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Checking our papers

posted by:Mark B. Salter // 11:59 PM // August 29, 2006 // ID TRAIL MIX


At certain moments, we are asked to account for our movements. I recently applied for security clearance in the pursuit of research and filled out a long form – but the same is true of a landed immigration application or a curriculum vitae – all which I have also filled out in my time. In each of these dossiers, we write a story in which we are the lead, whom the camera never leaves. And we are confessing subjects. In modern society we are conditioned that, in David Lyon’s phrase, “if we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to fear.” We tell the doctor all of our symptoms, the lawyer all the details of our crime, the border agent the purpose of our visit, the professor all the factors that made the essay late. Self-knowledge and the propensity to self-disclosure is the interpreted as the hallmark of truth. It is nearly unimaginable to say of one’s life, “I just have no idea what happened that year – I was in love, drunk, traveling, ill. 1995 is lost to me.” Between jobs, on research leave, what-have-you – on filling out the landed immigrant form some years ago I laughed out loud at the idea of a “permanent” address. I am not an international man of mystery but as part of a peripatetic career there are some gaps in my story – months where I cannot account for my whereabouts. And, when presented to the authorities, stories need to be complete.

Though we are the authors of our own story, we are often not the key audience – the doctor, the lawyer, the border guard will adjudicate whether or not our story “makes sense.” I taught at the American University in Cairo between 2000 and 2003, traveling back the United States regularly throughout this time. Before the war on terror, the immigration inspectors would ask me my profession, and I would say that I taught in Cairo – and the response was uniformly positive. “We need more people there – good for you.” It was seen as an educational peace corps or an opportunity to make danger pay in the wild wild East. After the war on terror, I would say I taught in Cairo – and the response was “why?” I would say “I needed a job,” but it became a new burden to explain why I had made such a reckless decision. My narrative of the choice had not changed, but the administrative reception of that decision changed radically.

Different from fighting the stereotypes which accumulate on all of us to assert some kind of individual identity, I think we need to be on guard to whom we confess what. My barber knows I am a professor and he thinks that I take the summer off, have a job for life, and wear tweed. None of which are true, but it doesn’t really affect my opportunities. With my barber, the discord between the stereotype and the reality makes no odds. But, with the dean or the hiring committee, we sell ourselves as individuals who have been working since early childhood with the sole intention of being hired at Eastern Dropovia University. There is a pressure within the academic community (as well as the government I would argue) to have a single trajectory – a life which leads to this moment. No wrong tracks, no dead-ends, no mistakes, no blank spaces on the map. I have never filled out a grant application says “I studied this for a year before finding out someone else had written a book on the subject, so now I would like some money to study something new.” For a profession which prides itself on building knowledge, there is little discussion of failure.

Having experienced a few traumas recently, which interrupted the trajectory of my work, I am ever more aware of the expectations of this smooth, publicly-access history. In addition to this general confessionary pressure, I have noticed a particular institutional pressure to “explain” why my productivity dropped off at this or increased point at another. A hiring committee member once accused me that I was a “book” type of an academic rather than an “article” type of academic, and asked I explain why. The gap between one article and the next is a blank space which requires a story. My female and male colleagues face similar pressures when expecting or as new parents, for example. The price for the explanation of public behavior is a loss of privacy. As I write the cover-letter for a job application, I am aware of the need to justify “why Cairo,” “why this pause,” “why that article.”

