understanding the importance and impact of anonymity and authentication in a networked society
navigation menu top border
navigation menu bottom border
left side navigation top border

left side navigation bottom border

left side navigation top border
left side navigation top border

main display area top border
PDF Print

Steven Davis, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre on Values and Ethics, Carleton University, welcomed conference participants and thanked the conference sponsors for their generous support.

Introductory and Background Remarks
Ian Kerr, Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law & Technology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario
Jacquelyn Burkell, Faculty of Information and Media Studies, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario
Ian Kerr welcomed conference participants and thanked Steven Davis, and David Matheson, post-doctoral fellow, Carleton University, for their tremendous efforts in organizing the conference and developing an impressive roster of speakers to provide insights on the contours of privacy.  Kerr provided a brief overview of the On the Identity Trail project and stressed the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to studying the societal impact of technology.  Kerr also commended the conference organizers for their inclusion of a number of student papers and underscored the value of student input and research to the work of the On the Identity Trail project. Jacquelyn Burkell introduced the conference’s theme and spoke about new technologies that could have important implications for privacy.  She noted that we are increasingly exposed to smart technologies, which, in the words of Mark Weisman, “weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it:” cell phones, for instance, that give off GPS signals or IPODs that automatically search for our favourite radio shows.  These are examples of spimes: objects that “fling off data” about themselves and their environment.  These can be created by implanting radio frequency identifier tags (RFIT) into objects and integrating these into larger systems.  RFITs are kinds of tags that hold unique identifier information that they give off freely to the appropriate stimulus.  They are frequently used to identify pets.  They are also used at Denmark’s Legoland to track children.  In this case they are attached to bracelets, but they could be implanted in people (the Mexican Attorney General had this done to his staff for security reasons).  It will also be possible to put cash under one’s skin so that one can pay without carrying paper money. Retailers are particularly attracted to RFITs.  Most immediately because they allow items to be scanned more easily at the cash and, through a hook up with a computer, allow inventory to be done quickly.  Once the item is at home, consumers might take advantage of these functions.  A fridge could alert us to what items are in low quantity, a washing machine could warn us if we are putting clothes in that shouldn’t be washed together.  The danger is that once RFITs are implanted in our clothes (food, product packages, etc.) we will move about giving off a cloud of identifiers.  This opens us up to profiling and surveillance threats.  Database profiles can easily be augmented and refined while individuals can be located precisely in space and time.   The financial motivation, or rather pressure, to include RFITs in our products will be significant, but there are methods to protect individuals – either through kill commands or blocker tags that would neutralize the signal’s RFITs give off.  Laws might also require informed consent before an RFIT can be permanently placed in a product (or person).
Privacy and Rationality in Online Social Networks
Alessandro Acquisti, Department of Information Systems and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Professor Alessandro Acquisti presented a study on the privacy risks associated with Online Social Networks (OSNs). OSNs are sites where people talk about themselves, present a profile, and connect to the profiles of others. OSNs have different topics or themes of interest and Professor Acquisti’s work focused on an empirical study of the OSN “Facebook”, which is used quite frequently as a means to connect students in Universities or high schools with others in the same institution. In this study he examined the revealing of personal information and the understanding of participants as to access to their personal information. Most users included their birth date, profile image, what high school they attended, address, and phone number. This data was correct for 89% of users who used their real name.  There are many privacy risks associated with revealing this information, such as: real-world stalking, online stalking, re-identification (information posted by Facebook users can be used to link them to outside, de-identified data sources), and digital dossiers (users sometimes reveal sensitive information and simple script programs allow adversaries to continuously retrieve and save all profile information). Although users revealed personal information, most of them were concerned with privacy issues.  A significant problem is that most users do not understand how Facebook works; for example, they are not aware that anyone at a University can search their profile or that Facebook collects or substitutes data from other sources to build a user’s profile. As well, most users do not change the default search settings.  The default setting is open access to all; however, users can change the default to restrict access to their personal information.  OSNs are often used as a way of signalling who we are and connecting with like individuals. However, individuals may not be clear about the consequences of disclosing personal information in this manner or sufficiently understand the options available to better protect their privacy.

