around the limitations imposed by our constitution (I mean, provincially regulated employees have no privacy protection in legislation unless their information is used as part of a commercial activity or unless they live in Alberta, B.C. or Quebec).

2. Speaking of commercial purposes… can we please have a better definition that doesn’t involve someone circling and circling and circling? I mean a commercial activity is something of a commercial nature. Gee, thanks for that clarification.

3. Less restriction on the publication of the federal Commissioner’s Reports

4. A version of PIPEDA where the French and English versions translate properly (some sections even have different paragraph numbering)

5. An Act that contemplates that if you go to court on a matter that involved a violation of an individual’s privacy, the Court would be given explicit power to put controls in place that would allow the protection of privacy during the Court process.

6. A recognized ability to get real compensation when your privacy is invaded. Getting a “well-founded and resolved” report is only going to motivate people for so long to stand up for their rights.

7. A recognition that we are in a surveillance state. Question is, are we going to let it get worse, tolerate it the way it is, or fight back?

8. A Privacy Act that is written based on our understanding of computing and database technology in 2007. Not 1977.

9. A recognition that the Privacy Commissioner cannot oversee ALL of government and that it’s high time the government itself takes some responsibility for privacy (yes, they should have Chief Privacy Officers in many departments).

10. Privacy Impact Assessments… oh wait, we do have those, sometimes! (But not nearly enough – and even when they’re done, nobody knows about them.)

11. One more very good conference and then an acknowledgement that we need to actually get the work done and not just talk about it.

Things we probably don’t need:

1. Another privacy lawyer… ooops, well don’t check out www.krisklein.com then.

My wish list for a few things we need in the privacy world

trailmixbanner.gif

Okay, okay… It’s still a few months away from the Holiday season and the New Year. Regardless, they’ve given me the pen for this spot and I’m making a list. I figure if I get my wish list in early this year, maybe I’ll get a few of the things I want!

So, here’s my wish list for a few things we need in the privacy world:

1. Laws that break through or work around the limitations imposed by our constitution (I mean, provincially regulated employees have no privacy protection in legislation unless their information is used as part of a commercial activity or unless they live in Alberta, B.C. or Quebec).

2. Speaking of commercial purposes… can we please have a better definition that doesn’t involve someone circling and circling and circling? I mean a commercial activity is something of a commercial nature. Gee, thanks for that clarification.

3. Less restriction on the publication of the federal Commissioner’s Reports

4. A version of PIPEDA where the French and English versions translate properly (some sections even have different paragraph numbering)

5. An Act that contemplates that if you go to court on a matter that involved a violation of an individual’s privacy, the Court would be given explicit power to put controls in place that would allow the protection of privacy during the Court process.

6. A recognized ability to get real compensation when your privacy is invaded. Getting a “well-founded and resolved” report is only going to motivate people for so long to stand up for their rights.

7. A recognition that we are in a surveillance state. Question is, are we going to let it get worse, tolerate it the way it is, or fight back?

8. A Privacy Act that is written based on our understanding of computing and database technology in 2007. Not 1977.

9. A recognition that the Privacy Commissioner cannot oversee ALL of government and that it’s high time the government itself takes some responsibility for privacy (yes, they should have Chief Privacy Officers in many departments).

10. Privacy Impact Assessments… oh wait, we do have those, sometimes! (But not nearly enough – and even when they’re done, nobody knows about them.)

11. One more very good conference and then an acknowledgement that we need to actually get the work done and not just talk about it.

Things we probably don’t need:

1. Another privacy lawyer… ooops, well don’t check out www.krisklein.com then.

Rewriting my Autobiography: Me, Myself, and (possibly) a Different ‘I’

trailmixbanner.gif I’ve always wanted to write my own autobiography. Maybe it’s narcissistic, but I thought it would be a good chance for me to think back, reflect, introspect, and remember both the good and bad things that happened to me throughout my life. I could then maybe figure out what went right, and in some cases, what went horribly wrong. But I told myself that I would save this personal task until I was older and also until I had enough stories and experiences to share and write about. Otherwise, if I wrote my autobiography today, it would be a story about a girl named Cynthia, who went to school, who then decided to go to more school. I then came across McAdams’ “Life Story Theory” of identity [1] and realized that I didn’t have to wait until I was old and experienced to write my autobiography. I was already in Continue reading "Rewriting my Autobiography: Me, Myself, and (possibly) a Different ‘I’"

Intimate Invasions: How Far Will Internet Users Push the Realm of Acceptability? or Have You Been Facebook Stalked Yet?

trailmixbanner.gif

I recently, for the first time in my life, set up my own wireless router in order to connect my laptop, as well as my roommate’s, to the Internet. This was not a user-friendly experience, and my stress level was heightened by my need to safeguard my wireless signal from outside intruders. I was creating a code of identity for my actions through my computer network: I had to name my signal and trust that it will safeguard my IP address which is now, through my actions online, an extension of my self and identity.

By giving a name to my Internet network, I was sending a secure signal of my own personal identity out into cyberspace. This is a name that anyone in my physical world close enough to pick up on my Internet signal will be able to see. The Internet, as a social system, is a lot less anonymous than many people seem to still think; whether consciously or unconsciously, we are constantly sending out signals of our identity online. From postings on a blog to a wireless network name, our physical life-based identities seep out to the cyber world.

It’s an alarming trend to notice how oblivious people are to their cyber identities, and how careless they are with cyber information that can have a massive affect in their physical world. The online psyche is now a permanent aspect of most people’s lives.

With such a plugged in world, people live and communicate endlessly via online routes. However, like an unguarded Internet signal, many people leave themselves open to cyberintrusions that endanger both their cyberidentites and their physical life identities. Two women have recently been in the news for such open intrusions into their private lives through seemingly safe online channels. Neither Jessica Coen, nor Allyson Stokke intended to victimize themselves through innocent online actions, yet both had their identities and privacy victimized and destroyed through the very avenues they left open to the cyberworld.

Jessica Coen is an online blogger who is now deputy online editor for Vanity Fair magazine. In a previous job, however, she was a popular blogger on the snarky Manhattan-based gossip website, gawker.com [I]. Coen wrote aggressive observations about people’s looks, loves and lives in New York City through the online medium. Coen wrote to receive a reaction, which she received in hordes. Emails, phone calls, letters in the mail, false email accounts set-up under her identity were just some of the reactions she caused from her caustic writing. All were, of course, anonymous. All were invasions of her privacy. None of which would have been so easily acted upon in the physical world. What was a wake-up call to Coen and her lifestyle should be a wakeup call to us all. Just because the anonymity of online actions makes it easier for many people to do or act in ways they are not comfortable in the physical world, does not mean the actions do not have an affect in the physical world. Voyeuristic tendencies have increased in popularity of negative online actions. The Internet has increased many people’s freedom of expression, both positive and negative. In this “me” generation, where the staged reality show, “The Hills,” is a hit, men and women not only feel that it is alright to comment and act as they desire in the online world, but seemingly get approval of their actions through physical world reactions such as media social relations. In today’s world, it is just as common to end a relationship through online or cellular means as it is in a physical world situation.

It is interesting to note that Coen is still active online. She is currently working online and still maintains a blog. A quick search on Facebook brings up a profile that appears to be hers as well. While Coen has been awakened to the threats that are online regarding her own privacy, as well as the malleableness of her identity in the online arena, she has continued to safely traverse the online realm as well as educate other women about both her experiences and her suggestions.

Allison Stokke is young woman with a similar story [II]. However, Stokke’s online privacy invasion began innocently with a sports blogger posting a picture of the young track and field athlete on his website. Rapidly, Stokke received an overwhelming amount of friend requests on her Facebook profile, and YouTube montages made in her honour. More online and even real-life harassment followed in the wake of that one posted picture. Today it is very easy to still find pictures of Stokke online, but not her physical cyber self. Stokke, as an individual, has all but disappeared online due to her experiences.

Online voyeurism has, I dare say, become more dangerous today than in the early days of the Internet when adults were arrested for meeting minors they had met online. You see, online voyeurism has gone beyond something that both appals and frightens us as it was in the past: online voyeurism has gone mainstream. While neither Coen nor Stokke were physically harmed by their attacks, not all individuals have been so lucky. Indeed, the separation between people’s physical world actions and their cyberworld actions is becoming more apparent by the more vicious people become online. Indeed, many people feel comfortable acting out online in ways they would never do in the physical world. As the cyberworld becomes more “real” in our daily lives, our ethics and responsibilities online must be reassessed. The separation of self and ethics must cease to exist. Verbally tearing into someone online may be exhilarating, but has “real life” affects on people’s lives. We need to keep in mind the humanist aspects of the online world. To continue to be wired we must keep it real.

In short, we must redefine the real to fit our new dimensions of our world. What is the real experience? How do we feel the real in cyberworld? How do we let the cyberworld fully compliment the physical world? Finally, how far do we let the two worlds go?

[I]I See Jessica Coen, Online Bullies Back Off. Glamour Magazine. Oct. 2007: 227-228.
[II] See Rebecca Webber, Give This Girl Her Life Back! Glamour Magazine. Sept. 2007: 80.


Kayleigh Platz is a Master’s student in Public Issues Anthropology at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Kayleigh’s interests range from on-line communication and social networks, the cyberworld culture, on-line voyeurism, tactical media, and Harry Potter. Kayleigh’s main research focuses on online social networks and user identities. Kayleigh will be speaking at the Student "I" conference at the University of Ottawa on October 25th.

Intimate Invasions: How Far Will Internet Users Push the Realm of Acceptability? or Have You Been Facebook Stalked Yet?

trailmixbanner.gif

I recently, for the first time in my life, set up my own wireless router in order to connect my laptop, as well as my roommate’s, to the Internet. This was not a user-friendly experience, and my stress level was heightened by my need to safeguard my wireless signal from outside intruders. I was creating a code of identity for my actions through my computer network: I had to name my signal and trust that it will safeguard my IP address which is now, through my actions online, an extension of my self and identity.

By giving a name to my Internet network, I was sending a secure signal of my own personal identity out into cyberspace. This is a name that anyone in my physical world close enough to pick up on my Internet signal will be able to see. The Internet, as a social system, is a lot less anonymous than many people seem to still think; whether consciously or unconsciously, we are constantly sending out signals of our identity online. From postings on a blog to a wireless network name, our physical life-based identities seep out to the cyber world.

It’s an alarming trend to notice how oblivious people are to their cyber identities, and how careless they are with cyber information that can have a massive affect in their physical world. The online psyche is now a permanent aspect of most people’s lives.

With such a plugged in world, people live and communicate endlessly via online routes. However, like an unguarded Internet signal, many people leave themselves open to cyberintrusions that endanger both their cyberidentites and their physical life identities. Two women have recently been in the news for such open intrusions into their private lives through seemingly safe online channels. Neither Jessica Coen, nor Allyson Stokke intended to victimize themselves through innocent online actions, yet both had their identities and privacy victimized and destroyed through the very avenues they left open to the cyberworld.

Jessica Coen is an online blogger who is now deputy online editor for Vanity Fair magazine. In a previous job, however, she was a popular blogger on the snarky Manhattan-based gossip website, gawker.com [I]. Coen wrote aggressive observations about people’s looks, loves and lives in New York City through the online medium. Coen wrote to receive a reaction, which she received in hordes. Emails, phone calls, letters in the mail, false email accounts set-up under her identity were just some of the reactions she caused from her caustic writing. All were, of course, anonymous. All were invasions of her privacy. None of which would have been so easily acted upon in the physical world. What was a wake-up call to Coen and her lifestyle should be a wakeup call to us all. Just because the anonymity of online actions makes it easier for many people to do or act in ways they are not comfortable in the physical world, does not mean the actions do not have an affect in the physical world. Voyeuristic tendencies have increased in popularity of negative online actions. The Internet has increased many people’s freedom of expression, both positive and negative. In this “me” generation, where the staged reality show, “The Hills,” is a hit, men and women not only feel that it is alright to comment and act as they desire in the online world, but seemingly get approval of their actions through physical world reactions such as media social relations. In today’s world, it is just as common to end a relationship through online or cellular means as it is in a physical world situation.

It is interesting to note that Coen is still active online. She is currently working online and still maintains a blog. A quick search on Facebook brings up a profile that appears to be hers as well. While Coen has been awakened to the threats that are online regarding her own privacy, as well as the malleableness of her identity in the online arena, she has continued to safely traverse the online realm as well as educate other women about both her experiences and her suggestions.

Allison Stokke is young woman with a similar story [II]. However, Stokke’s online privacy invasion began innocently with a sports blogger posting a picture of the young track and field athlete on his website. Rapidly, Stokke received an overwhelming amount of friend requests on her Facebook profile, and YouTube montages made in her honour. More online and even real-life harassment followed in the wake of that one posted picture. Today it is very easy to still find pictures of Stokke online, but not her physical cyber self. Stokke, as an individual, has all but disappeared online due to her experiences.

Online voyeurism has, I dare say, become more dangerous today than in the early days of the Internet when adults were arrested for meeting minors they had met online. You see, online voyeurism has gone beyond something that both appals and frightens us as it was in the past: online voyeurism has gone mainstream. While neither Coen nor Stokke were physically harmed by their attacks, not all individuals have been so lucky. Indeed, the separation between people’s physical world actions and their cyberworld actions is becoming more apparent by the more vicious people become online. Indeed, many people feel comfortable acting out online in ways they would never do in the physical world. As the cyberworld becomes more “real” in our daily lives, our ethics and responsibilities online must be reassessed. The separation of self and ethics must cease to exist. Verbally tearing into someone online may be exhilarating, but has “real life” affects on people’s lives. We need to keep in mind the humanist aspects of the online world. To continue to be wired we must keep it real.

In short, we must redefine the real to fit our new dimensions of our world. What is the real experience? How do we feel the real in cyberworld? How do we let the cyberworld fully compliment the physical world? Finally, how far do we let the two worlds go?

[I]I See Jessica Coen, Online Bullies Back Off. Glamour Magazine. Oct. 2007: 227-228.
[II] See Rebecca Webber, Give This Girl Her Life Back! Glamour Magazine. Sept. 2007: 80.