Which leads me to consider “Rate my professor.com” and other public venues where my story is written by others. As a professor at a public institution, I am dissatisfied with the way that student evaluations are done – with some substantial research to support my belief that the contemporary way of evaluating teaching rewards certain types of teaching and discourages others. I am excited that students have an independent space to air their views which speaks to other students. Plainly, I am vain or conscientious enough to search myself on that site. I’m concerned that the folks running the site say that “students are the CUSTOMERS of professors” (Caps in original), which is a particular neoliberal view of education as a kind of trade school – but this is a kind of empowerment. But, I have to admit being concerned that “hotness” or beauty is up for adjudication, as described by the linked article the website authors use to justify the inclusion of the category,. The New York Times article “The Hunk Differential” argues that more attractive professors get higher ratings (all other things being equal). Rather than being a caveat, the hotness quotient becomes simply another part of the review. Cunningly, the website suggests to professors who are dissatisfied with their reviews that they should publicize “RMP.com” which “ALWAYS has a huge impact on the number of ratings and makes the site become less entertainment oriented.” For me, the ability of students to speak back to power in the classroom on “RMP.com” is worth the unfair or unflattering reviews – I have a similar anonymous blog on my own University-based course websites. However, to encourage students to evaluate their professors in terms of “hotness” and publicly post those comments crosses the line between professional and personal.

In a recent “Identity Trail” workshop, we discussed the culture of “myspace.com” in which adolescents often post personal information without fully understanding the privacy implications (see previous blog by Jeremy Hessing-Lewis on this website). With the increasing pressure to make universities more transparent, open, and accessible (which is laudable), as professors we are making more and more of our lives public. I am fairly adamant not to post photos of myself on the web, especially linked to my professional persona. I am happy to post my curriculum vitae and course plans. I am unwilling to post my measurements or medical history. In an interview with geographers Foucault once joked that he did not want to be pinned down by a label – “let others check our papers” he said. But, as I have argued here, especially in the current moment, we have to be cautious as to what our public papers say about our private lives.

Mark B. Salter is an Assistant Professor at the School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa.
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Privacy, Power and Vulnerability

posted by:Marsha Hanen // 11:59 PM // August 22, 2006 // ID TRAIL MIX


In a recent posting, Val Steeves made the point that women often experience differential power in relation to men when it comes to protection of their privacy, and especially so with respect to choices about the extent to which they are prepared to have parts of their bodies exposed to public view. As Val says, “the fact that there is a relationship between privacy and power is old news”; and certainly the issue of women being treated differently, and usually less well than men along a variety of dimensions has received detailed comment in the feminist literature over at least the past thirty-five years. But I think it is still important in the context of discussions of privacy to take note of this different treatment and the power relations it exposes, not only in connection with women but also in relation to a range of other groups and their members.

For one thing, it helps us to see that privacy does not necessarily carry the same significance, function or value for everyone. An obvious point, perhaps, and yet we still run into all sorts of attempts to characterize privacy based on an assumption that it has a single meaning and function. For another, it helps to highlight the issue of whose privacy, whose power and whose vulnerability is at stake in different situations and how these are to be reconciled.

I have been struck, in the past week or two, by public discussion in British Columbia of a class action suit alleging abuse against former residents of the Woodlands School, a care facility (which closed in 1996) for mentally disabled children. The Globe and Mail (August 11, 2006) reported that “…staff molested children left in their care, forced them into cold showers or scalding baths, locked them in extended isolation and beat them, according to a review commissioned by the government in 2000.” And there are allegations, as well, of serious sexual abuse.

A proposed government compensation package using a points system to quantify the severity of sexual, physical, emotional and psychological abuse has given rise to anger on the part of the victims and their families and charges that the compensation scheme is abusive, inhumane and degrading, forcing vulnerable individuals to relive experiences they found horrific. Their preferred alternative is a “common experience payment” model, which would allow for a lump sum payment to victims without the need for painful testimony to support awarding points based on the government’s perception of the degree of severity of the abuse.

Clearly, this example raises a host of ethical questions relating to issues of privacy and its underlying values of freedom, dignity and respect for persons. If reports of the case are accurate the government claims the points system is a “blueprint” used by Ottawa for such cases and does not agree that there was systemic abuse, as claimed by the “We survived Woodlands” group; but denying reported experiences of widespread abuse may result in placing too high a burden of proof on relatively powerless individuals, and raises serious questions about government accountability. What is more, the issues of protection of privacy and recognition of human dignity may require especially great sensitivity and attention to detail where vulnerable groups or individuals are involved.