Privacy and Psychology
Stephen Margulis, Seidman College of Business, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Because privacy has a number of legal, scientific and popular meanings, it has been difficult to define for psychologists. Professor Margulis provided a formal definition of privacy as representing “control over transactions between person(s) and other(s), the ultimate aim of which is to enhance autonomy and/or to minimize vulnerability”. In defining privacy, he compared Altman’s and Westin’s theories of privacy which provide a reasonable foundation for understanding privacy as a psychological concept. Margulis briefly discussed some of the costs and benefits of privacy that concern the realm of psychology, cautioning that these are largely predicted rather than demonstrated. He explained that while privacy plays an important role in normal psychological functioning by facilitating stable interpersonal relationships and personal development, invasions of privacy, which consist of our personal self falling into the wrong hands, cause social stigma and have potential life-and-death costs. He went on to provide a number of reasons why privacy is important at the behavioral level. Not only is privacy a cultural universal, it also plays a critical role as a social rule in defining relationships, as a basic component of human rights attitudes, and as a basic criterion in preferences. Despite privacy being behaviorally important, its status in the field of psychology is uncertain. While environmental psychologists have shown a sustained interest in privacy, it has been overlooked and neglected by social psychologists and industrial and organizational psychologists.

Privacy and the Public Interest
Mariam Thalos, Department of Philosophy, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

Mariam Thalos addressed the apparent conflict between privacy and accountability in democratic society.  Specifically, she raised the question of whether greater transparency about certain quasi-public practices (such as voting) might lead to a more vibrant democracy.  Thalos began her talk with some discussion of traditional conceptions of privacy, liberty and accountability.  She asked whether liberty and accountability were two sides of the same coin – for every advance in individual liberty (privacy) is some accountability lost?  She suggested that a balance could be found between the two values:  advocating for privacy need not mean a loss of accountability, but perhaps a re-thinking of where privacy is actually needed.  Thalos identified three kinds of privacy:  liberty (decisional) privacy, information privacy and spatial privacy.  Decisional privacy appeared different from the other two kinds of privacy, which relate more to human dignity.  Consequently, the privacy we want to protect, said Thalos, might be better protected by non-legal means – a right to privacy per se may not necessarily be the best solution.  Ultimately, she concluded, any conception of privacy must give way to the larger public interest in accountability.  

Anonymity and Privacy: Conceptual Links and Normative Implications
Travis Dumsday, Department of Philosophy, University of Waterloo

Travis Dumsday presented a paper examining the intersection between anonymity and privacy and the contextual nature of each.  Dumsday began by conceptualizing anonymity as the state of being non-identified rather than merely the state of not being named.  It is not that information cannot be coordinated to discover identity, he asserted, but rather the belief that it has not been coordinated which establishes the sense of anonymity.  To exemplify this Dumsday presented the scenario of a public square being monitored continuously by cameras.  While at any given time information is being gathered about all the individuals crossing the square, Dumsday suggested that anonymity is only lost upon actual coordination of this information with identifying traits, and not merely with the ability to coordinate.  Following this, Dumsday identified four notions that factor into our conceptualization of privacy: 1) information access control 2) safety valve privacy 3) respect privacy 4) room to grow privacy.  He focused primarily on the notion of information access control and various theories that speak to its loss or violation.  

Dumsday then went on to argue that we can lose privacy in important ways without losing our anonymity, illustrating the claim with interesting examples.  (Consider the case of the stolen diary: an individual's deeply personal diary is stolen and published anonymously, whereupon it becomes a bestseller; the individual's anonymity is preserved in this situation, despite the fact that there is a serious privacy invasion.)  He concluded with a discussion of different ways in which we might try to deal with the ethics of such anonymity-preserving invasions of privacy, particularly in contexts where it really matters (e.g. the publication of anonymized medical information).

