DAN GILLMOR: Don’t Deny Privacy for Security’s Sake

DAN GILLMOR: Don’t Deny Privacy for Security’s Sake

(March 18, 2002) One of the more pernicious bits of propaganda to emerge in post-Sept. 11 America is the notion that security must trump liberty. The nation’s founders are surely spinning in their graves to see their descendants sell out their heritage.

Now we’re being told of the supposed incompatibility between security and privacy in the practice of everyday business. You won’t be surprised to know that the major beneficiaries of this misinformation are the corporate busybodies themselves.

There’s no doubt that security has been lacking. Our technology infrastructure is riddled with flaws, most of them the result of an architecture that wasn’t designed with security in mind. Some are simply the result of poor programming practices.

But corporate America has never been a friend of privacy. Building dossiers on customers and regulating their behavior has always been something of a Holy Grail for businesses.

Abandoning their supposed libertarian principles, Silicon Valley companies and their competitors around the world are racing to help the snoops. Hardly a day passes that I don’t get a press release from a company promoting some new tool that would let government and private interests collect and manipulate information about our daily lives.

For some powerful business interests, privacy is an unacceptable threat. The entertainment industry, for example, wants to prevent any possibility of unauthorized use of copyrighted material. There’s only one way to achieve this – a fundamental lockdown of digital hardware and software – and the result would be a privacy debacle, because the only way to police users would be to monitor everything they view, read and hear.

Meanwhile, companies are dropping privacy products. In one of the more depressing examples, Network Associates is abandoning products with the Pretty Good Privacy encryption protocol for desktop computers.

Encryption is one technology that promotes security and privacy. Yes, it enables bad people to communicate. But if we want a safe economy in the Digital Age, strong cryptography – with its positive and negative uses – isn’t an option. It’s a requirement. [ more…]