Blog | The Anonymity Experiment

The loss of privacy is no longer a secondary theme in Cyberpunk fiction. As we are still waiting for real cyberware to hit the streets, rising sea levels and skys that look like TV turned to a dead channel, total surveillance now is the main theme (or one of the major themes) and anchor(s) of many „post-cyberpunk“ books, films and settings.

The thing is this: Total surveillance is already upon us. And not all of it has to do with fear of terrorist attacks, evil government plots or secret service spooks. Most of it is so mundane that we don’t even recognize it happening.

The following text is from Popsci and is definetly worth reading. Here are some quotes to give you an overview of this complex (and often quite scary) issue:

The Anonymity Experiment

By Catherine Price

„In 2006, David Holtzman decided to do an experiment. Holtzman, a security consultant and former intelligence analyst, was working on a book about privacy, and he wanted to see how much he could find out about himself from sources available to any tenacious stalker. So he did background checks. He pulled his credit file. He looked at Amazon.com transactions and his credit-card and telephone bills. He got his DNA analyzed and kept a log of all the people he called and e-mailed, along with the Web sites he visited. When he put the information together, he was able to discover so much about himself—from detailed financial information to the fact that he was circumcised—that his publisher, concerned about his privacy, didn’t let him include it all in the book.

I’m no intelligence analyst, but stories like Holtzman’s freak me out. So do statistics like this one: Last year, 127 million sensitive electronic and paper records (those containing Social Security numbers and the like) were hacked or lost—a nearly 650 percent increase in data breaches from the previous year. Also last year, news broke that hackers had stolen somewhere between 45 million and 94 million credit- and debit-card numbers from the databases of the retail company TJX, in one of the biggest data breaches in history. Last November, the British government admitted losing computer discs containing personal data for 25 million people, which is almost half the country’s population. Meanwhile, some privacy advocates worry that the looming merger between Google and the Internet ad company DoubleClick presages an era in which corporations regularly eavesdrop on our e-mail and phone calls so they can personalize ads with creepy precision. Facebook’s ill-fated Beacon feature, which notifies users when their friends buy things from Facebook affiliates, shows that in the information age, even our shopping habits are fit for public broadcast. Facebook made Beacon an opt-in service after outraged users demanded it do so, but the company didn’t drop it completely.

Then we have Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of National Intelligence, who proclaimed in a speech last October that “protecting anonymity isn’t a fight that can be won.” Privacy-minded people have long warned of a world in which an individual’s every action leaves a trace, in which corporations and governments can peer at will into your life with a few keystrokes on a computer. Now one of the people in charge of information-gathering for the U.S. government says, essentially, that such a world has arrived.

So when this magazine suggested I try my own privacy experiment, I eagerly agreed. We decided that I would spend a week trying to be as anonymous as possible while still living a normal life. I would attempt what many believe is now impossible: to hide in plain sight.

A Gallup poll of approximately 1,000 Americans taken in February 1999 found that 70 percent of them believed that the Constitution “guarantees citizens the right to privacy.” Wrong. The Constitution doesn’t even contain the word. And in a fully wired world, that’s an unnerving fact.

(…)

Hoofnagle had tried his own version of the same thing, partly for fun and partly because of fears of retribution from private investigators he had irritated in his previous job at EPIC. “When moving to San Francisco two years ago, I deliberately gave my new address to no business or government entity,” he told me. “As a result, no one really knows where I live.” His bills are in aliases, and despite setbacks—like having his power turned off because the company didn’t know where to send the statement—he’s been successful at concealing his home address.

Now that he’s a senior fellow at the University of California at Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, Hoofnagle doesn’t keep his office location a secret, so on a sunny afternoon, I set off to meet him there.

Tall and friendly, Hoofnagle has an enthusiastic way of talking about privacy violations that could best be described as “cheerful outrage.” He laid out my basic tasks:

[ Checklist for aspiring Cyberpunks – blogger’s remark ]

– Pay for everything in cash.

– Don’t use my regular cellphone, landline or e-mail account.

– Use an anonymizing service to mask my Web surfing.

– Stay away from government buildings and airports (too many surveillance cameras)

– Wear a hat and sunglasses to foil cameras I can’t avoid.

– Don’t use automatic toll lanes.

– Get a confetti-cut paper shredder for sensitive documents and junk mail.

– Sign up for the national do-not-call registry (ignoring, if you can, the irony of revealing your phone number and e-mail address to prevent people from contacting you)

– Opt out of prescreened credit offers.

– Don’t buy a plane ticket, rent a car, get married, have a baby, purchase land, start a business, go to a casino, use a supermarket loyalty card, or buy nasal decongestant

By the time I left Hoofnagle’s office, a week was beginning to sound like a very long time.“

Please read the full, exciting and highly interesting article here.

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