Privacy and the Media
Lysiane Gagnon, La Presse and The Globe and Mail, Montreal, Quebec

Lysiane Gagnon explored the tension between two principles: respect for privacy and freedom of the press.  She mused on how these two seemingly contradictory principles might be balanced, especially since journalist have not universally accepted a framework for balancing them.

Gagnon excluded publications that thrive on the erosion of privacy (such as Frank Magazine) from her analysis, and instead focused on major media.  The major media, she contended, ought to tread carefully when it comes to privacy.  While sensationalism sells, the casual violation of privacy will dissuade qualified people from pursuing public office or other high profile positions, which is bad for society.  Also, the media's tendency to quickly judge individuals on moral issues leads to privacy invasions without contemplation and threatens the traditional presumption of innocence.  In sum, freedom of the press is important, but journalists must self-regulate to respect privacy, which is also vital to society.

Privacy on the Roads: How the Design of New Vehicle Safety Communication Technologies Impacts Drivers' 'Privacy in Public'

Michael Zimmer, Department of Culture and Communication, New York University

Michael Zimmer of the PORTIA (Privacy Obligations and Rights in Technologies and Information Assessment) project spoke about his recent involvement with the new technologies being explored by the auto industry.  The industry is looking at Vehicle Safety Communication (VSC) technologies, which involves implanting vehicles with transmitting devices that would interact with other vehicles and roadside installations.  A signal interacting with a traffic light for instance could indicate whether, judging from the speed limit or the car’s actual speed, a driver could make the light before it turned red.  Similarly, vehicles could signal other vehicles of potentially dangerous moves outside drivers’ immediate field of vision.  Unlike cell phone technology, which operates through a single satellite computer, this system would comprise an ad hoc local network in which each vehicle would be a node transmitting 10 times per second to all receptors nearby.

Much of Zimmer’s work concerns identifying privacy issues associated with this technology and dispelling the belief of those, for example engineers, whom he finds are resistant to the idea of there being any privacy on public roadways.  He advances Nissenbaum’s idea of contextual integrity, which posits contextual and cultural norms to govern what information can appropriately be shared and how information should move from agent to agent.  Violations of these norms would result in loss of contextual integrity and ultimately privacy.  

If developed without constraints, VSC has the capacity to modify the information that is in circulation in public and how and by whom it is accessed.  The capacity is far greater than conventional information gathering and retrieval, which is placement specific (right place at the right time) and relies on either analog information (sorting through hours of video) or human memory.  VSC technologies would create an open and wide transmission of data and organise it to be more easily retrieved, which may either violate or shift our contextual integrity norms.

In response, PORTIA has been working on value sensitive design, which would incorporate privacy protection into VSC devices.  These include encryption, opt outs and requiring consent for certain items.
Dinner & Keynote Address
Privacy and Civil Liberties
Alan Borovoy, General Council, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Toronto, Ontario
Alan Borovoy, General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association since 1968 and recipient of many distinguished awards, treated conference attendees to an after-dinner talk.  Drawing from his many years of service advocating and protecting civil liberties Borovoy described how privacy, when adopted by the state either in excess or deficiency, poses a possible threat to civil liberties.  When adopted in excess, privacy threatens to undermine the best interests of society as it blocks access to information that would otherwise be released by those to whom it attaches.  Borovoy pointed to a particular case in which the courts blocked access to cockpit voice recordings during transportation investigations, on the grounds that it would violate the privacy rights of the deceased pilots.  At the other end of the scale embracing privacy deficiently threatens an inadequate constraint on the state’s power when defining the appropriate use of such processes as electronic eavesdropping.  Borovoy elucidated this point by arguing that in a one-year study conducted on electronic eavesdropping in the U.S. (1969-1970), of the roughly forty thousand people subjected to the procedure fewer than two thousand were convicted.  In his parting words, Borovoy left the attendees with these words (paraphrased): “The beginning of wisdom is the recognition that whatever we do, it is likely to turn out badly!  The challenge is determining which is the least bad of the choices.”

