Privacy Appliance is Anything But

Sturdevant: Policies, projects that destroy privacy are antithetical to needs of business

Work is under way at Xerox Corp.s PARC that should be vehemently opposed by IT leaders. The results of this PARC project will hurt consumer trust in corporate data privacy protections, a subject thats already ripe for a consumer backlash.

Project Genisys—part of the federal governments Total Information Awareness program—is developing a "privacy appliance." In this case, the name is Orwellian double talk worthy of "1984."

The Project Genisys privacy appliance is designed to facilitate "fishing expeditions," defined in part by Blacks Law Dictionary as an overly broad use of the discovery process during an action. In this case, the so-called privacy appliance is an even more egregious infringement of privacy rights because search results are in response to concocted scenarios, not to specific legal actions.

Every privacy agreement Ive studied has a clause that states that stored data will be shared with law enforcement when required by law. And these privacy appliances are about to make widescale probing of consumers and business partners come to pass. Think Watergate and then think of government officials—who pass into and out of corporate boardrooms—getting a peek at some nice, juicy competitive data. It will be the Dunn & Bradstreet report on steroids.

Emerging governmental policies and projects that destroy privacy are in direct opposition to the needs of business. Customer and business partner information are among the most valuable assets of any company. Most customer data is collected to cultivate relationships that lead to incremental revenue. Fostering easy interaction with a supplier or corporate customer is one of the most important ways for IT to drive increased productivity in business-to-business interactions.

Opening these core data to government investigators, especially to counter terrorism, is rife with a history of failure. Ive pointed out in previous columns how government spying was used against the civil rights movement.

Domestic spying, the action that these privacy appliances support, means that no data is safe. One solution is to destroy data after its legitimate use is finished. This is an impractical solution in most cases because the useful life of some customer data is certainly months or years.

The most practical solution is to stop projects and policies that make the massive amounts of private data subject to governmental scrutiny.

Senior Analyst Cameron Sturdevant can be contacted at