Another B.C. class action suit, concluded in 2004, involved residents of a facility for the deaf. The settlement agreement, achieved through a mediation process in that case of sexual abuse of persons who attended Jericho Hill School between 1950 and 1992, provided for compensation at several levels (depending upon documented abuse). It also provided for a five-year Well-Being/Counseling Program, advocacy for further literacy support and education, training in American Sign Language, plaques to commemorate the experiences of the former students, a scholarship program and public acknowledgment of the abuse by government (see www.jhsclassaction.com).

Although the levels of compensation scheme used in this case might be described as analogous to a points system, much depends upon the details of the process and its implementation: how the facts of each case are determined, what care is taken to provide help to victims to understand the process and intended outcomes and to make their claims, whether arbitrary categorizations are avoided, the extent to which victims are provided an opportunity to tell their stories in a safe environment, how and to what extent individual privacy is protected and a host of similar factors.

In addition, on the privacy side there is the fundamental question as to what methods it is ethically legitimate to use to find the victims in the first place, in order to present them with the available choices, and whether the ends of finding them in order to make benefits available would justify whatever means are deemed necessary, even if such means go beyond what we might regard as acceptable in other situations. Increasingly sophisticated technologies increase the likelihood of privacy invasion; and these issues about how class members are located raise, as do most privacy related problems, both epistemological questions (How accurate is our information? What do we do when errors are found?) and ethical ones (Who has access to the information? How carefully is it protected? How sensitive are we to the special needs of persons who have been mistreated?).

Sadly, there are numerous kinds of situations in which the issue of abuse of vulnerable persons – children, disabled persons, people with few material resources or little power in society, individuals with certain medical problems, former residents of residential schools and others needs to be dealt with. We can hardly argue that these cases are few and far between – not that the existence of even a single case would be justifiable. The sooner we learn to base our response to such situations on ethical principles that give voice to respect for the dignity of all, including protection of privacy, the more likely we are to avoid the kind of reaction that we have been seeing to the case of the Woodlands School.

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Biometric Passports: A Response to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative?

posted by:Krista Boa // 08:39 AM // August 15, 2006 // ID TRAIL MIX


The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) heralds changes to the identity documentation required for Canadians wishing to enter the United States. While its name might imply that the WHTI is a multi-lateral initiative, it is not. The WHTI was developed by the United States to implement parts of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which requires all individuals entering the United States (including US citizens) to present a passport or another type of identity and citizenship document approved by the Department of Homeland Security: the passport is the preferred document. For other documents to be acceptable under the WHTI, they “must establish the citizenship and identity of the bearer, and include significant security features. Ultimately, all documents used for travel to the U.S. are expected to include biometrics that can be used to authenticate the document and verify identity” [1, emphasis added]. The deadlines that apply to those entering the United States from Canada are January 8, 2007 for air and sea travel and December 31, 2007 for land crossings.

Both Canada and the US seem to be struggling to meet these new requirements within the required timelines. The impending deadlines have caused a flurry of discussion between Canadian and US officials, as well as among bordering cities and states, as the most significant change will be felt at the land border crossings. Given the time remaining for each country to develop and implement the necessary technologies and systems, it remains uncertain whether either country will be able to meet the deadlines, much less develop and test a robust system. These concerns have been so great that the US Senate voted to postpone the deadline at land crossings from December 31, 2007 to June 1, 2009, but this has not come forward in the House of Representatives yet [2]. Nevertheless, the Senate is doing all it can to delay the implementation of the WHTI because of concerns that the PASS card technology (the US alternative to the passport) and fears that those who need new documents will not be able to acquire them in time [3].