The Historical Record: Private/Public Life
Robert Ellis Smith, Publisher, Privacy Journal, Providence, Rhode Island
Robert Ellis Smith offered a brief history of anonymity in the United States.  He argued that dating back to Washington, Jefferson and other U.S. founders, who encrypted their conversations to protect plans from the British, a strong tradition of protecting anonymity existed prior to the advent of the internet, which he believes is changing things.  During the era of telegraph communication, no privacy legislation was needed because the large volume of messages served to effectively protect anonymity.  The spread of motels and attendant lack of requirements to provide identifying registration information was another sign of the U.S. preoccupation with anonymity: motels became so popular that J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI worried that they were “hotbeds of illicit sex.”   The tide began to turn with the introduction of credit cards in place of cash payments.  The 1990s saw a veritable sea change with the advent of targeted marketing and cookies.  Since then, and increasingly, all manner of identification and tracking systems are being deployed: road transportation (for example, trucks) in the U.S. is increasingly tracked; Boston’s transit systems asks for identification with the purchase of transit cards; toll stations on roads using automated technology to identify for billing purposes (and are an increasing points of interest for law enforcement); and, it is becoming nearly impossible to fly without significant identification.  Against this tide, technologies have also been developed to protect anonymity on the Internet and the phone; however, these have not proved to be popular, judging from their uptake.

Privacy and Anonymity in Self-Help Groups: An Anthropological Approach
Catarina Frois, Instituto de Ciencias Soicias, University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal

Using empirical data collected through observations of weekly meetings and interviews with members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Families Anonymous (FA), this study explores the role that privacy and anonymity play in anonymous self-help groups.  Anonymity is defined as a chosen degree of omission of facts allowing members to manage their personal information.  The evaluation finds that anonymity is a condition for inclusion and interaction to occur in self-help groups.  Members are able to experience acceptance in the group regardless of socially significant outside attributes, like marital or employment status, which is a therapeutic vehicle in itself.  This is particularly important because people who seek membership in anonymous associations are often stigmatized by society as a result of their addiction or problem, and do not want to be associated with drug or alcohol addiction – all that matters in the context of the anonymous group is an intention to start something new.  The self-help group situation is confessional, involving the discussion of members’ personal and emotional experiences, and the preservation of anonymity and privacy allows for “anonymous intimacy” to develop between group members, whereby the group is bound by a sense of security and acceptance regardless of their identities.

Privacy as Commodity:  Divulgence as Diversion
Aritha Van Herk, English Department, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta
Aritha Van Herk presented a paper from the unique perspective of a writer and discussed the concepts of privacy and divulgence in popular culture.  Van Herk highlighted the curious nature of our society, which claims to value privacy so highly and yet obsessively seeks out divulgence in the media. Examples of this phenomenon include celebrity gossip magazines, reality T.V. and autobiographies.  Van Herk postulated that in a sense we have two selves:  an external self, whom we are willing to divulge publicly and an interior self, whose privacy we protect.  As a female writer, Van Herk was particularly engaged with the idea of revealing as much as possible to balance a traditionally male narrative in history.  She questioned whether as a writer “she is participating in a charade with the audience,” falsely implying “that [she] is giving them secrets of her ‘real life’?”  Ultimately, Van Herk concluded, privacy is a strategy for survival:  it is at once a disguise and something for which we long.
main display area bottom border

.:privacy:. | .:contact:. | .:1rxdrugs.net:.

This is a SSHRC funded project:
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

© 2014 On the Identity Trail
Joomla! is Free Software released under the GNU/GPL License.