Kayleigh Platz is a Master’s student in Public Issues Anthropology at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Kayleigh’s interests range from on-line communication and social networks, the cyberworld culture, on-line voyeurism, tactical media, and Harry Potter. Kayleigh’s main research focuses on online social networks and user identities. Kayleigh will be speaking at the Student "I" conference at the University of Ottawa on October 25th.

Wikisurveillance: a genealogy of cooperative watching in the West

trailmixbanner.gif

As the duly elected Liberal government currently serving the Province of Ontario stands poised to infuse one of the largest revenue collection and fine levying agencies in the Western hemisphere—the Ontario Provincial Police—with $2 million (Can) to fund the operation of a state-of-the-art spy plane ostensibly required to identify “racers” or “stunt” drivers using the King’s Highways (Cockburn & Greenberg 2007), all while police in Britain continue to append audio-video recording equipment, or “Bobbie-Cams,” to the helmets of their patrol officers in the vein of Paul Verhoeven’s dystopic 1987 film Robocop (Satter 2007), one is prompted to take a look back at the corpus of police surveillance devices suborned by modernity, that have in aggregate given way for what might be called the golden age of voyeurism.

The mechanical metamorphosis from Althusser’s (1971) Ideological State Apparatus, into the more palpable “technical apparatus” (Ellul 1964: 101) of the police as we know them today, has been achieved in large part through a process of technological determinism, or the means by which human culture and history are simultaneously rendered and reified by our machines. In other words, the ubiquity of those police surveillance and reporting tools that have pervaded urban life for well over a century, has in turn propagated a mimetic response in occidental consumer culture whereby the general public is increasingly enamored by the “democratization of surveillance” (Staples 2000: 155) made possible by portable, affordable, and elegant devices that, through their egalitarian accessibility, make “coercion embedded, cooperative, and subtle, and therefore not experienced as coercion at all” (Ericson & Haggerty 1997: 7). As public and private interests ultimately converge through a phenomenon I call wikisurveillance, the denizens of this self-supervising panoptic state cooperatively pen the requiem for once valued tenets of privacy through the normalization, even fetishization, of corporate and private data mining, cell phone videography, security camera ubiquity, home “monitoring” systems, the proliferation of spy stores, and systemic Facebook cultism.

As such, I define wikisurveillance as the manner in which the community at large has been seduced by, or at the very least summarily acceded to, the idea of watching, recording, reporting, and even the expectation, or exhibitionism, of being watched, as the new de facto social contract for the post-industrial age. Ergo, the computing neologism “wiki” is an appropriate prefix to denote and describe this present Zeitgeist of freelance information brokering in which we presently live, as not unlike any open-source wiki-based text that is publicly inclusive, accessible, modifiable, and even corruptible in its design, the commercial surveillance technologies that define the new historicism of Western media have fostered an age of consensual spying and reporting perhaps best described as the Vichy state of late-capitalism. As conventional law enforcement’s monopoly on surveillance has consequently been muscled out by a veritable coup d’état spearheaded by free unlimited video messaging, Dateline hidden camera specials, and “how’s my driving?” bumper stickers, we must to some extent acquiesce to the troubling truism that Orwell was wrong: that “[t]here is no Big Brother…we are him” (Staples 2000: 153).

From the discreet distribution of “Constable keys” in the early 20th century to select citizens who could then access locked police signal-boxes and secretly report on the activities of their neighbors, illegal or otherwise, through to the efforts of the Ontario Green Ribbon Task Force in the early 1990s to have affluent commuters armed with what were then nascent and comparatively costly cell-phones report on the movements and identifiers of any vehicle similar to that believed to have been driven by serial killer Paul Bernardo, to modern AMBER-Alerts that function under this same basic pretense, and ultimately to the use of virtual communities like You Tube to solve crimes as serious as murder in some instances (Quintino 2006), there is indeed a long standing confederacy between hegemony and communications technology—even a co-constitutive evolution—which is being increasingly co-opted by private citizens and private enterprise as the state’s observational authority is deregulated.

As Western law enforcement continues to increasingly assert itself through largely privately owned and definitively for-profit entities whose loyalty remains to its capital interests in earnest, the “technical apparatus” of the police is diffused amongst an untrained, unaccountable, and largely anonymous civilian populace who mimic the police methodology by not only buying the compatible hardware, but also buying-in to the associated mindset that all human activities have an inherent intelligence-gathering value.

Whether it be the regular use of clandestine listening devices in Dunkin’ Donuts stores throughout the US (Staples 2000), or the Argus Digital Doorman maintaining and potentially selling off a facial recognition database containing the images of all visitors traveling to and fro any subscribing condominium or apartment building, we see that wikisurveillance allows the Western narrative on both privacy and paranoia to be scribed by a cabal of agents provocateurs who, in working for purely commercial interests, transform the thin blue line into a proverbial Maginot Line of strategic technical installations that expedite the erosion of human agency in not only the management, but also the manufacturing, of law and order.

Wikisurveillance has shown us that the rise of the dreaded police state in the West will not come with the terrifying, sweeping reforms of some new radical and totalitarian government that somehow seizes power, nor from under the boot of some fascist despot, but rather, with the efforts taken in the here and now largely to protect actuarial assets. While police agencies are generally subject to public oversight and accountability, and to archival audits and the eventual de-classification or disclosure of some information, where, when, and how the fragments of unregulated and individually mined data presently floating around will ultimately be used becomes the nagging query written into the code of wikisurvillance. As all human activities become increasingly part of a permanent and quantifiable record that is in large part privately owned and maintained, the Monday morning quarterbacking of historical surveillance data will consequently ensure that “[a] crime can always be found” (Solove 2007: 5) amongst the assorted images, as the floating definition of deviance ensures that crime becomes the last truly renewable Western resource.

Michael Arntfield is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Information & Media Studies, University of Western Ontario.

BIBLIOGRPAHY

Adlam, Robert C.A. (1981) “The Police Personality.” In: Pope, David W. & Weiner, Norman L. (eds) Modern Policing. pp. 152-162. London: Croom Helm Ltd.

Chu, Jim (2001) Law Enforcement Information Technology: A Managerial, Operational and Practitioner Guide. USA: CRC Press

Cockburn, Neco & Greenberg, Lee (2007) “Ont. to Impose $10,000 Fines for Street Racing.” National Post on-line, Aug 15, 2007. Electronic document: http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=6b7d070b-7d48-466c-96db-586d2a5f6def&k=10512. Retrieved Aug 16, 2007

Dandeker, Christopher (1990) Surveillance, Power and Modernity: Bureaucracy and Discipline from 1700 to the Present Day. Cambridge: Polity Press

Ellul, Jacques (1964) The Technological Society. New York: Knopf

Ericson, Richard V. & Haggerty, Kevin, D (1997) Policing the Risk Society. Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Lind, Laura (2007, August 18) “Hysteria Lane” The National Post, Toronto Weekend Magazine, p.14

Mann, Steve (1998) “’Reflectionism' and 'Diffusionism': New Tactics for Deconstructing the Video Surveillance Superhighway,” Leonardo, 31(2): 93-102.

Manning, Peter K. (1992) “Information Technologies and the Police” In Tonry, Michael & Morris, Norval (eds) Modern Policing. pp. 349-398. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Marx, Leo (1964) The Machine in the Garden: The Pastoral Idea in America. New York: Oxford University Press

Maxcer, Chris (2007, March 6) “Cops Nab Crooks Using YouTube” Tech News World.com. Electronic document: http://www.technewsworld.com/story/56108.html
Retrieved July 10/07

Morgan, Rod & Newburn, Tim (1997) The Future of Policing. Oxford: Oxford University Press

North, Dick (1978) The Lost Patrol. Anchorage: Alaska Northwest Publishing Co.

ODMP (2006) Officer Down Memorial Page. Fallen officer directory. Electronic document: http://www.odmp.org/agency.php?agencyid=2758. Retrieved June 14/06

Packer, Jeremy (2002) “Mobile Communications and Governing the Mobile: CBs and Truckers,” Communication Review, 5(1) pp. 39-58

Phillips, Alberta (2005, March 17) “After Club Fire Police Comments Still Smolder” Statesman.com. Electronic document: http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/03/17phillips_edit.html. Retrieved May 2/06

Quintino, Anne-Marie (2006, December 15) “Police Discovering Power of YouTube” Globe and Mail.com. Electronic document: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20061215.gtcopsyoutube1215/BNStory/Technology/home. Retrieved July 17/07

Richardson, Mark (2005) On the Beat: 150 Years of Policing in London Ontario. Canada: Aylmer Express Ltd.

Rubinstein, Jonathan (1973) City Police. USA: Hill & Wang

Satter, Raphael G. (2007, July 13) “Britain’s surveillance to new levels with video cameras strapped to police helmets.” CBC Newsworld. Electronic document: http://www.cbc.ca/cp/world/070713/w071347A.html. Retrieved July 14/07

Seltzer, Mark (1992) Bodies & Machines. New York: Routledge

Smith, Merritt Roe (1994) “Technological Determinism in American Culture.” In Smith, Merritt Roe & Marx, Leo (eds) Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism. pp. 1-36. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press

Solove, Daniel J. (2007) “I’ve Got Nothing to Hide and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy,” The San Diego Law Review (44), pp. 1-23

Staples, William G. (2000) Everyday Surveillance: Vigilance and Visibility in Postmodern Life. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield

Stewart, Robert W. (1994) The Police Signal Box: A 100 Year History. Glasgow: University of Strathclyde. Electronic document: http://www.eee.strath.ac.uk/r.w.stewart/boxes.pdf. Retrieved April 25/06

Vanderburg, Willem H. (2000) The Labyrinth of Technology. Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Wade, John (1829) A Treatise on the Police and Crimes of the Metropolis. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green

Wikisurveillance: a genealogy of cooperative watching in the West

trailmixbanner.gif

As the duly elected Liberal government currently serving the Province of Ontario stands poised to infuse one of the largest revenue collection and fine levying agencies in the Western hemisphere—the Ontario Provincial Police—with $2 million (Can) to fund the operation of a state-of-the-art spy plane ostensibly required to identify “racers” or “stunt” drivers using the King’s Highways (Cockburn & Greenberg 2007), all while police in Britain continue to append audio-video recording equipment, or “Bobbie-Cams,” to the helmets of their patrol officers in the vein of Paul Verhoeven’s dystopic 1987 film Robocop (Satter 2007), one is prompted to take a look back at the corpus of police surveillance devices suborned by modernity, that have in aggregate given way for what might be called the golden age of voyeurism.

The mechanical metamorphosis from Althusser’s (1971) Ideological State Apparatus, into the more palpable “technical apparatus” (Ellul 1964: 101) of the police as we know them today, has been achieved in large part through a process of technological determinism, or the means by which human culture and history are simultaneously rendered and reified by our machines. In other words, the ubiquity of those police surveillance and reporting tools that have pervaded urban life for well over a century, has in turn propagated a mimetic response in occidental consumer culture whereby the general public is increasingly enamored by the “democratization of surveillance” (Staples 2000: 155) made possible by portable, affordable, and elegant devices that, through their egalitarian accessibility, make “coercion embedded, cooperative, and subtle, and therefore not experienced as coercion at all” (Ericson & Haggerty 1997: 7). As public and private interests ultimately converge through a phenomenon I call wikisurveillance, the denizens of this self-supervising panoptic state cooperatively pen the requiem for once valued tenets of privacy through the normalization, even fetishization, of corporate and private data mining, cell phone videography, security camera ubiquity, home “monitoring” systems, the proliferation of spy stores, and systemic Facebook cultism.

As such, I define wikisurveillance as the manner in which the community at large has been seduced by, or at the very least summarily acceded to, the idea of watching, recording, reporting, and even the expectation, or exhibitionism, of being watched, as the new de facto social contract for the post-industrial age. Ergo, the computing neologism “wiki” is an appropriate prefix to denote and describe this present Zeitgeist of freelance information brokering in which we presently live, as not unlike any open-source wiki-based text that is publicly inclusive, accessible, modifiable, and even corruptible in its design, the commercial surveillance technologies that define the new historicism of Western media have fostered an age of consensual spying and reporting perhaps best described as the Vichy state of late-capitalism. As conventional law enforcement’s monopoly on surveillance has consequently been muscled out by a veritable coup d’état spearheaded by free unlimited video messaging, Dateline hidden camera specials, and “how’s my driving?” bumper stickers, we must to some extent acquiesce to the troubling truism that Orwell was wrong: that “[t]here is no Big Brother…we are him” (Staples 2000: 153).

From the discreet distribution of “Constable keys” in the early 20th century to select citizens who could then access locked police signal-boxes and secretly report on the activities of their neighbors, illegal or otherwise, through to the efforts of the Ontario Green Ribbon Task Force in the early 1990s to have affluent commuters armed with what were then nascent and comparatively costly cell-phones report on the movements and identifiers of any vehicle similar to that believed to have been driven by serial killer Paul Bernardo, to modern AMBER-Alerts that function under this same basic pretense, and ultimately to the use of virtual communities like You Tube to solve crimes as serious as murder in some instances (Quintino 2006), there is indeed a long standing confederacy between hegemony and communications technology—even a co-constitutive evolution—which is being increasingly co-opted by private citizens and private enterprise as the state’s observational authority is deregulated.

As Western law enforcement continues to increasingly assert itself through largely privately owned and definitively for-profit entities whose loyalty remains to its capital interests in earnest, the “technical apparatus” of the police is diffused amongst an untrained, unaccountable, and largely anonymous civilian populace who mimic the police methodology by not only buying the compatible hardware, but also buying-in to the associated mindset that all human activities have an inherent intelligence-gathering value.

Whether it be the regular use of clandestine listening devices in Dunkin’ Donuts stores throughout the US (Staples 2000), or the Argus Digital Doorman maintaining and potentially selling off a facial recognition database containing the images of all visitors traveling to and fro any subscribing condominium or apartment building, we see that wikisurveillance allows the Western narrative on both privacy and paranoia to be scribed by a cabal of agents provocateurs who, in working for purely commercial interests, transform the thin blue line into a proverbial Maginot Line of strategic technical installations that expedite the erosion of human agency in not only the management, but also the manufacturing, of law and order.