At present, it appears Canada has opted to meet these WHTI requirements using the existing passport, augmented with facial recognition technology, instead of developing an alternative border-crossing document like the US PASS card [4]. However, other types of documents currently in use will not be abandoned. Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day and US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff announced in July that members of the NEXUS and Fast and Secure Trade (FAST) programs, which employ biometrics, will continue to enjoy expedited border crossings [5]. NEXUS and FAST are joint Canada-US programs to prescreen frequent travelers between Canada and the United States who are citizens and permanent residents of both countries. NEXUS covers individual travelers, and includes air, highway, and marine sub-programs, while FAST focuses on trade and applies to importers, carriers, and drivers. Day and Chertoff also indicated that both countries will encourage further enrollment in these programs, which I read this to mean they have been deemed acceptable under the WHTI.

Developing a biometric passport for Canadians is not solely a response to the WHTI. Using biometrics in Canadian passports was first proposed in December 2001 in the Smart Borders Action Plan and then in Canada’s 2004 National Security Policy. Additionally, by using facial recognition technology, the Canadian passport will also comply with the International Civil Aviation Organization resolution of May 2003. However, recent steps to amend the Passport Order, the rules that govern the Canadian passport, might indicate that WHTI is motivating Canada to take action now.

On June 28, 2006, Canada took the important initial step toward biometric passports by announcing changes to the Passport Order in the Canada Gazette. Specifically, subsections 8.1(1) and 8.1(2) were amended to read as follows:

8.1 (1) Passport Canada may convert any information submitted by an applicant into a digital biometric format for the purpose of inserting that information into a passport or for other uses that fall within the mandate of Passport Canada.
(2) Passport Canada may convert an applicant's photograph into a biometric template for the purpose of verifying the applicant's identity, including nationality, and entitlement to obtain or remain in possession of a passport.

It is not clear how Passport Canada plans to proceed from this point. According to one article a Passport Canada spokesperson states that no timeline has been set for implementing biometric passports [4].

As part of the application process, Passport Canada will also use facial recognition technology to “screen applicant photos against images of suspects on security watch lists” with the aim of preventing “people who are ineligible for a passport, including national security risks and certain criminals, from obtaining one” [6]. It would appear that at least this part of the system will be in place in late 2007 [6]. While there is little information about this aspect of the program available, it raises some serious concerns about quality, accuracy, and sources of the watchlists to be used, the biases they contain, and whether there will be an appeals process for those wrongly denied passports. The widespread errors and inaccuracies of the US no-fly lists must be avoided in granting a document that is crucial to citizenship and essential for Canadians to exercise their mobility rights.

If this new passport, with its additional security features and security checks, is to be the Canadian response to the requirements of the WHTI, a great deal of work remains before such a system is ready to be used. Furthermore, it is not clear how the requirement for documents with biometrics will be handled if they are not included on the Canadian passport in time. Will Canadians be subject to a US-VISIT type system requiring them to register their biometrics at the border?

US Senator Patrick Leahy’s recent words of caution about implementing the PASS card system too quickly seem to capture the essence of the problem the WHTI’s timelines create: not only does he refer to it as a “train wreck on the horizon”, but he also warns that “[i]t will be far easier and less harmful to fix these problems [in the system] before the system goes into effect than to have to mop up the mess afterwards” [4]. This is a caution worth hearing in the Canadian context as we move forward with implementing biometric passports. Failing to take the time to fully trial and test the technologies and systems risks not only security, but the personal data held in these systems and individuals mobility rights. Finally, we need more information about Passport Canada’s plans for implementing biometric passports, and whether non-biometric passport will be acceptable for travel to the United States in order to evaluate this program and its implications for Canadians.

