Monday, April 27, 2009

Lessons from the Identity Trail

"One uploaded photo, credit card number or status update at a time, we are relinquishing our privacy and anonymity." That's according to the results of a study on how society's use of information communication technologies impacts privacy and anonymity. University of Ottawa professor Ian Kerr and nearly two dozen researchers from across the globe spent four years examining the issue, ultimately determining that our anonymity and right to privacy is in jeopardy.

The results of their research have been published in a book, On the Identity Trail: Anonymity, Privacy and Identity in a Networked Society, which is available for free download online. Kerr also provides an overview in this CBC podcast, which aired on April 17, 2009.

Among the findings:

The researchers reported that governments are choosing laws that require people to identify themselves and are lowering judicial thresholds defining when identity information must be disclosed to law enforcement officials. That is allowing the wider use of new technologies capable of making people identifiable, including smartcards, security cameras, GPS, tracking cookies and DNA sequencing.

Consequently, governments and corporations are able to do things like:

  • Embrace technologies such as radio frequency identification tags that can be used to track people and merchandise to analyze behaviour.
  • Boost video surveillance in public places.
  • Pressure companies such as internet service providers to collect and maintain records of identification information about their customers.
While Canada, the U.K., the Netherlands and Italy all have national laws protecting privacy – that is, laws that allow citizens to control access to their personal data – such legal protection does not exist for anonymity.