Wikisurveillance has shown us that the rise of the dreaded police state in the West will not come with the terrifying, sweeping reforms of some new radical and totalitarian government that somehow seizes power, nor from under the boot of some fascist despot, but rather, with the efforts taken in the here and now largely to protect actuarial assets. While police agencies are generally subject to public oversight and accountability, and to archival audits and the eventual de-classification or disclosure of some information, where, when, and how the fragments of unregulated and individually mined data presently floating around will ultimately be used becomes the nagging query written into the code of wikisurvillance. As all human activities become increasingly part of a permanent and quantifiable record that is in large part privately owned and maintained, the Monday morning quarterbacking of historical surveillance data will consequently ensure that “[a] crime can always be found” (Solove 2007: 5) amongst the assorted images, as the floating definition of deviance ensures that crime becomes the last truly renewable Western resource.

Michael Arntfield is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Information & Media Studies, University of Western Ontario.

BIBLIOGRPAHY

Adlam, Robert C.A. (1981) “The Police Personality.” In: Pope, David W. & Weiner, Norman L. (eds) Modern Policing. pp. 152-162. London: Croom Helm Ltd.

Chu, Jim (2001) Law Enforcement Information Technology: A Managerial, Operational and Practitioner Guide. USA: CRC Press

Cockburn, Neco & Greenberg, Lee (2007) “Ont. to Impose $10,000 Fines for Street Racing.” National Post on-line, Aug 15, 2007. Electronic document: http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=6b7d070b-7d48-466c-96db-586d2a5f6def&k=10512. Retrieved Aug 16, 2007

Dandeker, Christopher (1990) Surveillance, Power and Modernity: Bureaucracy and Discipline from 1700 to the Present Day. Cambridge: Polity Press

Ellul, Jacques (1964) The Technological Society. New York: Knopf

Ericson, Richard V. & Haggerty, Kevin, D (1997) Policing the Risk Society. Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Lind, Laura (2007, August 18) “Hysteria Lane” The National Post, Toronto Weekend Magazine, p.14

Mann, Steve (1998) “’Reflectionism' and 'Diffusionism': New Tactics for Deconstructing the Video Surveillance Superhighway,” Leonardo, 31(2): 93-102.

Manning, Peter K. (1992) “Information Technologies and the Police” In Tonry, Michael & Morris, Norval (eds) Modern Policing. pp. 349-398. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Marx, Leo (1964) The Machine in the Garden: The Pastoral Idea in America. New York: Oxford University Press

Maxcer, Chris (2007, March 6) “Cops Nab Crooks Using YouTube” Tech News World.com. Electronic document: http://www.technewsworld.com/story/56108.html
Retrieved July 10/07

Morgan, Rod & Newburn, Tim (1997) The Future of Policing. Oxford: Oxford University Press

North, Dick (1978) The Lost Patrol. Anchorage: Alaska Northwest Publishing Co.

ODMP (2006) Officer Down Memorial Page. Fallen officer directory. Electronic document: http://www.odmp.org/agency.php?agencyid=2758. Retrieved June 14/06

Packer, Jeremy (2002) “Mobile Communications and Governing the Mobile: CBs and Truckers,” Communication Review, 5(1) pp. 39-58

Phillips, Alberta (2005, March 17) “After Club Fire Police Comments Still Smolder” Statesman.com. Electronic document: http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/03/17phillips_edit.html. Retrieved May 2/06

Quintino, Anne-Marie (2006, December 15) “Police Discovering Power of YouTube” Globe and Mail.com. Electronic document: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20061215.gtcopsyoutube1215/BNStory/Technology/home. Retrieved July 17/07

Richardson, Mark (2005) On the Beat: 150 Years of Policing in London Ontario. Canada: Aylmer Express Ltd.

Rubinstein, Jonathan (1973) City Police. USA: Hill & Wang

Satter, Raphael G. (2007, July 13) “Britain’s surveillance to new levels with video cameras strapped to police helmets.” CBC Newsworld. Electronic document: http://www.cbc.ca/cp/world/070713/w071347A.html. Retrieved July 14/07

Seltzer, Mark (1992) Bodies & Machines. New York: Routledge

Smith, Merritt Roe (1994) “Technological Determinism in American Culture.” In Smith, Merritt Roe & Marx, Leo (eds) Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism. pp. 1-36. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press

Solove, Daniel J. (2007) “I’ve Got Nothing to Hide and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy,” The San Diego Law Review (44), pp. 1-23

Staples, William G. (2000) Everyday Surveillance: Vigilance and Visibility in Postmodern Life. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield

Stewart, Robert W. (1994) The Police Signal Box: A 100 Year History. Glasgow: University of Strathclyde. Electronic document: http://www.eee.strath.ac.uk/r.w.stewart/boxes.pdf. Retrieved April 25/06

Vanderburg, Willem H. (2000) The Labyrinth of Technology. Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Wade, John (1829) A Treatise on the Police and Crimes of the Metropolis. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green

A Canadian Privacy Heritage Minute: Surveillance, Discipline, and Nursing Education

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In this particular historical moment of fetishized “security” and state-sponsored surveillance carried out “for our own good,” it is tempting for some of us to think that we are reaching some low point in the history of privacy, where new technologies already allow the deployment of an Orwellian omniscience by states and corporations. This may indeed be so, but some research I did some years ago on the history of nursing education (of all things) has inclined me (a privacy advocacy neophyte) to wonder if the drive for total surveillance is neither novel nor dependent upon new technologies. In the spirit of Heritage Canada’s iconic television spots, I offer my own “Privacy Heritage Minute,” with all the skeletal theoretical framework, carefully-selected facts and simplistic moral that such an approach implies.

Prior to the 1950s, most Canadian nurses (who were predominantly young, white, unmarried women) were trained through an apprenticeship system, learning their craft by working for three years unpaid on hospital wards. This training was extremely arduous and strictly regimented, and was overseen by a limited number of paid nurse overseers and by senior nurse apprentices. The vast bulk of nursing labour in hospitals was completed by students, who lived on the hospital campus and seldom left the site until their training was complete.

Beginning in the late 19th century, it was understood that moral rectitude (read virginity) and feminine deference (read unquestioning obedience) were key characteristics of the ideal nurse. In part this was because prevailing models of health contained an unmistakably moral component (as arguably they still do – see the rhetoric around obesity, heart disease, HIV, etc.). Likewise hospitals, which were in competition for the dollars of wealthy patients and donors, used the image of the physically and morally clean (female) student nurse as advertising to convince the well-to-do of the safety and efficacy of institutional health care. [1]

Hospitals posted extensive lists of rules intended to ensure the proper behaviour of their student nurses. Obedience was far too important to be entrusted simply to sets of rules, however. As was explained in one nurses’ orientation manual, each individual would be “carefully watched to ensure strict obedience.” Surveillance, embodied in the policies, procedures, and the very architecture of the training school and Nurses’ Home, provided the disciplinary backbone for nursing training. Michel Foucault described similar developments with respect to 18th-century reform schools and prisons in Discipline and Punish: “We have here a sketch of an institution ... in which three procedures are integrated into a single mechanism: teaching proper, the acquisition of knowledge by the very practice of the pedagogical activity, and a reciprocal, hierarchised observation.”

Surveillance of student nurses began from the moment they applied to their training. Candidates underwent gynecological screening tests, which allowed hospital management to determine whether the candidates showed signs of sexually transmitted diseases, previous pregnancy, or loss of virginity. Applicants who showed evidence of such indiscretions were likely to be rejected as “not suitable to become a nurse.” This managerial anxiety over sexuality permeated the apprenticeship program. Of particular concern in these all-female spaces was homosexuality, a “vice” that dared not speak its name but that nevertheless attracted careful scrutiny by managers and hospital trustees. As one former nurse explained to me,

A rule was posted that ‘only one may bathe at a time’. We didn’t have time to wait in the mornings, so we often shared showers and tubs. The bathrooms were patrolled [by matrons] and so if a matronly voice said ‘is there only one of you in the tub,’ our rule was that only the one in the middle would call out ‘Yes, miss!’. I realized later that they were scared stiff of lesbianism.

In some residences, bath doors were designed like the swinging doors of saloons with spaces above and below, a technology of observation noted by Foucault at Paris-Duverney's Ecole Militaire. [2]

Surveillance was also trained upon the movements of apprentice nurses in their leisure time and private spaces. Purpose-built Nurses’ Homes were designed along panoptic principles, situating the Matron’s quarters adjacent to the main exit, an arrangement that gave the impression that the foyer was under constant supervision. Anyone entering or exiting the residence was required to sign a log, and bedrooms were checked for absent (or extra) bodies every evening. Strict curfews were enforced with the threat of dismissal, and reinforced with the possibility of character assassination for young women seen “out on the town” after curfew. In this latter area, the hospital enlisted the aid of the surrounding community as observers and judges of nurses’ conduct, and upright citizens regularly informed managers of suspected infractions by students.

On the hospital wards, surveillance took its shape via the ideology of scientific management. By the 1910’s, hospital managers had joined the cult of efficiency, and strongly believed that minute regulation of workers’ time and motion would lead to increased production and lower costs, concepts which fit awkwardly into the provision of health care but which nevertheless persist in hospital management to this day. [3] To this end, nurses were monitored carefully as they learned nursing tasks in a deskilled [4], routinized manner, with harsh discipline as the reward for lapses of technique or behaviour. A fundamental goal of this system was that students would internalize the observing eye, and like Jeremy Bentham’s panopticized prisoners, govern their behaviour according to the priorities of the institution.

Although there were obvious functional reasons for hospitals to maintain strict control over their unpaid labour force, the diligence with which such controls were implemented cannot be explained without attention to the larger discursive webs in which hospitals and nurses were caught. Rapid urbanisation and economic change in Canada, with the attendant increases in single women's urban employment and public visibility, fostered in the imaginations of civic leaders the spectre of the 'woman adrift', the young working girl living in unsupervised residences in an urban environment, untended by patriarchal authority. Promoting women's chaperoned boarding houses, the Toronto Star-Weekly prodaimed in 1917: "It would seem to be but our duty, from an economic as well as a humanitarian stand-point, to see that [the working girl] lives under conditions which tend to make her more efficient, as well as a worthy citizen. It is not too much to say that the future of our country lies in the hands of these girls.” This disingenuous language reflects (in part) anxieties about “degeneracy” that brought us such historical highlights as eugenic sterilization and the Chinese head tax. Regulation of the young female student nurses was thereby elevated to the level of a patriotic duty. Hospitals as major Canadian institutions bought into this wholesale, boasting that their system of discipline and training worked to produce “the best type of Canadian womanhood.”

With the future of the nation apparently at stake, there was little or no concern expressed about the privacy or autonomy of student nurses. [5] No privacy laws governed the surveillance of these young women – there were compelling moral, economic, political, medical, and other reasons to watch them, and so they were watched.

Without overstating the case, I wonder whether this Heritage Minute tells us a couple of things about reasonable expectations of privacy. To me it says that where fear and prejudice coalesce into social panic, surveillance is a ready tool for the identification and punishment of deviance, and privacy rights will be among the first in a long line of casualties. It also implies that surveillance technology takes the form of whatever is at hand. Hospitals used architectural techniques, documents, holes in walls, and human eyes to watch nurses, and socialized their students to watch themselves and each other. So although resisting the development of new methods of surveillance is important, it’s maybe just as important to keep our eyes on the core reasons why our privacy comes under constant assault. The longevity of the hospital system of nursing training suggests that where serious abrogations of privacy rights have apparent social or economic utility, or where they support the societal status quo, they may persist invisibly or unremarkably for decades.

Thank you. This has been a Canadian Privacy Heritage Minute brought to you by the idTrail.


[1] Even until the 1920’s, most hospital health care was “charitable,” reserved for persons who could not afford home visits by doctors and nurses. Hospitals had poor reputations as charnel-houses until they became the centralized repositories of expensive medical technologies like X-Rays, antiseptic operating theatres, and professional nursing care. This is a long story, for which there is not room here.
[2] Discipline and Punish (NY: Random House Vintage Books, 1979) at 172-173.
[3] Recently some RFID manufacturers and hospital administrators have proposed that increased efficiency could be achieved by attaching RFID tags to the bodies of hospital workers and patients, thus facilitating a constant surveillance of their motions through real-time monitoring from a central site.
[4] The “skill” level of the tasks taught to nurses is the subject of a healthy historical debate which has the “professional” status of nursing at stake in its outcome.
[5] Student nurses themselves expressed such concerns, and acted on them in important and effective ways, but that is a story for another time.

A Canadian Privacy Heritage Minute: Surveillance, Discipline, and Nursing Education

trailmixbanner.gif

In this particular historical moment of fetishized “security” and state-sponsored surveillance carried out “for our own good,” it is tempting for some of us to think that we are reaching some low point in the history of privacy, where new technologies already allow the deployment of an Orwellian omniscience by states and corporations. This may indeed be so, but some research I did some years ago on the history of nursing education (of all things) has inclined me (a privacy advocacy neophyte) to wonder if the drive for total surveillance is neither novel nor dependent upon new technologies. In the spirit of Heritage Canada’s iconic television spots, I offer my own “Privacy Heritage Minute,” with all the skeletal theoretical framework, carefully-selected facts and simplistic moral that such an approach implies.

Prior to the 1950s, most Canadian nurses (who were predominantly young, white, unmarried women) were trained through an apprenticeship system, learning their craft by working for three years unpaid on hospital wards. This training was extremely arduous and strictly regimented, and was overseen by a limited number of paid nurse overseers and by senior nurse apprentices. The vast bulk of nursing labour in hospitals was completed by students, who lived on the hospital campus and seldom left the site until their training was complete.

Beginning in the late 19th century, it was understood that moral rectitude (read virginity) and feminine deference (read unquestioning obedience) were key characteristics of the ideal nurse. In part this was because prevailing models of health contained an unmistakably moral component (as arguably they still do – see the rhetoric around obesity, heart disease, HIV, etc.). Likewise hospitals, which were in competition for the dollars of wealthy patients and donors, used the image of the physically and morally clean (female) student nurse as advertising to convince the well-to-do of the safety and efficacy of institutional health care. [1]

Hospitals posted extensive lists of rules intended to ensure the proper behaviour of their student nurses. Obedience was far too important to be entrusted simply to sets of rules, however. As was explained in one nurses’ orientation manual, each individual would be “carefully watched to ensure strict obedience.” Surveillance, embodied in the policies, procedures, and the very architecture of the training school and Nurses’ Home, provided the disciplinary backbone for nursing training. Michel Foucault described similar developments with respect to 18th-century reform schools and prisons in Discipline and Punish: “We have here a sketch of an institution ... in which three procedures are integrated into a single mechanism: teaching proper, the acquisition of knowledge by the very practice of the pedagogical activity, and a reciprocal, hierarchised observation.”

