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« September 2007 | Main

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

posted by:Kris Klein // 11:59 PM // October 23, 2007 // ID TRAIL MIX


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.

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

posted by:Cynthia Aoki // 11:59 PM // October 16, 2007 // ID TRAIL MIX


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 the midst of writing one and in fact, I had been writing and contributing to this autobiography my whole life. According to McAdams, the individual is the primary author of his or her autobiographical narratives and the individual’s memories link together the past, the present, and the future in order to provide a sense of identity and also to provide a sense of purpose for one’s thoughts and behaviours.

This means that all the memories that I formed (both consciously and unconsciously) have helped to provide me with my sense of identity and that I’m continuously evaluating my experiences and integrating them into the larger narrative of my life.

But what would happen if I experienced something so horrifically terrible that I didn’t want it to form part of my life story. Would I have the option of ensuring that I no longer remember this event and that the memory of the event no longer forms part of my autobiography? If so, and I can start actively meddling with my autobiography, would this change who I am?

Memory and Drugs

Because of the importance of memory and its role in defining one’s identity, scientists in the realm of psychology, neurology, and neuroscience have been investigating methods of enhancing or preserving different types of memory. [2]

More recently, scientists have started to focus on developing pharmacological agents that inhibit or dampen the strength of memory formation and recall. These memory dampening agents are currently being investigated for the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD and Autobiographical Memories

PTSD is a psychiatric anxiety disorder that can develop in response to traumatic experiences. [3] One hallmark characteristic of this disorder is the alternation between re-experiencing and avoiding trauma-related memories. In some cases, the disorder can be so debilitating that the individual can no longer function in society due to the involuntary and continuous recall of the horrific event.

Currently, researchers are investigating the interaction between autobiographical memories and PTSD. According to Bernsten (2001), traumatic memories are important in that they become reference points to other experiences in one’s autobiographical memory database. More specifically, traumatic memories become significant landmarks, which represent a major threat that is perceived by individuals with PTSD. [4]

By inhibiting the formation of certain autobiographical memories with the use of these memory dampening agents, the potential formation of these important landmarks may be circumvented.

Pharmaceutical Forgetting

Research has shown in both animal and human studies that emotionally arousing experiences are better remembered than those that are emotionally neutral. [5] Arousal is dictated by the level of adrenaline in the body; a higher level of adrenaline results in increased arousal, and therefore, stronger memory formation. Propranolol, which is already being prescribed for the treatment of hypertension, is used to block the effects of adrenaline. Scientists hypothesize that propranolol could help to dampen the recall of traumatic experiences by dampening arousal. Propranolol is currently being tested in multi-centre clinical trials for the treatment of PTSD.

More interestingly, researchers have recently shown that propranolol can also blunt previously formed memories in humans. [6] In a double blind, randomized study, persons with chronic PTSD were asked to recall their traumatic experiences. The mere recall of these previously experienced traumatic events caused adrenaline to be released and resulted in increased arousal. Upon experiencing arousal, half of the participants were administered propranolol; the other half were administered a placebo. Results showed that propranolol retroactively blunted the recall of previously formed traumatic memories.

Once approved for the treatment of PTSD, what would be the legal implications of using these agents in society?

Legal Issues

Propranolol is known as a “beta-blocker” and was developed in the 1950s and has been prescribed for the treatment of hypertension since the 1970s. In both volunteer studies [7] and clinical trials [8] the use of beta blockers was found to impair memory recall. Interestingly, a similar dose (120 mg-160mg/day) is being prescribed for both the treatment of hypertension and for the treatment of memory dampening. [9] Results from these experiments suggest that individuals who are prescribed propranolol for the treatment of hypertension may be subject to memory impairment; perhaps without their knowledge or consent. Of concern to the legal system is that the reliability and accuracy of the testimonies given by these individuals taking propranolol will be called into question. When deliberating future cases, it will be important for Canadian courts to be mindful of the potential effects that propranolol and similar drugs could have on a witness’s testimony.