[1] US Department of State. Frequently asked questions about the new travel document requirements. Online at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2225.html

[2] Border cards have a long way to go, report says. Globe and Mail, June 1, 2006. Online (for a fee) at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/Page/document/v4/sub/MarketingPage?user_URL=http://www.theglobeandmail.com%2Fservlet%2Fstory%2FRTGAM.20060531.wxborder01%2FBNStory%2FInternational%2Fhome&ord=1155577922687&brand=theglobeandmail&force_login=true

[3] Hudson, Audrey. Pass card placed on hold in Senate. Washington Times, June 30, 2006. Online at http://washingtontimes.com/national/20060629-111905-1877r.htm

[4] Delacourt, Susan. Ottawa takes ‘big step’ to biometric ID. Toronto Star, June 30, 2006. Online at http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1151617836735&call_pageid=968332188492

[5] Minister Day and Secretary Chertoff discuss progress on security issues. Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada News Release, July 18, 2006. Online at http://www.psepc.gc.ca/media/nr/2006/nr20060718-en.asp

[6] Bronskill, Jim. Passport to use facial imaging. Globe and Mail, June 24, 2006: A6.

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A Face Is Exposed for AOL Searcher No. 4417749

posted by:Alex Cameron // 09:29 AM // August 09, 2006 // Digital Democracy: law, policy and politics

The NYT is running an excellent piece that highlights the dangers in search engines retaining (and releasing) data about entered searches. Unbelievable. Put yourself in the shoes of these AOL subscribers. What if Google were to do the same thing (either intentionally or accidentally)?

A Face Is Exposed for AOL Searcher No. 4417749 By MICHAEL BARBARO and TOM ZELLER Jr. Published: August 9, 2006

Buried in a list of 20 million Web search queries collected by AOL and recently released on the Internet is user No. 4417749. The number was assigned by the company to protect the searcher’s anonymity, but it was not much of a shield.

No. 4417749 conducted hundreds of searches over a three-month period on topics ranging from “numb fingers” to “60 single men” to “dog that urinates on everything.”

And search by search, click by click, the identity of AOL user No. 4417749 became easier to discern. There are queries for “landscapers in Lilburn, Ga,” several people with the last name Arnold and “homes sold in shadow lake subdivision gwinnett county georgia.”

It did not take much investigating to follow that data trail to Thelma Arnold, a 62-year-old widow who lives in Lilburn, Ga., frequently researches her friends’ medical ailments and loves her three dogs. “Those are my searches,” she said, after a reporter read part of the list to her.


But the detailed records of searches conducted by Ms. Arnold and 657,000 other Americans, copies of which continue to circulate online, underscore how much people unintentionally reveal about themselves when they use search engines — and how risky it can be for companies like AOL, Google and Yahoo to compile such data.


But the unintended consequences of all that data being compiled, stored and cross-linked are what Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy rights group in Washington, called “a ticking privacy time bomb.”


Ms. Arnold, who agreed to discuss her searches with a reporter, said she was shocked to hear that AOL had saved and published three months’ worth of them. “My goodness, it’s my whole personal life,” she said. “I had no idea somebody was looking over my shoulder.”

In the privacy of her four-bedroom home, Ms. Arnold searched for the answers to scores of life’s questions, big and small. How could she buy “school supplies for Iraq children”? What is the “safest place to live”? What is “the best season to visit Italy”?

Her searches are a catalog of intentions, curiosity, anxieties and quotidian questions. There was the day in May, for example, when she typed in “termites,” then “tea for good health” then “mature living,” all within a few hours.

Her queries mirror millions of those captured in AOL’s database, which reveal the concerns of expectant mothers, cancer patients, college students and music lovers. User No. 2178 searches for “foods to avoid when breast feeding.” No. 3482401 seeks guidance on “calorie counting.” No. 3483689 searches for the songs “Time After Time” and “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

At times, the searches appear to betray intimate emotions and personal dilemmas. No. 3505202 asks about “depression and medical leave.” No. 7268042 types “fear that spouse contemplating cheating.”


Asked about Ms. Arnold, an AOL spokesman, Andrew Weinstein, reiterated the company’s position that the data release was a mistake. “We apologize specifically to her,” he said. “There is not a whole lot we can do.”