Surveillance of student nurses began from the moment they applied to their training. Candidates underwent gynecological screening tests, which allowed hospital management to determine whether the candidates showed signs of sexually transmitted diseases, previous pregnancy, or loss of virginity. Applicants who showed evidence of such indiscretions were likely to be rejected as “not suitable to become a nurse.” This managerial anxiety over sexuality permeated the apprenticeship program. Of particular concern in these all-female spaces was homosexuality, a “vice” that dared not speak its name but that nevertheless attracted careful scrutiny by managers and hospital trustees. As one former nurse explained to me,

A rule was posted that ‘only one may bathe at a time’. We didn’t have time to wait in the mornings, so we often shared showers and tubs. The bathrooms were patrolled [by matrons] and so if a matronly voice said ‘is there only one of you in the tub,’ our rule was that only the one in the middle would call out ‘Yes, miss!’. I realized later that they were scared stiff of lesbianism.

In some residences, bath doors were designed like the swinging doors of saloons with spaces above and below, a technology of observation noted by Foucault at Paris-Duverney's Ecole Militaire. [2]

Surveillance was also trained upon the movements of apprentice nurses in their leisure time and private spaces. Purpose-built Nurses’ Homes were designed along panoptic principles, situating the Matron’s quarters adjacent to the main exit, an arrangement that gave the impression that the foyer was under constant supervision. Anyone entering or exiting the residence was required to sign a log, and bedrooms were checked for absent (or extra) bodies every evening. Strict curfews were enforced with the threat of dismissal, and reinforced with the possibility of character assassination for young women seen “out on the town” after curfew. In this latter area, the hospital enlisted the aid of the surrounding community as observers and judges of nurses’ conduct, and upright citizens regularly informed managers of suspected infractions by students.

On the hospital wards, surveillance took its shape via the ideology of scientific management. By the 1910’s, hospital managers had joined the cult of efficiency, and strongly believed that minute regulation of workers’ time and motion would lead to increased production and lower costs, concepts which fit awkwardly into the provision of health care but which nevertheless persist in hospital management to this day. [3] To this end, nurses were monitored carefully as they learned nursing tasks in a deskilled [4], routinized manner, with harsh discipline as the reward for lapses of technique or behaviour. A fundamental goal of this system was that students would internalize the observing eye, and like Jeremy Bentham’s panopticized prisoners, govern their behaviour according to the priorities of the institution.

Although there were obvious functional reasons for hospitals to maintain strict control over their unpaid labour force, the diligence with which such controls were implemented cannot be explained without attention to the larger discursive webs in which hospitals and nurses were caught. Rapid urbanisation and economic change in Canada, with the attendant increases in single women's urban employment and public visibility, fostered in the imaginations of civic leaders the spectre of the 'woman adrift', the young working girl living in unsupervised residences in an urban environment, untended by patriarchal authority. Promoting women's chaperoned boarding houses, the Toronto Star-Weekly prodaimed in 1917: "It would seem to be but our duty, from an economic as well as a humanitarian stand-point, to see that [the working girl] lives under conditions which tend to make her more efficient, as well as a worthy citizen. It is not too much to say that the future of our country lies in the hands of these girls.” This disingenuous language reflects (in part) anxieties about “degeneracy” that brought us such historical highlights as eugenic sterilization and the Chinese head tax. Regulation of the young female student nurses was thereby elevated to the level of a patriotic duty. Hospitals as major Canadian institutions bought into this wholesale, boasting that their system of discipline and training worked to produce “the best type of Canadian womanhood.”

With the future of the nation apparently at stake, there was little or no concern expressed about the privacy or autonomy of student nurses. [5] No privacy laws governed the surveillance of these young women – there were compelling moral, economic, political, medical, and other reasons to watch them, and so they were watched.

Without overstating the case, I wonder whether this Heritage Minute tells us a couple of things about reasonable expectations of privacy. To me it says that where fear and prejudice coalesce into social panic, surveillance is a ready tool for the identification and punishment of deviance, and privacy rights will be among the first in a long line of casualties. It also implies that surveillance technology takes the form of whatever is at hand. Hospitals used architectural techniques, documents, holes in walls, and human eyes to watch nurses, and socialized their students to watch themselves and each other. So although resisting the development of new methods of surveillance is important, it’s maybe just as important to keep our eyes on the core reasons why our privacy comes under constant assault. The longevity of the hospital system of nursing training suggests that where serious abrogations of privacy rights have apparent social or economic utility, or where they support the societal status quo, they may persist invisibly or unremarkably for decades.

Thank you. This has been a Canadian Privacy Heritage Minute brought to you by the idTrail.


[1] Even until the 1920’s, most hospital health care was “charitable,” reserved for persons who could not afford home visits by doctors and nurses. Hospitals had poor reputations as charnel-houses until they became the centralized repositories of expensive medical technologies like X-Rays, antiseptic operating theatres, and professional nursing care. This is a long story, for which there is not room here.
[2] Discipline and Punish (NY: Random House Vintage Books, 1979) at 172-173.
[3] Recently some RFID manufacturers and hospital administrators have proposed that increased efficiency could be achieved by attaching RFID tags to the bodies of hospital workers and patients, thus facilitating a constant surveillance of their motions through real-time monitoring from a central site.
[4] The “skill” level of the tasks taught to nurses is the subject of a healthy historical debate which has the “professional” status of nursing at stake in its outcome.
[5] Student nurses themselves expressed such concerns, and acted on them in important and effective ways, but that is a story for another time.

The Wrong Kind of Privacy

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I recently received news that my friend Kelly was found dead in her single room occupancy [1] hotel in Vancouver, several days after she had died. [2]

I knew Kelly as a great force working to improve the lives of street level sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). Feeling far away and alone in my grief, I googled her to see whether anything had been written about her death. To my surprise, I found a handful of references to her (full name included) as a participant in a free heroin trial program, and identifying her as a woman living out of a shopping cart in Canada’s poorest postal code. I was frustrated and angry that this one-dimensional sketch of Kelly, involving incredibly private details about her life, was so accessible. My first instinct was to wonder whether she had consented to having her name published in these articles. But then a different, and rather more pressing set of questions struck me.

Why, when so few people took notice of her daily existence and suffering, when she was allowed to die almost invisibly – was it possible for me to access information about her health, [3] her poverty and her homelessness on the World Wide Web? I couldn’t shake the idea that Kelly had too much of the wrong kind of privacy.

Kelly didn’t need the state to be kept “out”. [4] She needed the state and society more broadly to be let “in”, to actively participate in her existence by recognizing her humanity and not remaining indifferent to her poverty. The privacy she needed is that which comes from access to private property and adequate housing. The privacy she needed was that which would have enabled her to develop her identity and sense of self outside of the apathetic public scrutiny that happens on the street where the privileged are indifferent voyeurs of suffering.

What is privacy, anyways?
I write this with the qualification that it is not entirely clear to me what privacy is. I am puzzled about what it means for something to be “private”, what it means for someone, or some identifiable group, to have a right or an interest in “privacy”, or what exactly happens when this peculiar thing known as “privacy” is lost.

Warren and Brandeis famously quoted Judge Cooley’s definition, describing privacy as a right “to be let alone”. [5] Westin is most frequently attributed with informing us that privacy is about a right to control information about ourselves. [6] Judith Jarvis Thompson said privacy is a reductive concept that essentially consists of clustered property rights and rights to ones own person. [7] Ruth Gavison and Anita Allen have identified privacy as a limitation of access to individuals. [8] Richard Bloustein outlined privacy as integral to human dignity. [9] Jeffrey Reiman offered a notion of privacy as critical for personhood formation. [10] Many other wise theorists have offered still more accounts of privacy, more attempts to define what remains, in many senses, opaque.

Legally, the concept of privacy has largely developed in the context of rights of the individual accused as against the state. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that privacy is an instrumental right – integral to the realization of fundamental entitlements such as liberty, security of the person, and equality. [11] Section 8 Charter jurisprudence instructs that there is a distinction to be drawn between public and private space – fostering the notion that we are, at least in some ways, entitled to less privacy in public. [12]

So what’s the problem?
Almost all of this theorizing and analysis seems to take for granted that everyone has access to private space. It assumes a means to limit or control access to oneself. It further assumes that while privacy may not be a fundamental right in and of itself, it is an intrinsic aspect of human life that must be vigilantly protected from theft by the state, the corporate world, or other actors. The reality is that this access and these means are far from universal and that sometimes state intervention and support is necessary in order to foster privacy and/or the ends that privacy aims to achieve (like dignity, autonomous decision-making, the ability to exercise even constrained ‘choice’ with respect to decisions of a private nature, etc.). [13]

The notion of an obligation on the state to protect vulnerable people, even from activities that occur in otherwise private settings, is not new. Largely as a result of feminist activism, the idea of a man’s home as his impenetrable castle – a sacrosanct space that should be fiercely guarded from the hands of the law no matter what occurs within – has been challenged and discredited. It is not okay for the state to remain passive when a person is beaten-up or raped by her spouse. The legacy, however, of the historical role of privacy in protecting male domination of women in the marital home is significant and enduring. Martha Nussbaum, for example, warns: “anyone who takes up the weapon of privacy in the cause of women’s equality must be aware that it is a double edged weapon, long used to defend the killers of women.” [14]

Suspect of privacy, and at the risk of being perceived as taking it up as a “weapon”, I am becoming increasingly interested in arguments that call on the state to facilitate the privacy of historically marginalized groups - like women living and working on the streets. If the law has deemed it inappropriate for the state to ignore abuses suffered by women in their homes, it should not be permissible for the law –and for individuals more generally- to ignore the poverty of women working and living on Canada’s streets. It is their poverty that forces them into public space, and robs them of the privileges of privacy.

Elisabeth Paton-Simpson has pointed out that, “contrary to a widely held assumption in privacy law, reasonable people do not intend to waive all rights to privacy by appearing in public places.” [15] However, Paton-Simpson does not discuss the reality that many Canadians do not have the option to choose whether to appear in public or whether to leave the relative security of their homes – because they have no homes. [16] Unlike the people Paton-Simpson discusses, homeless and precariously housed Canadians have no option to “trust” that they will not be made objects of media excesses and advances in surveillance technology. [17] And yet, while they are infinitely accessible and have no adequate private space within which to develop – they are simultaneously scorned, ignored, and turned into ghosts counted only in studies and statistics. [18]

Final thoughts
Privacy comes in degrees. [19] A person or group of people can conceivably have too much privacy – or not enough. Indeed, without regular access to private property or the capacity to ensure that personal information is not made publicly available, a person’s existence can be completely lived in the presence of others.

It is understandable why legal and philosophical concern about privacy has been focused on protecting against loss of privacy. I think, however, that we need to refocus our attention on whether in some cases positive action is required to facilitate privacy and the goods associated with it (like dignity, security of the person, and liberty). We need to begin addressing the role of the state, the corporate world, and communities in facilitating conditions conducive to the “privacy” that continues to be erroneously assumed as the starting point for all.

Many of my friend Kelly’s daily rituals, no matter how intimate, were performed in “public” – they were accessible to all who passed by, and yet the three-dimensionality of her life and eventually her death remain invisible to most. We are repulsed, we simply don’t give a damn, or we actively disengage and explain-away our responsibility to pay attention, to do something, and to not let people who are in need of assistance alone. Perhaps until we learn better when it is okay to look away, we should take a positive obligation to facilitate privacy as our starting point – so that women do not go missing or die unnoticed.


[1] Single room occupancy (SRO) residential hotel units represent the most basic shelter provided for low-income individuals living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). The people who live in SRO buildings are low-income singles at high risk of homelessness.
[2] This is not her real name.
[3] I am writing from a perspective that treats drug use as a health issue.
[4] This is intended as a reference to privacy as involving an entitlement to keep the antagonistic state out of the lives of individuals.
[5] Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis, “The Right to Privacy” (1890) 4 Harv.L.Rev. 193. at p. 195.
[6] Alan F. Westin, Privacy and Freedom (New York: Atheneum, 1967) at p. 7.
[7] Judith Jarvis Thomson, “The Right to Privacy” (1975) 4 Philosophy and Public Affairs 295-314
[8] Ruth Gavison, “Privacy and the Limits of Law,” (1980) 89 Yale Law Journal at p. 428; Anita Allen, Uneasy Access (New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1988).
[9] Bloustein, E.J., “Privacy as an aspect of human dignity: An answer to Dean Prosser,” (1964) 39 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 963. It is worth noting that Bloustein is referencing “dignity” in what some might call the liberty sense, and not the equality sense. He writes of privacy as dignity offending by explaining: “an intrusion of our privacy threatens our liberty as individuals to do as we will, just as an assault, a battery or imprisonment of our person does.” at p. 1002.
[10] Jeffrey Reiman “Privacy, Intimacy, and Personhood” (1976) 6 Philosophy and Public Affairs at p. 26
[11] See for example: R. v. Dyment, [1988] 2 S.C.R. 417 at paras. 17, 21-22; R v. O’Conner [1995] 4 S.C.R. 411 at paras. 110-113, 115; R. v. Mills, [1999] S.C.J. No. 68 at 91.
[12] Section 8 of the Charter provides that “[e]veryone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure.” In R. v. Silveira, [1995] 2 S.C.R. 297, at para. 140, Cory J, found: “[t]here is no place on earth where persons can have a greater expectation of privacy than within their 'dwelling-house'”. See also: R. v. Tessling, [2004] S.C.J. No. 63, in which the SCC indicated that expectations of privacy are less reasonable when one moves outside of the sphere of the home, at para 22.
[13] On privacy’s functional role in facilitating dignity, integrity and autonomy see: R. v. Mills, [1999] S.C.J. No. 68 at para 81.
[14] Martha Nussbaum, “What’s Privacy Got to Do With It: A Comparative Approach to the Feminist Critique” in Women and the United States Constitution: History, Interpretation, and Practice ed. Sibyl A. Schwarzenbach and Patricia Smith (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003) at 164.
[15] Elizabeth Paton-Simpson, “Privacy and the Reasonable Paranoid: The Protection of Privacy in Public Places,” (Summer, 2000) 50 Univ. of Toronto L.J. 305.
[16] Canada has no official data on homelessness – an omission which has attracted critique from the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. For a somewhat dated discussion of this, see: Patricia Begin, Lyne Casavant, Nancy Miller Chenier, & Jean Dupuis, “Homelessness,” Political and Social Affairs Division, Parliamentary Research Branch, 1999. Online: http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection-R/LoPBdP/modules/prb99-1-homelessness/index-e.htm
[17] Elizabeth Paton-Simpson, supra note 15: “To the extent that they have any choice in the matter, [reasonable people] generally refuse to be governed by suspicion and paranoia, preferring to trust that their privacy will be respected. They leave the relative security of their homes in order to survive and participate in society, and their experience and expectation is that public places do afford varying degrees of privacy.”
[18] In using the term “ghosts,” I am mindful of Jeffrey Reiman’s theory that there would be no person, or moral agent, to whom moral rights could be ascribed if it weren’t for the boundary drawing, person creating, “social rituals” we call privacy. According to Reiman, privacy “protects the individual’s interest in becoming, being, and remaining a person”: Jeffrey Reiman, supra note 10 at p. 25, 43-44. Charles Fried has similarly made the point that privacy is integral “to regarding ourselves as the objects of love, trust and affection” to understanding ourselves “as persons among persons”: Charles Fried, “Privacy” (1967-68), 77 Yale L.J. 475, at p. 477-78.
[19] I am not speaking here about what courts sometime refer to as “degrees of privacy” in the Charter s. 8 context - as dependent on the type of search (the degree of rights, for example, yielded by a search of a person, as opposed to a search of a person’s home or vehicle). See, for example, Roback v. Chiang, [2003] B.C.J. No. 3127 at para 14.