Another legal issue arising from the use of these agents is the extent of informed consent that would be required when prescribing these memory dampening drugs. After experiencing a traumatic event, individuals will likely be rushed to the emergency room in order to be treated for both mental and physical distress. Upon reaching the emergency room, a tending physician may recommend the treatment of propranolol in order to help minimize the chances of developing PTSD in the future. Despite being informed of the potential risks and uncertainties associated with these agents, it is questionable whether individuals taking these drugs would be in a legitimate position to give their informed consent because 1) their decision making skills would be significantly compromised as they are in times of distress [10], and 2) they would not know the potential role these dampened memories would have played in their future lives and identities.

Some Final Thoughts

Currently, memory dampening agents are not available to the general public. The quickly advancing field of neuroscience, however, may be able to provide new, more specific, and safer agents to help dampen the painful memories associated with traumatic events. In the near future, some of these newer technologies could be potent enough to allow for memory deletion to occur. Recently, the drug, U0126 (not yet available in humans), was able to selectively delete a particular fear-induced memory in rats. [11] Perhaps these memory deleting agents will become available for use in humans.

In conclusion, it will be necessary for the courts and the government to be informed of all of these new pharmacological developments so that they will be in a legitimate position to weigh both the legal and social implications of using these interventions in the future.

Some Final Final Thoughts

By the time I get around to writing an autobiography, I could have gone through some experiences that may have tempted me to take one of these memory dampening agents and artificially blunt some of my memories.
Maybe it’s just me, but if I do decide to write an autobiography, I want to be able to look back and remember both the good and bad times; the times I’ve laughed and sobbed. I want to be confident that the memories I’m recalling and writing about are genuine and that my memories aren’t pharmaceutically modified in any way, shape, or form.

[1] D.P. McAdams, “The Psychology of Life Stories” (2001) 5:2 Review of General Psychology 100-122
[2] Farah, M. J., Illes, J., Cook-Deegan, R., Gardner, H., Kandel, E., King, P., Parens, E., Sahakian, B., & Wolpe, P. R. (2004). Neurocognitive enhancement: what can we do and what should we do? Nat Rev Neurosci, 5(5), 421-425
[3] Vasterling, J. J., Brewin, C. R. (2005). Neuropsychology of PTSD. New York: Guilford Press.
[4] Bernsten, D., Willert, M., Rubin, D.C. (2005). Splintered memories or vivid landmarks? Qualities and organization of traumatic memories with and without PTSD. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 17, 675-693.
[5] McGaugh, J. L. (2006). Make mild moments memorable: add a little arousal. Trends Cogn Sci, 10(8),
[6] Brunet, A., Orr, S. P., Tremblay, J., Robertson, K., Nader, K., & Pitman, R. K. (2007). Effect of post-retrieval
propranolol on psychophysiologic responding during subsequent script-driven traumatic imagery in post-traumatic
stress disorder. J Psychiatr Res. (in press).
[7] Frcka, G., & Lader, M. (1988). Psychotropic effects of repeated doses of enalapril, propranolol and
atenolol in normal subjects. Br J Clin Pharmacol, 25(1), 67-73.
[8] Blumenthal, J. A., Madden, D. J., Krantz, D. S., Light, K. C., McKee, D. C., Ekelund, L. G., & Simon, J.
(1988). Short-term behavioral effects of beta-adrenergic medications in men with mild hypertension. Clin
Pharmacol Ther
, 43(4), 429-435.
[9] Pitman, R. K., Sanders, K. M., Zusman, R. M., Healy, A. R., Cheema, F., Lasko, N. B., Cahill, L., & Orr, S. P.
(2002). Pilot study of secondary prevention of posttraumatic stress disorder with propranolol. Biol Psychiatry, 51(2), 189-192.
[10] Hammond, K. R. (2000). Judgments under stress. New York: Oxford University Press.
[11] Doyere, V., Debiec, J., Monfils, M. H., Schafe, G. E., & LeDoux, J. E. (2007). Synapse-specific reconsolidation
of distinct fear memories in the lateral amygdala. Nat Neurosci, 10(4), 414-416.

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

posted by:Kayleigh Platz // 11:59 PM // October 09, 2007 // ID TRAIL MIX


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.

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Wikisurveillance: a genealogy of cooperative watching in the West

posted by:Michael Arntfield // 11:59 PM // October 02, 2007 // ID TRAIL MIX


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.


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