For the full article, click here.

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Privacy & Private Copying Levies

posted by:Jeremy deBeer // 11:59 PM // August 08, 2006 // ID TRAIL MIX


Levies are a way of compensating copyrights holders for the fact that people copy music for non-commercial purposes in their homes, a phenomenon known as “private copying.” For reasons I’ll discuss in a minute, licensing or preventing private copying is problematic. So instead of allowing copyrights holders to extract licence fees from actual private copiers, some countries authorize a tax on blank media and/or recording devices to generate compensatory revenues. As the internet and p2p are transforming private copying into public sharing, many commentators have advocated a greater role for levies.

The levitation of copyright can be a heavy topic. I want to offer a little grounding on one aspect of the debate—the relationship between privacy and private copying levies. Private copying has never been a purely private activity. Decades ago people were making mixed tapes for their friends, families and sweethearts. Still, privacy issues are deeply entwined with levies. Concerns about privacy are among the primary reasons for replacing current copyright laws, digital locks, end user licenses and litigation practices with broader levy schemes. But levies are not a privacy panacea. They could create an equally troubling set of privacy-related problems.

It is often believed that levies were simply a response to the practical difficulty of preventing or licensing private copying. Simple, cheap and popular home audio recording equipment made private copying impossible to prevent. Transaction and enforcement costs made private copying impossible to license. Moreover, laws were often ambiguous about whether private copying should or could be controlled. Policymakers have addressed these problems by expressly legalizing private copying and generating revenues to compensate copyrights holders by allowing them to tax blank media and/or recording devices.

In fact, however, policymakers were concerned not just with the interests of copyright holders but also with the privacy rights of private copiers. A copyright does not entitle its holder to control all possible uses of a work. Reading books, watching movies, viewing artwork or listening to music are not things that copyrights holders may legally prohibit, especially when these activities take place in private. Reproducing works for private non-commercial purposes is allowable on similar grounds.

These activities are permitted not only because they interfere minimally with copyrights holders’ legitimate economic interests, but more importantly because they occur within the individual user’s private sphere. The liberty to experience works in private is important for personal development and effective participation in a democratic society. The inviolability of one’s private sphere requires freedom from copyright holders’ claims of infringement for private copying. Controlling private copying with locks, licenses or litigation threatens to put individuals’ privacy at risk and undermine privacy as a social value. Levies, therefore, are as much about the principles of privacy as they are about the pragmatics of licensing.

However, despite the fact that levies were used historically to balance copyrights holders’ economic interests with individuals’ privacy rights, and the potential of levies to alleviate worries about the privacy impact of locks, licensing and litigation, levies give rise to a new set of privacy issues. Although it is not necessary to gather or monitor data about consumers’ preferences in order to generate revenues under levy schemes, such information is necessary to distribute those revenues to creators appropriately.

Under most private copying schemes, levy revenues are collected by an organization representing a large number of copyrights holders who have designated the organization to act on their behalf. Distributing revenues to the creators and companies entitled to receive remuneration is a long, complex and controversial process. In free market capitalist societies, popularity as measured by consumer demand is generally seen as the fairest way to allocate levy revenues. Techniques for measuring consumer demand are, however, imprecise. Revenues collected under Canada’s existing levy scheme are distributed on the basis of samples of other samples of two supposed proxies for consumers’ private copying of music: radio airplay and retail sales. These are unreliable indicators of consumer preferences, especially in a digital environment driven by p2p file sharing. Current sampling practices can skew distribution patterns generating windfalls for some copyright owners and nothing for others.