The Wrong Kind of Privacy

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I recently received news that my friend Kelly was found dead in her single room occupancy [1] hotel in Vancouver, several days after she had died. [2]

I knew Kelly as a great force working to improve the lives of street level sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). Feeling far away and alone in my grief, I googled her to see whether anything had been written about her death. To my surprise, I found a handful of references to her (full name included) as a participant in a free heroin trial program, and identifying her as a woman living out of a shopping cart in Canada’s poorest postal code. I was frustrated and angry that this one-dimensional sketch of Kelly, involving incredibly private details about her life, was so accessible. My first instinct was to wonder whether she had consented to having her name published in these articles. But then a different, and rather more pressing set of questions struck me.

Why, when so few people took notice of her daily existence and suffering, when she was allowed to die almost invisibly – was it possible for me to access information about her health, [3] her poverty and her homelessness on the World Wide Web? I couldn’t shake the idea that Kelly had too much of the wrong kind of privacy.

Kelly didn’t need the state to be kept “out”. [4] She needed the state and society more broadly to be let “in”, to actively participate in her existence by recognizing her humanity and not remaining indifferent to her poverty. The privacy she needed is that which comes from access to private property and adequate housing. The privacy she needed was that which would have enabled her to develop her identity and sense of self outside of the apathetic public scrutiny that happens on the street where the privileged are indifferent voyeurs of suffering.

What is privacy, anyways?
I write this with the qualification that it is not entirely clear to me what privacy is. I am puzzled about what it means for something to be “private”, what it means for someone, or some identifiable group, to have a right or an interest in “privacy”, or what exactly happens when this peculiar thing known as “privacy” is lost.

Warren and Brandeis famously quoted Judge Cooley’s definition, describing privacy as a right “to be let alone”. [5] Westin is most frequently attributed with informing us that privacy is about a right to control information about ourselves. [6] Judith Jarvis Thompson said privacy is a reductive concept that essentially consists of clustered property rights and rights to ones own person. [7] Ruth Gavison and Anita Allen have identified privacy as a limitation of access to individuals. [8] Richard Bloustein outlined privacy as integral to human dignity. [9] Jeffrey Reiman offered a notion of privacy as critical for personhood formation. [10] Many other wise theorists have offered still more accounts of privacy, more attempts to define what remains, in many senses, opaque.

Legally, the concept of privacy has largely developed in the context of rights of the individual accused as against the state. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that privacy is an instrumental right – integral to the realization of fundamental entitlements such as liberty, security of the person, and equality. [11] Section 8 Charter jurisprudence instructs that there is a distinction to be drawn between public and private space – fostering the notion that we are, at least in some ways, entitled to less privacy in public. [12]

So what’s the problem?
Almost all of this theorizing and analysis seems to take for granted that everyone has access to private space. It assumes a means to limit or control access to oneself. It further assumes that while privacy may not be a fundamental right in and of itself, it is an intrinsic aspect of human life that must be vigilantly protected from theft by the state, the corporate world, or other actors. The reality is that this access and these means are far from universal and that sometimes state intervention and support is necessary in order to foster privacy and/or the ends that privacy aims to achieve (like dignity, autonomous decision-making, the ability to exercise even constrained ‘choice’ with respect to decisions of a private nature, etc.). [13]

The notion of an obligation on the state to protect vulnerable people, even from activities that occur in otherwise private settings, is not new. Largely as a result of feminist activism, the idea of a man’s home as his impenetrable castle – a sacrosanct space that should be fiercely guarded from the hands of the law no matter what occurs within – has been challenged and discredited. It is not okay for the state to remain passive when a person is beaten-up or raped by her spouse. The legacy, however, of the historical role of privacy in protecting male domination of women in the marital home is significant and enduring. Martha Nussbaum, for example, warns: “anyone who takes up the weapon of privacy in the cause of women’s equality must be aware that it is a double edged weapon, long used to defend the killers of women.” [14]

Suspect of privacy, and at the risk of being perceived as taking it up as a “weapon”, I am becoming increasingly interested in arguments that call on the state to facilitate the privacy of historically marginalized groups - like women living and working on the streets. If the law has deemed it inappropriate for the state to ignore abuses suffered by women in their homes, it should not be permissible for the law –and for individuals more generally- to ignore the poverty of women working and living on Canada’s streets. It is their poverty that forces them into public space, and robs them of the privileges of privacy.

Elisabeth Paton-Simpson has pointed out that, “contrary to a widely held assumption in privacy law, reasonable people do not intend to waive all rights to privacy by appearing in public places.” [15] However, Paton-Simpson does not discuss the reality that many Canadians do not have the option to choose whether to appear in public or whether to leave the relative security of their homes – because they have no homes. [16] Unlike the people Paton-Simpson discusses, homeless and precariously housed Canadians have no option to “trust” that they will not be made objects of media excesses and advances in surveillance technology. [17] And yet, while they are infinitely accessible and have no adequate private space within which to develop – they are simultaneously scorned, ignored, and turned into ghosts counted only in studies and statistics. [18]

Final thoughts
Privacy comes in degrees. [19] A person or group of people can conceivably have too much privacy – or not enough. Indeed, without regular access to private property or the capacity to ensure that personal information is not made publicly available, a person’s existence can be completely lived in the presence of others.

It is understandable why legal and philosophical concern about privacy has been focused on protecting against loss of privacy. I think, however, that we need to refocus our attention on whether in some cases positive action is required to facilitate privacy and the goods associated with it (like dignity, security of the person, and liberty). We need to begin addressing the role of the state, the corporate world, and communities in facilitating conditions conducive to the “privacy” that continues to be erroneously assumed as the starting point for all.

Many of my friend Kelly’s daily rituals, no matter how intimate, were performed in “public” – they were accessible to all who passed by, and yet the three-dimensionality of her life and eventually her death remain invisible to most. We are repulsed, we simply don’t give a damn, or we actively disengage and explain-away our responsibility to pay attention, to do something, and to not let people who are in need of assistance alone. Perhaps until we learn better when it is okay to look away, we should take a positive obligation to facilitate privacy as our starting point – so that women do not go missing or die unnoticed.


[1] Single room occupancy (SRO) residential hotel units represent the most basic shelter provided for low-income individuals living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). The people who live in SRO buildings are low-income singles at high risk of homelessness.
[2] This is not her real name.
[3] I am writing from a perspective that treats drug use as a health issue.
[4] This is intended as a reference to privacy as involving an entitlement to keep the antagonistic state out of the lives of individuals.
[5] Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis, “The Right to Privacy” (1890) 4 Harv.L.Rev. 193. at p. 195.
[6] Alan F. Westin, Privacy and Freedom (New York: Atheneum, 1967) at p. 7.
[7] Judith Jarvis Thomson, “The Right to Privacy” (1975) 4 Philosophy and Public Affairs 295-314
[8] Ruth Gavison, “Privacy and the Limits of Law,” (1980) 89 Yale Law Journal at p. 428; Anita Allen, Uneasy Access (New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1988).
[9] Bloustein, E.J., “Privacy as an aspect of human dignity: An answer to Dean Prosser,” (1964) 39 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 963. It is worth noting that Bloustein is referencing “dignity” in what some might call the liberty sense, and not the equality sense. He writes of privacy as dignity offending by explaining: “an intrusion of our privacy threatens our liberty as individuals to do as we will, just as an assault, a battery or imprisonment of our person does.” at p. 1002.
[10] Jeffrey Reiman “Privacy, Intimacy, and Personhood” (1976) 6 Philosophy and Public Affairs at p. 26
[11] See for example: R. v. Dyment, [1988] 2 S.C.R. 417 at paras. 17, 21-22; R v. O’Conner [1995] 4 S.C.R. 411 at paras. 110-113, 115; R. v. Mills, [1999] S.C.J. No. 68 at 91.
[12] Section 8 of the Charter provides that “[e]veryone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure.” In R. v. Silveira, [1995] 2 S.C.R. 297, at para. 140, Cory J, found: “[t]here is no place on earth where persons can have a greater expectation of privacy than within their 'dwelling-house'”. See also: R. v. Tessling, [2004] S.C.J. No. 63, in which the SCC indicated that expectations of privacy are less reasonable when one moves outside of the sphere of the home, at para 22.
[13] On privacy’s functional role in facilitating dignity, integrity and autonomy see: R. v. Mills, [1999] S.C.J. No. 68 at para 81.
[14] Martha Nussbaum, “What’s Privacy Got to Do With It: A Comparative Approach to the Feminist Critique” in Women and the United States Constitution: History, Interpretation, and Practice ed. Sibyl A. Schwarzenbach and Patricia Smith (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003) at 164.
[15] Elizabeth Paton-Simpson, “Privacy and the Reasonable Paranoid: The Protection of Privacy in Public Places,” (Summer, 2000) 50 Univ. of Toronto L.J. 305.
[16] Canada has no official data on homelessness – an omission which has attracted critique from the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. For a somewhat dated discussion of this, see: Patricia Begin, Lyne Casavant, Nancy Miller Chenier, & Jean Dupuis, “Homelessness,” Political and Social Affairs Division, Parliamentary Research Branch, 1999. Online: http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection-R/LoPBdP/modules/prb99-1-homelessness/index-e.htm
[17] Elizabeth Paton-Simpson, supra note 15: “To the extent that they have any choice in the matter, [reasonable people] generally refuse to be governed by suspicion and paranoia, preferring to trust that their privacy will be respected. They leave the relative security of their homes in order to survive and participate in society, and their experience and expectation is that public places do afford varying degrees of privacy.”
[18] In using the term “ghosts,” I am mindful of Jeffrey Reiman’s theory that there would be no person, or moral agent, to whom moral rights could be ascribed if it weren’t for the boundary drawing, person creating, “social rituals” we call privacy. According to Reiman, privacy “protects the individual’s interest in becoming, being, and remaining a person”: Jeffrey Reiman, supra note 10 at p. 25, 43-44. Charles Fried has similarly made the point that privacy is integral “to regarding ourselves as the objects of love, trust and affection” to understanding ourselves “as persons among persons”: Charles Fried, “Privacy” (1967-68), 77 Yale L.J. 475, at p. 477-78.
[19] I am not speaking here about what courts sometime refer to as “degrees of privacy” in the Charter s. 8 context - as dependent on the type of search (the degree of rights, for example, yielded by a search of a person, as opposed to a search of a person’s home or vehicle). See, for example, Roback v. Chiang, [2003] B.C.J. No. 3127 at para 14.

For Better, For Worse, or Until I Decide to Spy on You

trailmixbanner.gif Being recently married, I still haven’t quite adjusted to the idea that you can’t change certain traits in your spouse. For example, my other half tends to view cell phones as a leash, and he regularly “forgets” to call me when he’s going to be late, or going out after class or work. As a result, I end up panicking, thinking he has been in a terrible accident and is unconscious somewhere, and I promptly begin my routine of repeatedly calling his cellphone (which is usually off or at the bottom of his bag on silent mode). By the time he finally gets to the phone and sees 18 missed-calls from me, I’m usually anxiety ridden and he calls me laughing, telling me I’m crazy, and that he’s on his way home. This conversation is usually followed by certain expletives and ends with my threat that I’m going to implant Continue reading "For Better, For Worse, or Until I Decide to Spy on You"

Cash(less) on the Road

trailmixbanner.gif Credit cards and databases/data-mining/data aggregation. How does the database nation get affected by a cashless society? I recently had the opportunity to dwell upon the loss of anonymity as we continue the path to cashless-ness. It was on one of those west coast road trips that seem like the perfect way to cap off a summer. Driving to South Bay This August, a couple of friends and I drove down to the Bay Area of California from Vancouver to visit with friends working there. An interesting exercise we got caught up in was to see how difficult it would be to “stay off the radar”. Although we realized that giving out personal information itself is not dangerous, but rather simply provides a possibility for misuse, the recent discourse on domestic spying and the Patriot Act in the US got us to think deeper about sharing our spending habits with US Continue reading "Cash(less) on the Road"

Existing and Emerging Privacy-based Limits In Litigation and Electronic Discovery

trailmixbanner.gif Privacy law is increasingly important in litigation in Canada. Contemporary litigants routinely file requests for access to their personal information under PIPEDA and its provincial counterparts. Such requests can give a party a partial head-start on litigation discovery, or aid a party in rooting out information held by an opponent or potential opponent. That said, with some possible room for improvement (at least in the case of PIPEDA), [1] data protection law in Canada takes a relatively hands-off approach when it comes to legal proceedings. Parties in legal proceedings are generally required to disclose information in accordance with long-standing litigation rules and are largely exempted from restrictions that might otherwise be applicable under data protection laws in other contexts. Yet, this does not mean that privacy considerations are not relevant or applicable to discovery in legal proceedings. This short article identifies some existing and emerging privacy-based limits in litigation discovery Continue reading "Existing and Emerging Privacy-based Limits In Litigation and Electronic Discovery"

Blogging While Female, Online Inequality and the Law

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“Those who worry about the perils women face behind closed doors in the real world will also find analogous perils facing women in cyberspace. Rape, sexual harassment, prying, eavesdropping, emotional injury, and accidents happen in cyberspace and as a consequence of interaction that commences in cyberspace.”

