Privacy Index: Threat is High

Sturdevant: When government employees are able to cloak their work in secrecy, the threat not only to privacy but also to civil rights must be made a top priority.

At the RSA Conference held last week in San Francisco, Jim Bidzos, conference chair, announced the "Privacy Threat Index."

And not a moment too soon.

Used to track the growing threat to privacy from expanding government surveillance, the PTI level currently is at orange--or "high"--because of ongoing invasive search techniques used by the government. The index was developed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, where Bidzos is an advisory board member.

As technology makes it easier to track personal details, businesses and the general public need to understand and act to defend privacy. PTI makes it easier to do that.

This is an important time to discuss personal and business privacy--particularly in light of some government plans that were discussed earlier this month at a conference on data privacy at the IBMs Almaden Research Center.

Every conference session was recorded, except when Lt. Col. Doug Dyer and Ted Senator--both from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency--spoke. Reporters at the conference were required to turn off recording devices (although we could take written notes), and the auditorium went "off the air."

Dyer and Senator discussed basic forensic practices such as "not seeing what you dont want to see," as well as the differences between traditional data mining and the snooping that DARPA is interested in (based on discerning patterns and connections with small amounts of overlapping data).

The lack of public access and discourse on privacy-busting technologies such as the ones presented by Dyer and Senator (who pointed out that they just make the stuff; they dont set policy on how its used) is reason enough for tools like the Privacy Threat Index. When government employees are able to cloak their work in secrecy, the threat not only to privacy but also to civil rights must be made a top priority.

eWEEK Labs Senior Analyst Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at cameron_sturdevant@ziffdavis.com.