Consequently, most proponents of levies as alternative compensation schemes suggest using tracking mechanisms or other technologies to improve the accuracy of revenue distribution. Information embedded into digital files can be used to facilitate monitoring of consumers’ consumption of music. There are distinctions between the type of metering necessary for pay-per-use copyright licensing as compared to levy revenue distributions. For instance, the latter requires information only about whether digital content was consumed, not about who consumed it (although both kinds of data might be collected from the same person). Also, in the levy scenario, the entity collecting information could perhaps be a public administrative agency, not a private enterprise (although I’m not sure which is worse).

The bottom line is that monitoring consumption to distribute levy revenues has the potential to completely undermine any privacy gains achieved by the introduction of levies in the first place. This problem must be adequately studied and safeguarded against before levies could be a truly viable alternative compensation scheme.

Jeremy deBeer is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa.
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"Girls Gone Wild:" Just As Bad As it Looks

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 04:23 PM // // Commentary &/or random thoughts | General

LA TImes has published an excellent article on Joe Francis, the man behind the Girls Gone Wild films. The article was written by staff writer Claire Hoffman, for whom the title "intrepid reporter" is certainly well-deserved. I think the sections on public exhibitionism and hyper-
sexualized gender are particularly relevant to the IDTrail project. Hoffman writes:

Francis has aimed his cameras at a generation whose notions of privacy and sexuality are different from any other. Nursed on MySpace profiles and reality television, many young people today are comfortable with being perpetually photographed and having those images posted on the Internet for anyone to see.

link (thanks Boing Boing)

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The Punditry of RFID

posted by:Jeremy Hessing-Lewis // 09:23 AM // //

Globeandmail.com has posted an Associated Press article detailing how RFID passports can be hacked. The news comes out of the annual Defcon conference in Las Vegas where hackers and security professionals gather to show-off the latest and greatest threats to the digital world.

The news that RFIDs can be hacked and that high-tech passports will be vulnerable to such attacks is hardly surprising. Anyone following RFID developments (save perhaps a few government agencies) have been aware of these weaknesses for some time.

The real value of this story is the collection of comments that quickly amassed after the article was posted. The story behind the story offers an excellent sample of competing views on RFID.

Almost on cue, the 'technology sceptic' was first to post. Robert Boyd from Windsor, Canada writes: "Was anyone naif[sic] enough to suppose that any of this new, super duper, high tech baloney was intended to solve a security problem?" For this reader, technology will always be the problem and not the answer. Approximately 4 years ago, similar readers could be found sitting in coffee shops bemoaning the demise of printed daily newspapers and the inevitable decline of civil society.

Next comes the highly predictible 'information is the enemy' reader. Jim Terrets from Vancouver, writes: "Well done Globe and Mail, thanks to you, terrorists around the world now know that these passports can be easily hacked so that they can sneak into our countries and wreck[sic] havoc." Such readers think that talking about a problem is always worse than the problem itself. These comments tend to be so objectionable that they are catalysts for entire commentary sections unto themselves.

The initial provocations are followed by a series of consensus from technology professionals who tend to be the people reading the technology section. Eventually, the issue is expanded as commentary on liberal society itself. Jim Goodwin from Canada writes: "This is folly. Every step we take that infringes on the privacy and freedom of the private citizen is a system that the bad guys won."

Add a couple digressions: Andrew E from Calgary, Canada writes: "I wonder how long it will be before Israel arms members of it's spy agency with 'our' new passports?" And finally conclusions are drawn: Bill Smith from Chicago, IL, United States writes: #24--I agree with you. If I get an RFID-enabled passport, the first thing I'll do is have the RFID destroyed" and Anti Elvis from Waterloo, Canada writes: FYI, put your passport in the microwave for a few seconds. Problem fixed."

And there's the debate in a nutshell.