- Anita Allen, “Gender and Privacy” (2000) 52 Stan. L Rev. at 1184.

In 2006, the University of Maryland’s Clark School of Engineering released a study assessing the threat of attacks associated with the chat medium IRC (Internet Relay Chat). The authors observed that users with female identifiers were “far more likely” to receive malicious private messages and slightly more likely to receive files and links. [1] Users with ambiguous names were less likely to receive malicious private messages than female users, but more likely to receive them than male users. [2] The results of the study indicated that the attacks came from human chat-users who selected their targets, rather than automated scripts programmed to send attacks to everyone on the channel.

The findings of this study highlight the realities that many women face when they are online. From the early days of cyberspace, women who identify as female are frequently subject to hostility and harassment in gendered and sexually threatening terms. [3] These actions typically stem from anonymous users.

Recent news articles from around the world have chronicled the latest spate of online misogyny. [4] Not only have the women bloggers in these cases been personally threatened, their images distorted and disseminated, in some cases their blogs and websites have also been subject to denial of service (DoS) attacks. Feminists [5] and women who blog about contentious political or social issues are not the only women who are singled out for abuse. Similar patterns of violent threats have also been directed toward women who blog about the daily life of a single mother, [6] computer programming, [7] and a variety of ordinary interests on sites with a female following, but no feminist content or agenda.

The effects of repeated online harassment has profound consequences for women’s equality online and in the real world. Online threats and attacks can have had a chilling effect on women’s expression. [8] Some women may either stop participating in open online forums, unless under the cloak of anonymity or pseudonymity, or self-censor their speech, rather than risk being the subject of violent threats or DoS attacks. These choices reduce a woman’s online identity to being the invisible woman, or a quieter, edited version of herself. Fortunately, women actively continue to blog and participate in cyber-life in the face of threats and harassment, with the support of both women and men in online communities.

Women’s retreat from the Internet can also have an economic impact on those seeking entry into technology-based labour markets. One prominent technology blogger observed: “If women aren’t willing to show up for networking events [because of harassment], either offline or online, then they’re never going to be included in the industry.” [9] Women’s absence from the creative process also has implications for equality in terms of influencing what kinds of technology are made, and what societal interests those innovations ultimately serve. [10]

To date, the law has provided a limited response to harms directed against women online. Traditional torts such as defamation are available, but are difficult to pursue against multiple, anonymous individuals who could be anywhere in the world. In light of the uncertainly in Canadian case law, [11] a claim for invasion of privacy would be very challenging to make in the absence of an appellate level decision recognizing the right to privacy. An action for intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress may also be possible, although plaintiffs must meet stringent standards to succeed. [12] Complainants may have difficulty overcoming the view that in the absence of physical contact, no real harm can be inflicted in the virtual world, particularly within the context of fantasy/gaming environments.

Without a more complete and critical examination of actions that target women in cyberspace, there is the danger of reinforcing substantive inequality by dismissing the individual and social harm experienced as an “natural” part of online life. Although tort actions represent some avenues for redress, they are individual, private law remedies that do not speak to the public nature of harms against women. While criminal sanctions for assault, obscenity, hate speech and uttering threats are possible, they would only apply if actions could be proved to fall within Criminal Code [13] definitions and precedents. It should not be forgotten that women continue to face difficulties with the law in seeking protection from, and compensation for violence, harassment, discrimination and exploitation experienced in the real world. [14]

Given the market drive for more intense and realistic sensory experiences in the virtual world, it is not far-fetched to foresee online acts that more closely reflect conventional legal and social notions of physical and sexual violence in the future. [15] As “[t]he courts will increasingly be confronted with issues that are ‘lying in wait’ as virtual worlds expand,” [16] so too will feminists, lawyers, and policy makers be faced with opportunities to think about how to expand the law in favour of greater equality.

[1] Robert Meyer and Michel Cukier, “Assessing the Attack Threat due to IRC Channels,” (2006) University of Maryland School of Engineering, at 5-6 http://www.enre.umd.edu/content/rmeyer-assessing.pdf
[2] Ibid.
[3] See Rebecca K. Lee, “Romantic and Electronic Stalking in a College Context,” (1998) 4 WM. & Mary J. Women & L. 373 at 404, 405-6 which discusses sexual harassment from e-mail messages, in chat rooms, and Usenet newsgroups. A well-known account of sexualized threats towards female and androgynous virtual personas and the emotional harm experienced by the real-life participants is in Julian Dibbell’s, “A Rape in Cyberspace,” My Tiny Life (1998), ch. 1 http://www.juliandibbell.com/texts/bungle.html.
[4] Jessica Valenti, “How the web became a sexists’ paradise” The UK Guardian (April 6, 2007) http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2051394,00.html; Anna Greer, “Misogyny bares its teeth on Internet,” Sydney Morning Herald (August 21, 2007) http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/misogyny-bares-its-teeth-on-internet/2007/08/20/1187462171087.html;
Ellen Nakashima, “Sexual Threats Stifle Some Female Bloggers,” Washington Post (April 30, 2007)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/29/AR2007042901555_pf.html
[5] See Posts on “Greatest Hits: The Public Woman” and “What do we do about Online Harassment?” on Feministe http://feministe.powweb.com/blog/archives/2007/08/09/what-do-we-do-about-online-harassment/?s=online+harassment&submit=Search
[6] Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, supra note 4.
[7] BBC News, “Blog Death Threat Sparks Debate” (27 March 2007) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6499095.stm
[8] Deborah Fallows, “How Women and Men Use the Internet,” Pew Internet & American Life Project (December 28, 2005), at 14 <http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Women_and_Men_online.pdf>. The report states.” “The proportion of internet users who have participated in online chats and discussion groups dropped from 28% in 2000 to as low as 17% in 2005, entirely because of women’s fall off in participation. The drop off occurred during the last few years coincided with increased awareness of and sensitivity to worrisome behavior in chat rooms.”
[9] Nakashima, Washington Post, supra note 4.
[10] For an study on women, technology and power see Judy Wacjman, Technofeminism (Polity Press: Cambridge, UK, 2004).
[11] Recently, lower courts in Ontario have found that complaints are free make a case for invasion of privacy: Somwar v. McDonald’s Restaurant of Canada Ltd., [2006] O.J. No. 64 (Ont. S.C.J.) and Re: Shred-Tech Corp. v. Viveen [2006] O.J. No. 4893. However, the Ontario Court of Appeal has explicitly found that there is no right to privacy in Euteneier v. Lee, [2000] O.J. No. 4533 (SCJ); rev’d [2003] O.J. No. 4239 (SCJ, Div Ct); rev’d (2005) 77 O.R. (2d) 621 (CA) at para 22.
[12] Jennifer McPhee, “New and Novel Torts for Problems in Cyberspace,” Law Times (30 July-August 6 2007) at 13.
[13] Criminal Code ( R.S., 1985, c. C-46 )
[14] Just two examples are: Jane Doe, The Story of Jane Doe: A Book About Rape (Random House: Toronto, 2003) and Patricia Monture-Angus, Thunder in my Soul: A Mohawk Woman Speaks. (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 1995). For an analysis of the limitations of the Supreme Court’s privacy analysis in obscenity, hate propaganda and child pornography cases, see Jane Bailey, Privacy as a Social Value - ID Trail Mix: http://www.anonequity.org/weblog/archives/2007/04/privacy_as_a_social_value_by_j.php
[15] Lydia Dotto, “Real lawsuits set to materialize from virtual worlds; Harm, theft in online gaming may land players in the courts: Precedents few, but Vancouver lawyer thinks cases coming” Toronto Star (2 May 2005) at D 04 (ProQuest).
[16] Ibid.

Blogging While Female, Online Inequality and the Law

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“Those who worry about the perils women face behind closed doors in the real world will also find analogous perils facing women in cyberspace. Rape, sexual harassment, prying, eavesdropping, emotional injury, and accidents happen in cyberspace and as a consequence of interaction that commences in cyberspace.”

- Anita Allen, “Gender and Privacy” (2000) 52 Stan. L Rev. at 1184.

In 2006, the University of Maryland’s Clark School of Engineering released a study assessing the threat of attacks associated with the chat medium IRC (Internet Relay Chat). The authors observed that users with female identifiers were “far more likely” to receive malicious private messages and slightly more likely to receive files and links. [1] Users with ambiguous names were less likely to receive malicious private messages than female users, but more likely to receive them than male users. [2] The results of the study indicated that the attacks came from human chat-users who selected their targets, rather than automated scripts programmed to send attacks to everyone on the channel.

The findings of this study highlight the realities that many women face when they are online. From the early days of cyberspace, women who identify as female are frequently subject to hostility and harassment in gendered and sexually threatening terms. [3] These actions typically stem from anonymous users.

Recent news articles from around the world have chronicled the latest spate of online misogyny. [4] Not only have the women bloggers in these cases been personally threatened, their images distorted and disseminated, in some cases their blogs and websites have also been subject to denial of service (DoS) attacks. Feminists [5] and women who blog about contentious political or social issues are not the only women who are singled out for abuse. Similar patterns of violent threats have also been directed toward women who blog about the daily life of a single mother, [6] computer programming, [7] and a variety of ordinary interests on sites with a female following, but no feminist content or agenda.

The effects of repeated online harassment has profound consequences for women’s equality online and in the real world. Online threats and attacks can have had a chilling effect on women’s expression. [8] Some women may either stop participating in open online forums, unless under the cloak of anonymity or pseudonymity, or self-censor their speech, rather than risk being the subject of violent threats or DoS attacks. These choices reduce a woman’s online identity to being the invisible woman, or a quieter, edited version of herself. Fortunately, women actively continue to blog and participate in cyber-life in the face of threats and harassment, with the support of both women and men in online communities.

Women’s retreat from the Internet can also have an economic impact on those seeking entry into technology-based labour markets. One prominent technology blogger observed: “If women aren’t willing to show up for networking events [because of harassment], either offline or online, then they’re never going to be included in the industry.” [9] Women’s absence from the creative process also has implications for equality in terms of influencing what kinds of technology are made, and what societal interests those innovations ultimately serve. [10]

To date, the law has provided a limited response to harms directed against women online. Traditional torts such as defamation are available, but are difficult to pursue against multiple, anonymous individuals who could be anywhere in the world. In light of the uncertainly in Canadian case law, [11] a claim for invasion of privacy would be very challenging to make in the absence of an appellate level decision recognizing the right to privacy. An action for intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress may also be possible, although plaintiffs must meet stringent standards to succeed. [12] Complainants may have difficulty overcoming the view that in the absence of physical contact, no real harm can be inflicted in the virtual world, particularly within the context of fantasy/gaming environments.

Without a more complete and critical examination of actions that target women in cyberspace, there is the danger of reinforcing substantive inequality by dismissing the individual and social harm experienced as an “natural” part of online life. Although tort actions represent some avenues for redress, they are individual, private law remedies that do not speak to the public nature of harms against women. While criminal sanctions for assault, obscenity, hate speech and uttering threats are possible, they would only apply if actions could be proved to fall within Criminal Code [13] definitions and precedents. It should not be forgotten that women continue to face difficulties with the law in seeking protection from, and compensation for violence, harassment, discrimination and exploitation experienced in the real world. [14]

Given the market drive for more intense and realistic sensory experiences in the virtual world, it is not far-fetched to foresee online acts that more closely reflect conventional legal and social notions of physical and sexual violence in the future. [15] As “[t]he courts will increasingly be confronted with issues that are ‘lying in wait’ as virtual worlds expand,” [16] so too will feminists, lawyers, and policy makers be faced with opportunities to think about how to expand the law in favour of greater equality.