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Getting Naked – Tennis, the Hijab and the Struggle for Equality

posted by:Valerie Steeves // 11:59 PM // August 01, 2006 // ID TRAIL MIX


Last week, I spent 6 hours in a mall. For those of you who don’t know me well, you probably don’t realize how unusual that is. I hate shopping and my first thought as soon as I get into a store is how quickly I can leave. But the object of the trip seemed simple enough. We needed to buy some tennis shorts for my teenaged daughters - loose enough to be comfortable, with big pockets to hold tennis balls. After six hours, we had come up empty. We couldn’t find anything other than the low-cut, spandex, pocketless, extremely short shorts LuLu Lemon knockoffs that masquerade as girls sports wear. But what really struck me was how we managed to pick up seven tennis shirts and four pairs of tennis shorts for my son, without even looking.

You may be wondering what this has to do with privacy, but I’ve been thinking a lot about an article I read in the Toronto Star back in June after 17 men were arrested on terrorism charges. The story talked about what their wives experienced when they attended a set-date court appearance. The article started by saying, “They live by a different code. A code of modesty and privacy that was clearly violated at the Brampton courthouse yesterday as they arrived to catch a glimpse of their loved ones.” The media blitzkrieg that greeted these women as they stood in line to enter the court was likened to racial profiling and Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress defended the women by saying, “We know these are extremely private people... The merits of leading a secluded life is a separate debate altogether and is not done with cameras in these women's faces.”

I’m not so sure about that. In fact, this might be an excellent context to examine the relationship between privacy, power and identity. The hijabs and niquabs worn by the accused’s wives are as contested as my daughters’ sports wear. Advocates of the veil argue that it protects women from the male gaze and allows them the freedom to move about in public with anonymity. Its detractors argue that the hijab forces women into a private sphere structured by patriarchal violence and the disempowerment of women. Revealing women’s sports wear, on the other hand, can be said to liberate women’s sexuality from the strict codes of modesty that constrained them in the past, or to objectify their bodies as sexual property in any public context, in effect robbing them of power through public exposure. As far as privacy and publicity are concerned, women’s clothing is a red button topic.

But the newspaper coverage of the Brampton court date adds a new thread to the debate - privacy as political identity. The wives’ desire to avoid publicity is something they share in common with almost all family members of persons involved in court proceedings. But the claim that an extremely private life can justify a withdrawal from those most public of elements of the rule of law – a free press and an open trial – is an intrinsic claim to a special and unique identity. In this sense, seclusion of the feminine becomes a form of social power.

The fact there is a relationship between privacy and power is old news. The wealthy and powerful often use their influence to protect their private lives from public scrutiny. However, I find it interesting that the claim was made with respect to these women’s bodies, their physical appearance at the courthouse, and yet it was not made with respect to the publication of their blog entries in the Globe and Mail. One could argue that the publication of their images – or the small parts of their bodies that were exposed to the public eye that day before the courthouse – is far less invasive than the reprinting of their comments about jihad or their hatred of Canada in a national newspaper. But their bodies are what is contested – not the bodies of their male partners or friends but their bodies, as women. The jarring note that comes out loud and clear in the article is that the exposure of these women’s bodies in public implicates them in some way. As one of them was heard to say at the scene, “Even if they don't see us, they will know we're here.” Ironically, the claim to privacy through hijab makes them visible in a way that Western clothing could never do, but it is a vulnerability their men do not share. They are vulnerable as women.

On the other hand, my daughters’ shopping expedition drives home the ways in which Western women’s clothing is used to structure and discipline girls’ bodies by exposure. I often laugh when I hear people talk about the incredible variety available to teens in the marketplace. One of my girls wore ripped jeans for ten months because she couldn’t find a replacement pair that weren’t so low, she couldn’t sit down in them without exposing herself. For her, women’s clothing is inherently political – the extent of exposure is tied directly to her sense of identity and her potential for empowerment.

Our shared ability, or lack of ability, as women to determine if and when we reveal our bodies in public underlines how the relationship between privacy and identity is a gendered one. And it has everything to do with power. It’s no surprise to me that my daughters – like Rosalind and Viola before them – solved their tennis dilemma by going to the men’s section and buying boys sports shorts.

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