[1] Robert Meyer and Michel Cukier, “Assessing the Attack Threat due to IRC Channels,” (2006) University of Maryland School of Engineering, at 5-6 http://www.enre.umd.edu/content/rmeyer-assessing.pdf
[2] Ibid.
[3] See Rebecca K. Lee, “Romantic and Electronic Stalking in a College Context,” (1998) 4 WM. & Mary J. Women & L. 373 at 404, 405-6 which discusses sexual harassment from e-mail messages, in chat rooms, and Usenet newsgroups. A well-known account of sexualized threats towards female and androgynous virtual personas and the emotional harm experienced by the real-life participants is in Julian Dibbell’s, “A Rape in Cyberspace,” My Tiny Life (1998), ch. 1 http://www.juliandibbell.com/texts/bungle.html.
[4] Jessica Valenti, “How the web became a sexists’ paradise” The UK Guardian (April 6, 2007) http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2051394,00.html; Anna Greer, “Misogyny bares its teeth on Internet,” Sydney Morning Herald (August 21, 2007) http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/misogyny-bares-its-teeth-on-internet/2007/08/20/1187462171087.html;
Ellen Nakashima, “Sexual Threats Stifle Some Female Bloggers,” Washington Post (April 30, 2007)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/29/AR2007042901555_pf.html
[5] See Posts on “Greatest Hits: The Public Woman” and “What do we do about Online Harassment?” on Feministe http://feministe.powweb.com/blog/archives/2007/08/09/what-do-we-do-about-online-harassment/?s=online+harassment&submit=Search
[6] Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, supra note 4.
[7] BBC News, “Blog Death Threat Sparks Debate” (27 March 2007) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6499095.stm
[8] Deborah Fallows, “How Women and Men Use the Internet,” Pew Internet & American Life Project (December 28, 2005), at 14 <http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Women_and_Men_online.pdf>. The report states.” “The proportion of internet users who have participated in online chats and discussion groups dropped from 28% in 2000 to as low as 17% in 2005, entirely because of women’s fall off in participation. The drop off occurred during the last few years coincided with increased awareness of and sensitivity to worrisome behavior in chat rooms.”
[9] Nakashima, Washington Post, supra note 4.
[10] For an study on women, technology and power see Judy Wacjman, Technofeminism (Polity Press: Cambridge, UK, 2004).
[11] Recently, lower courts in Ontario have found that complaints are free make a case for invasion of privacy: Somwar v. McDonald’s Restaurant of Canada Ltd., [2006] O.J. No. 64 (Ont. S.C.J.) and Re: Shred-Tech Corp. v. Viveen [2006] O.J. No. 4893. However, the Ontario Court of Appeal has explicitly found that there is no right to privacy in Euteneier v. Lee, [2000] O.J. No. 4533 (SCJ); rev’d [2003] O.J. No. 4239 (SCJ, Div Ct); rev’d (2005) 77 O.R. (2d) 621 (CA) at para 22.
[12] Jennifer McPhee, “New and Novel Torts for Problems in Cyberspace,” Law Times (30 July-August 6 2007) at 13.
[13] Criminal Code ( R.S., 1985, c. C-46 )
[14] Just two examples are: Jane Doe, The Story of Jane Doe: A Book About Rape (Random House: Toronto, 2003) and Patricia Monture-Angus, Thunder in my Soul: A Mohawk Woman Speaks. (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 1995). For an analysis of the limitations of the Supreme Court’s privacy analysis in obscenity, hate propaganda and child pornography cases, see Jane Bailey, Privacy as a Social Value - ID Trail Mix: http://www.anonequity.org/weblog/archives/2007/04/privacy_as_a_social_value_by_j.php
[15] Lydia Dotto, “Real lawsuits set to materialize from virtual worlds; Harm, theft in online gaming may land players in the courts: Precedents few, but Vancouver lawyer thinks cases coming” Toronto Star (2 May 2005) at D 04 (ProQuest).
[16] Ibid.

PETS are Dead; Long Live PETs!

trailmixbanner.gif In this Google Era of unlimited information creation and availability, it is becoming an increasingly quixotic task to advocate for limits on collecting, use, disclosure and retention of personally-identifiable information ("PII"), or for meaningful direct roles for individuals to play regarding the disposition of their PII "out there" in the Netw0rked Cloud. Information has become the currency of the Modern Era, and there is no going back to practical obscurity. Regarding personal privacy, the basic choices seem to be engagement or abstinence, so overwhelming are the imperatives of the Information Age, so unstoppable the technologies that promise new services, conveniences and efficiencies. Privacy, as we knew it, is dying. Privacy advocates are starting to play the role of reactive luddites: suspicious of motives, they criticize, they raise alarm bells; they oppose big IT projects like data-mining and profiling, electronic health records and national ID cards; and they incite others to Continue reading "PETS are Dead; Long Live PETs!"

Authentic[N]ation

trailmixbanner.gif

A short story on the ID Trail

**********

Incorrect username or password. Please try again.

He tried again.

**********

Incorrect username or password. Please try again.

He tried again.

Incorrect username or password. Your ID is now locked. Please proceed to the nearest SECURE ID Validation Center for formal authentication. The nearest location can be found using the GoogleFED Search Tool.

After sitting stunned for a couple moments, Ross began to appreciate the full gravity of the situation. His ID was frozen. Everything was frozen. He just couldn't remember his damn PIN and that was the end of it. No PIN. No renewal. No ID. No authentication. No anything.

Since the government had launched the Single Enhanced Certification Using Reviewed Examination [SECURE] initiative, he really hadn't thought too much about it. Aside from a couple of headlines describing massive budget overruns and the usual privacy geeks heralding the end of the world, the New Government had pushed everything through without much fanfare.

That was four years ago. Since Ross already had a passport, the conversion to SECURE ID was pretty painless. He vaguely remembered something to do with a strand of hair and that they didn't even give him a card or anything, just read him his reauthorization PIN, thanked him for his time, and took his passport.

Since the carbon rationing system came into place in 2012, Ross really hadn't traveled anywhere off-line. There was no way he was going to save up carbon credits just to take a damn flight to some 45° cesspool. Plus, Google Travel could put him anywhere in the world in two clicks. A couple weeks ago he made some sangria and hit-up all the top clubs in Spain. He even bought a t-shirt at one which arrived in the mail two days later. That's why the SECURE ID renewal caught him off guard – it just rarely came-up for someone in his position.

Ross was just trying to buy a new snowboard for his Third Life avatar when things went wrong. He was notified that the transaction could not be processed because his GoogleCash account had been frozen pending authorization of his SECURE ID. Like just about everything else on or off-line, his identity was always confirmed back to this single source. While his ID Keychain supported a Federated identity management system in which he currently had 47 profiles (male, female, and gecko), they were all meaningless without reference to the master ID.

The SECURE system required multiple layers of redundancy. The PIN component would be required in addition to variable biometric authenticators. He had specifically written his 10 digit reauthentication PIN on a piece of paper and put it somewhere “safe.” So much for high-tech. That was four years ago and now, “safe” could be anywhere. The idea behind the routine expiry of SECURE IDs was to prevent identity theft from the deceased using stolen biometrics. Grave-robbing had been rampant for the first couple years of the program.

Ross grabbed his jacket and headed off to the SECURE ID Validation Center downtown knowing full well that he was as good as useless until he could authenticate himself.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>

The SECURE ID Validation Center was run by Veritas-SECURE, a public-private-partnership born of the New Deal 3.0. The idea was to exploit private-sector efficiencies while delivering top-notch public services. This P3 mantra had been something of an ongoing joke for years now but the government was unlikely to admit the error of its ways any time soon. Interestingly, the company that won the contract also ran the municipal waste disposal system. The critics couldn't stop talking about “synergies” and “leveraging technical expertise” when the winning bid was announced.

Ross arrived at the blue-glassed Veritas facility just after noon. He couldn't even buy lunch because the digital wallet in his phone had been deactivated when his SECURE ID was frozen. The day before, Ross had been mired in expense reports, cursing his multiple digital cash accounts associated with different profiles, devices, and credit sources.

Today, he had been thwarted by the keystone ID, the one that held everything else together and couldn’t be separated from his DNA.

The line for Formal Authentication zigzagged around two corners of the building against a cold marble wall. The only consolation was a nice big overhang covering the identity refugees from a light rain. He stepped into line behind a professional looking man with a brown leather briefcase and gray sports jacket.

Normally, he would've passed the time by watching movies on his iPod. Along with everything else, the DRM on his iPod was frozen pending authentication. The days of watching movies, or doing much of anything without authentication had evaporated long ago.

After a couple minutes of preliminary boredom, he tapped the gentleman with the briefcase on the shoulder asking with generalized ennui “Is this line even moving?”

“It depends how you define moving” the man replied, “if you're talking physics, then the answer is not for at least an hour. If you mean the decay of civil rights, then I guess you might say that we’re racing straight to the bottom.”

Somewhat surprised by the unprovoked disapproval, Ross was just happy to have a conversation to pass the time. He nodded his head enthusiastically. “This new ID system is only moderately infuriating though” he said. “I just hate these queues and the way they always try to make you feel like you're just another number.”

“Are you kidding? I would love nothing more than to be a number. Instead, I'm cursed with Jihad!” the man spat the final words.

Ross glanced up anxiously looking for the nearest Proxycam. Those things all had microphones and speakers these days and he was sure that the unit would ask the two of them to step out of line for questioning. Nothing happened.

The man quickly realized his error and extended his right hand saying. “I’m very sorry if I shocked you. My name is Jihad Azim, but everyone calls me Azi. I’m a university professor.”

Ross relaxed immediately, shaking the man’s hand as Azi continued “It’s just that my name brings me no end of grief. Jihad is actually a somewhat common name, but that sure isn't what you find with a Google search. The reason I'm stuck in this forsaken line is that they've red flagged my SECURE ID again! It happens every couple of weeks. I'm supposed to fly to Scottsdale for a conference tomorrow, but I'm pretty much grounded until I get this cleared up. The minions at the airport could neither confirm nor deny that the sky was blue, so I had to come down here. That's why I'd like nothing more than to be identified as a number. Then at least some fool with a grade 9 education wouldn't be fighting a holy war against my parents’ choice of name.”

“But couldn't you just change your name?” Ross asked, without giving it much thought.

“I could, but then I'd have a yellow flag on my ID noting that there'd been a change to my identity profile. That could be even worse. A colleague of mine has retinal implants and had to have her SECURE ID changed accordingly. Now she can't do anything without being questioned about the changes.” Azi said.

“I couldn't help but hear you two,” said a woman who had approached behind Ross and was pushing a stroller. “I know that this new system has been hard on some people, but you've gotta admit that this whole country is safer for it.”

Ross could see that this logic was going to make Azi angry, so he intervened first, questioning “But don't you think that sacrificing anonymity and privacy in the name of security is something of a false dichotomy?” Ross wasn’t entirely sure what he’d said, but he'd heard the line before and was satisfied that it sounded smart.

“Well, there might have been a better way.” She replied, “But I don't mind sacrificing a little privacy. I don't have anything to hide. And my daughter here, I'd gladly sacrifice my privacy for the security of my daughter. I can't bear to think of all those sickos out there. We’re here today for her first formal authentication so that they can confirm the samples they took at birth. Did you know that the SECURE ID is issued at birth now? I feel better knowing that she's already in the system.”

“You people are so out of it,” a new voice chimed in, “haven't you ever stopped to ask what an ID really is? It's not a number or name.” It was a young woman sitting crosslegged in front of Azi and wearing a pair of yoga jeans.

She continued “Identity doesn't come from some guy behind a computer representing the Government. Identity is how you tell the world who you are. My identity changes all the time. Like when I get a new job, or new friends, or a new hook-up. It seems like the older you get, the more attached you get to who you are. I don’t really care, for the last two weeks my avatar was a gecko.”

“No kidding.” Ross nostalgically remembered going through his gecko days.

The young woman cleared her throat and continued “The point is, you can't let The Man tell you who you are. It should be the other way around. We should control our identities.”

“So why are you here then?” the new mother retorted sarcastically. “Shouldn't you be busy launching DoS attacks against the ‘corporate agenda’ and all the complicit government agencies that hold it together?”

“I want to go volunteer at a monastery in New Burma, but The Man won't let me leave the country without a valid SECURE ID.”

Ross jumped-in noting “Hey, I was at a New Burmese monastery a couple weeks ago with Google Travel. Because of the time change, prayers don’t begin until four in the afternoon our time. Its perfect.”

The young woman was clearly not impressed. “No, like a REAL monastery with air and things you can touch.”

Ross had this debate all the time. “But…”

Azi was clearly not impressed by where this was going and interrupted “Well, I appreciate your helpful commentary. On the way to Scottsdale, maybe I’ll try ‘I am whoever I say I am and I choose to fly anonymously. If you absolutely must be provided with an ID, I happen to enjoy green tea, string theory, and the colour orange. Now please let me board the plane.”

As Azi was dismissing the young woman, a man in a gray suit neared Ross and stared blankly into the horizon of the queue. The man's pale face looked like he’d seen a ghost.

“Hey, so what's your story?” Ross couldn't help but ask.

“Ummm, I don’t know” the man replied.

“You don’t know? How can you not know?” Ross said.

“I just don’t know who I am anymore.” the man stuttered. “my identity has been stolen.”

The others gasped.

“Well, it's not that I don't know who I am, it’s just that the system has canceled my identity file as a result of concurrent use. There’s no way to verify that I am who I say I am because all my biometrics in have been compromised.”

The others remained silent. The SECURE ID system had been designed to be unbreakable. The authentication routine is so strong, and identity theft so difficult, that victim recovery remained nearly impossible. Everybody knew this. The only option was to create a new ID and start from scratch. The media labeled these victims “Born Agains.” Ross hadn't actually met one, but he’d read a couple blogs describing depressing encounters with these unfortunate souls. It was like being killed but leaving the body left to rot.

The young woman stood up, approached the identityless man, gave him a hug and gently requested: “Please, go in front of me.” The others tried not to make eye contact.

Out of sight and far down the line came a call for: “NEXT!” The line moved forward one meter.


Fin


Jeremy Hessing-Lewis is a law student at the University of Ottawa. He is writing a travel guide entitled “101 Must See Hikes in Google Maps” as well as his first novel “Things That are Square” (2009).

Authentic[N]ation

trailmixbanner.gif

A short story on the ID Trail

**********

Incorrect username or password. Please try again.

He tried again.

**********

Incorrect username or password. Please try again.

He tried again.

Incorrect username or password. Your ID is now locked. Please proceed to the nearest SECURE ID Validation Center for formal authentication. The nearest location can be found using the GoogleFED Search Tool.

After sitting stunned for a couple moments, Ross began to appreciate the full gravity of the situation. His ID was frozen. Everything was frozen. He just couldn't remember his damn PIN and that was the end of it. No PIN. No renewal. No ID. No authentication. No anything.

Since the government had launched the Single Enhanced Certification Using Reviewed Examination [SECURE] initiative, he really hadn't thought too much about it. Aside from a couple of headlines describing massive budget overruns and the usual privacy geeks heralding the end of the world, the New Government had pushed everything through without much fanfare.

That was four years ago. Since Ross already had a passport, the conversion to SECURE ID was pretty painless. He vaguely remembered something to do with a strand of hair and that they didn't even give him a card or anything, just read him his reauthorization PIN, thanked him for his time, and took his passport.

Since the carbon rationing system came into place in 2012, Ross really hadn't traveled anywhere off-line. There was no way he was going to save up carbon credits just to take a damn flight to some 45° cesspool. Plus, Google Travel could put him anywhere in the world in two clicks. A couple weeks ago he made some sangria and hit-up all the top clubs in Spain. He even bought a t-shirt at one which arrived in the mail two days later. That's why the SECURE ID renewal caught him off guard – it just rarely came-up for someone in his position.

Ross was just trying to buy a new snowboard for his Third Life avatar when things went wrong. He was notified that the transaction could not be processed because his GoogleCash account had been frozen pending authorization of his SECURE ID. Like just about everything else on or off-line, his identity was always confirmed back to this single source. While his ID Keychain supported a Federated identity management system in which he currently had 47 profiles (male, female, and gecko), they were all meaningless without reference to the master ID.

The SECURE system required multiple layers of redundancy. The PIN component would be required in addition to variable biometric authenticators. He had specifically written his 10 digit reauthentication PIN on a piece of paper and put it somewhere “safe.” So much for high-tech. That was four years ago and now, “safe” could be anywhere. The idea behind the routine expiry of SECURE IDs was to prevent identity theft from the deceased using stolen biometrics. Grave-robbing had been rampant for the first couple years of the program.

Ross grabbed his jacket and headed off to the SECURE ID Validation Center downtown knowing full well that he was as good as useless until he could authenticate himself.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>

The SECURE ID Validation Center was run by Veritas-SECURE, a public-private-partnership born of the New Deal 3.0. The idea was to exploit private-sector efficiencies while delivering top-notch public services. This P3 mantra had been something of an ongoing joke for years now but the government was unlikely to admit the error of its ways any time soon. Interestingly, the company that won the contract also ran the municipal waste disposal system. The critics couldn't stop talking about “synergies” and “leveraging technical expertise” when the winning bid was announced.

Ross arrived at the blue-glassed Veritas facility just after noon. He couldn't even buy lunch because the digital wallet in his phone had been deactivated when his SECURE ID was frozen. The day before, Ross had been mired in expense reports, cursing his multiple digital cash accounts associated with different profiles, devices, and credit sources.

Today, he had been thwarted by the keystone ID, the one that held everything else together and couldn’t be separated from his DNA.

The line for Formal Authentication zigzagged around two corners of the building against a cold marble wall. The only consolation was a nice big overhang covering the identity refugees from a light rain. He stepped into line behind a professional looking man with a brown leather briefcase and gray sports jacket.

Normally, he would've passed the time by watching movies on his iPod. Along with everything else, the DRM on his iPod was frozen pending authentication. The days of watching movies, or doing much of anything without authentication had evaporated long ago.

After a couple minutes of preliminary boredom, he tapped the gentleman with the briefcase on the shoulder asking with generalized ennui “Is this line even moving?”

“It depends how you define moving” the man replied, “if you're talking physics, then the answer is not for at least an hour. If you mean the decay of civil rights, then I guess you might say that we’re racing straight to the bottom.”

Somewhat surprised by the unprovoked disapproval, Ross was just happy to have a conversation to pass the time. He nodded his head enthusiastically. “This new ID system is only moderately infuriating though” he said. “I just hate these queues and the way they always try to make you feel like you're just another number.”

“Are you kidding? I would love nothing more than to be a number. Instead, I'm cursed with Jihad!” the man spat the final words.

Ross glanced up anxiously looking for the nearest Proxycam. Those things all had microphones and speakers these days and he was sure that the unit would ask the two of them to step out of line for questioning. Nothing happened.

The man quickly realized his error and extended his right hand saying. “I’m very sorry if I shocked you. My name is Jihad Azim, but everyone calls me Azi. I’m a university professor.”

Ross relaxed immediately, shaking the man’s hand as Azi continued “It’s just that my name brings me no end of grief. Jihad is actually a somewhat common name, but that sure isn't what you find with a Google search. The reason I'm stuck in this forsaken line is that they've red flagged my SECURE ID again! It happens every couple of weeks. I'm supposed to fly to Scottsdale for a conference tomorrow, but I'm pretty much grounded until I get this cleared up. The minions at the airport could neither confirm nor deny that the sky was blue, so I had to come down here. That's why I'd like nothing more than to be identified as a number. Then at least some fool with a grade 9 education wouldn't be fighting a holy war against my parents’ choice of name.”

“But couldn't you just change your name?” Ross asked, without giving it much thought.

“I could, but then I'd have a yellow flag on my ID noting that there'd been a change to my identity profile. That could be even worse. A colleague of mine has retinal implants and had to have her SECURE ID changed accordingly. Now she can't do anything without being questioned about the changes.” Azi said.

“I couldn't help but hear you two,” said a woman who had approached behind Ross and was pushing a stroller. “I know that this new system has been hard on some people, but you've gotta admit that this whole country is safer for it.”

Ross could see that this logic was going to make Azi angry, so he intervened first, questioning “But don't you think that sacrificing anonymity and privacy in the name of security is something of a false dichotomy?” Ross wasn’t entirely sure what he’d said, but he'd heard the line before and was satisfied that it sounded smart.

“Well, there might have been a better way.” She replied, “But I don't mind sacrificing a little privacy. I don't have anything to hide. And my daughter here, I'd gladly sacrifice my privacy for the security of my daughter. I can't bear to think of all those sickos out there. We’re here today for her first formal authentication so that they can confirm the samples they took at birth. Did you know that the SECURE ID is issued at birth now? I feel better knowing that she's already in the system.”

“You people are so out of it,” a new voice chimed in, “haven't you ever stopped to ask what an ID really is? It's not a number or name.” It was a young woman sitting crosslegged in front of Azi and wearing a pair of yoga jeans.

She continued “Identity doesn't come from some guy behind a computer representing the Government. Identity is how you tell the world who you are. My identity changes all the time. Like when I get a new job, or new friends, or a new hook-up. It seems like the older you get, the more attached you get to who you are. I don’t really care, for the last two weeks my avatar was a gecko.”

“No kidding.” Ross nostalgically remembered going through his gecko days.

The young woman cleared her throat and continued “The point is, you can't let The Man tell you who you are. It should be the other way around. We should control our identities.”

“So why are you here then?” the new mother retorted sarcastically. “Shouldn't you be busy launching DoS attacks against the ‘corporate agenda’ and all the complicit government agencies that hold it together?”

“I want to go volunteer at a monastery in New Burma, but The Man won't let me leave the country without a valid SECURE ID.”

Ross jumped-in noting “Hey, I was at a New Burmese monastery a couple weeks ago with Google Travel. Because of the time change, prayers don’t begin until four in the afternoon our time. Its perfect.”

The young woman was clearly not impressed. “No, like a REAL monastery with air and things you can touch.”

Ross had this debate all the time. “But…”

Azi was clearly not impressed by where this was going and interrupted “Well, I appreciate your helpful commentary. On the way to Scottsdale, maybe I’ll try ‘I am whoever I say I am and I choose to fly anonymously. If you absolutely must be provided with an ID, I happen to enjoy green tea, string theory, and the colour orange. Now please let me board the plane.”

As Azi was dismissing the young woman, a man in a gray suit neared Ross and stared blankly into the horizon of the queue. The man's pale face looked like he’d seen a ghost.

“Hey, so what's your story?” Ross couldn't help but ask.

“Ummm, I don’t know” the man replied.

“You don’t know? How can you not know?” Ross said.

“I just don’t know who I am anymore.” the man stuttered. “my identity has been stolen.”

The others gasped.

“Well, it's not that I don't know who I am, it’s just that the system has canceled my identity file as a result of concurrent use. There’s no way to verify that I am who I say I am because all my biometrics in have been compromised.”

The others remained silent. The SECURE ID system had been designed to be unbreakable. The authentication routine is so strong, and identity theft so difficult, that victim recovery remained nearly impossible. Everybody knew this. The only option was to create a new ID and start from scratch. The media labeled these victims “Born Agains.” Ross hadn't actually met one, but he’d read a couple blogs describing depressing encounters with these unfortunate souls. It was like being killed but leaving the body left to rot.

The young woman stood up, approached the identityless man, gave him a hug and gently requested: “Please, go in front of me.” The others tried not to make eye contact.

Out of sight and far down the line came a call for: “NEXT!” The line moved forward one meter.


Fin


Jeremy Hessing-Lewis is a law student at the University of Ottawa. He is writing a travel guide entitled “101 Must See Hikes in Google Maps” as well as his first novel “Things That are Square” (2009).

Haste Makes Waste: Attending to the Possible Consequences of Genetic Testing

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Technological advances are making genetic testing and screening easier and more accessible. My concerns are that the ease and accessibility are masking the fact that these are not straightforward decisions that should be made quickly. Such decisions may include whether or not to terminate a pregnancy if your fetus has Down syndrome, whether to have prophylactic surgery if you test positive for breast cancer genes, whether to be tested for a late onset disease that may have no treatment or cure, and whether or not to submit to genome testing without knowing what the future will hold in terms of discrimination and possible privacy threats. The reasons for genetic testing have real world consequences that are often not spelled out before the testing takes place.

A recent article in the Globe and Mail discusses new recommendations that pregnant women over the age of 35, but under the age of 40, should no longer undergo routine amniocentesis. It has been standard practice that amniocentesis be available to women over the age of 35 because the probability of conceiving a child with a disability or genetic condition increases with maternal age. New non-invasive screening tests such as maternal blood tests and the nuchal translucency test (a detailed ultrasound taken at 11-13 weeks gestation that measures the fluid levels behind the fetus’s neck) can now indicate whether further testing is indicated or whether the risk of abnormalities is low. This development is very positive as amniocentesis is invasive and carries with it a risk of miscarriage.

However, the article states, “40 is the new 35 when it comes to being labelled a high-risk pregnancy.” [1] The implication here that is repeated several times throughout the article is that pregnant women who are over 35 no longer have the same risks associated with this maternal age; it seems that somehow their risks have decreased, which is not true.

As well the article quotes a physician stating,

“Even if you’re over 40, your risk may be that of a 20-year-old. Screening is making you different from your age.” [2]

Obviously the screening tests are a positive medical advance. Yet coupled with the misleading implication that risks have somehow decreased, what we see here is often the case: the language of genetic discoveries and genetic technologies seems to support a “wait and see” attitude – find out what the testing tells you, then decide what to do. It sometimes appears a bit like a lottery.

Francis Collins, direction of the National Human Genome Research Institute has mentioned that genetic technologies are much like new drugs – we must see what the general reactions are to them after they are first introduced. And many authors advocate that we should work to address concerns as they appear, as opposed to limiting technological advances with unnecessary policies. This is not to confuse the “wait and see” attitude of the researchers developing the technology with the “wait and see” attitude of the doctor performing the testing – they seem to be on a continuum.

Sonia Mateu Suter notes from her research as a genetic counsellor for prospective parents, “little emphasis is placed on the many emotional and psychological ramifications of undergoing such testing, leaving patients unprepared for certain choices and emotional reactions.” [3] She feels that this has “impoverished the informed consent process”. [4] Likewise, a “wait and see” attitude ultimately diminishes autonomy because we are not able to make choices we might have made if we had a comprehensive understanding of all the options and consequences.

Much is unclear as new technologies emerge. What we do know is that the vast majority of those individuals at risk for Huntington’s disease choose not to be tested for the HD gene. A child whose parent has had Huntington’s has a 50% chance of inheriting the gene and developing the disease. There are no cures or preventative measures. Yet at-risk individuals also have a 50% chance of not inheriting the gene and never developing Huntington’s disease. The choice not to be tested struck me as surprising until I read the stories of those at risk and those living with the knowledge that they are carriers. Some of the stories such as Katharine Moser’s (http://www.hdfoundation.org/news/NYTimes3-18-07.php) really put in perspective what it must be like to live with the end of your life before you. She had prepared herself with the requisite six months of counselling when she decided to be tested at age 23, yet admitted she never really believed the test result would be positive. Is it fair for certain people to live this way when no one’s future is certain?

Many would say that genetic testing for other conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or Multiple Sclerosis, which may become reality in the near future, are not on par with testing for the HD gene. Likely such testing will be in terms of probabilities rather than certainties, such as the current testing for the breast cancer genes – a positive test translates into an increased risk for developing breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer but does not mean a woman will get any of these for certain. Nor does it mean that a woman without these genes is immune to these illnesses. Most likely this difference is part of the reason that intensive counselling is often not part of the testing process, though many acknowledge that the system would be improved if it were. Yet I wonder what the idea of an “increased risk” will mean to people and their families, especially for diseases with no known cure? What will the consequences be for them? Will it be easily accepted as a “probability” – something to think about or watch out for – or will they feel that the die is cast, and they cannot escape their fate? It seems that the outcome will be based on each situation and individual, which underlines the inappropriateness of the “wait and see” attitude.

As testing advances, home testing, where an individual sends a sample away and waits for results, may become more commonplace. Such scenarios have serious implications for privacy and ethics. I read a story of a man who did a home paternity test behind his wife’s back (this is actually encouraged on one paternity website as a way to gain initial information before proceeding with overt testing). The man confronted his wife with the test results that showed he was not the biological father of their children. She flew into a rage and told him he would never see the kids again. While he still has rights as a father, even if he is not a biological one, he now has to battle for these in court. He confessed that he had never fully thought through the consequence of a negative result and deeply regretted doing the test. He was unsure what relationship to have with his kids now, how to think of them, whether he was really their “daddy”. My point here is not to begin a commentary on paternal rights – I mean merely to highlight that this man felt he had acted without fully considering how the test results would affect him.

As genetic testing becomes easier and more commonplace concerns over emotions, psychological states and privacy concerns may be easily overlooked to the point that they are seen as unimportant. Yet to promote autonomous choices we must attend to genetic decision-making in context and encourage individuals to think about what test results will mean to them, their families, and their future. This is not to decry genetic testing; it is to open a dialogue about choices before decisions need to be made. Let’s not “wait and see” what the future holds if diminished autonomy becomes an accepted part of our medical system.

[1] Pearce, Tralee. 2007, July 10. Amniocentesis: New guidelines. 40 is the new 35 for test. Globe and Mail, L1 and L3; p.L1.
[2] Ibid, at p.L3.
[3] Mateu Suter, Sonia. 2002. The routinization of prenatal testing. American Journal of Law & Medicine, 28: 233-270; p.234.
[4] Ibid.