Archive for the ‘Proposals’ Category

Role of privacy in protecting political freedoms

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Josh Hall brings to our attention an article in Technology Review by Simson Garfinkel. While the article focuses on online privacy, below are some excerpts that may be useful for our purposes here:

Privacy gives us the right to meet and speak confidentially with others—a right that’s crucial for democracy, which requires places for political ideas to grow and mature. …

Collectively, we made things worse by not building strong privacy and security guarantees into our information systems, our businesses, and our society…

Another law, the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988, makes it illegal for Netflix to disclose the movies you rent…

A Nixon administration advisory committee then developed the Code of Fair Information Practice, a guiding set of principles that underlies the majority of U.S. privacy laws passed since.

This code is surprisingly straightforward. There should be no secret data banks; individuals must be able to view their records; there must be a way to correct errors; organizations maintaining data banks must make sure they’re reliable and protect them from unauthorized access; and information collected for one purpose must not be used for other purposes…

Congress, however, opposed TIA on the grounds that it treated everyone in the country as a suspect, and because it feared that a massive data surveillance system might be used for purposes other than catching terrorists. This prospect was not so hypothetical: in 1972 Richard Nixon had ordered the IRS to investigate his political opponents, including major contributors to George McGovern’s presidential campaign…

For more than 100 years, American jurisprudence has recognized privacy as a requirement for democracy, social relations, and human dignity. For nearly 50, we’ve understood that protecting privacy takes more than just controlling intrusions into your home; it also requires being able to control information about you that’s available to businesses, government, and society at large. Even though Americans were told after 9/11 that we needed to choose between security and privacy, it’s increasingly clear that without one we will never have the other.

Simson’s proposal for a government-issued online identity will be very controversial—see Bruce Schneier for the opposite view—but his discussion of the role of privacy in protecting freedom is useful separately from that.

I increasingly feel we need a different term than “privacy” for what we are trying to protect. Privacy has negative connotations. Any ideas? —Chris Peterson

‘Towards privacy-sensitive participatory sensing’

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

From the Fifth IEEE International Workshop on Sensor Networks and Systems for Pervasive Computing, three authors from Australia bring us Towards Privacy-Sensitive Participatory Sensing:

The ubiquity of mobile devices has brought forth the concept of participatory sensing, whereby ordinary citizens can now contribute and share information from the urban environment. However, such applications introduce a key research challenge: preserving the location privacy of the individuals contributing data. In this paper, we propose the use of microaggregation, a concept used for protecting privacy in databases, as a solution to this problem.

More of this kind of creativity, please. —Chris Peterson

Open Source Sensing Initiative officially launched

Monday, June 8th, 2009

from the press release:

Open Source Sensing Initiative Launched
Preserving security *and* civil liberties in the Sensor Age

Palo Alto, CA — June 8, 2009 — A new open source-style project to promote Open Source Sensing has been started, with the goal of bringing the benefits of a bottom-up, decentralized approach to sensing for security and environmental purposes.

“The intent of the project is to take advantage of advances in sensing to improve both security and the environment, while preserving — even strengthening — privacy, freedom, and civil liberties,” said Christine Peterson, coiner of the term ‘open source software.’ “We have a unique opportunity to steer today’s emerging sensing/surveillance technologies in positive directions, before they become widespread.”

“Cheap, ubiquitous sensing has the potential to turn the worlds of privacy and civil rights upside-down,” said Brad Templeton, a futurist and civil rights activist who chairs the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “No easy solution stands out, but the quest for an answer to these problems — by learning from the bottom-up approaches of the open source community — may provide some water in the desert.”

Participation is welcome from individuals and organizations, both non-profit and for-profit. The project is coordinated by Foresight Institute, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization focused on transformative technologies.

Link to website:

About Foresight Institute
Foresight Institute is a leading think tank and public interest organization focused on transformative future technologies. Founded in 1986, its mission is to discover and promote the upsides, and help avoid the dangers, of nanotechnology, AI, biotech, and similar life-changing developments. Foresight provides balanced, accurate and timely information to help society understand nanotechnology through publications, public policy activities, roadmaps, prizes, and conferences.

Christine Peterson
tel +1 (650) 289-0860 ext 255
or use Contact email form at

Sensing: Participatory or Opportunistic?

Monday, June 1st, 2009

A paper from Dartmouth and Columbia, funded by Intel and the Dept. of Homeland Security, Urban Sensing Systems: Opportunistic or Participatory?, distinguishes opportunistic vs. participatory sensing, and advocates the former:

With opportunistic sensing, the custodian may not be aware of active applications. Instead a custodian’s device (e.g., cell phone) is utilized whenever its state (e.g., geographic location, body location) matches the requirements of an application. This state is automatically detected; the custodian does not knowingly change the device state for the purpose of meeting the application request. To support symbiosis between the custodian and the system, sensor sampling occurs only if the privacy and transparency needs of the custodian are met. The main privacy concern is the potential leak of personally sensitive information indirectly when providing sensor data (i.e., the custodian’s location). To maintain transparency, opportunistic use of a device should not noticeably impact the normal user experience of the custodian as he uses it for his own needs.

They appear to be using the term ‘transparency’ differently than we would? —Chris Peterson

DARPA integrating sensor data on ‘elusive targets’

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Nathan Hodge of Wired brings us news of DARPA’s plans for sensing:

It means stitching together information collected by different sensors to track a moving object.

Darpa’s 2009 strategic plan offers a fascinating overview of the different approaches the agency is taking to better track and identify these elusive targets. Some of these, like the Forester foliage- penetrating radar, tackle a specific problem: detecting enemy troops moving under the cover of dense jungle canopy. But another program, called NetTrack, would provide more persistent reconnaissance by linking together and comparing information from different sensors to track a target, even if it moves behind a solid obstruction.

The NetTrack overview on the Darpa website gives few details, but the strategic plan gives a better idea of how it might work. Using software tools, the system could stitch together information from a variety of sensors (synthetic aperture radar, optical, video, acoustic sensors, moving target indicators), and hand off to the right platform when appropriate. For instance, if a Predator lost a video feed on a vehicle that entered a forest, the networked system would cue a laser radar sensor to search for the target. Fusing or comparing sensor information can also help map out better routes for surveillance aircraft to ensure full-time coverage.

One big issue for us will be the extent to which the open source sensing principles apply to military sensors. Controversial! —Chris Peterson

TinyOS Alliance: an ally for us?

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

As explained on their website, TinyOS is:

an open-source operating system designed for wireless embedded sensor networks…The TinyOS community has grown to include several thousand developers and users in dozens of countries, plus hundreds of companies, universities, and government institutions. It has built a broad technology base for wireless embedded networks in an open, informal collaboration largely rooted at the University of California, Berkeley.

This group’s focus appears to be almost all technical, which is not surprising.  But might they share our broader goals?  Part of their mission is “promotion of the technology, the community, and the impact of networked embedded systems.”

Of course they must mean by this the *positive* impact of such systems: exactly our goal here at this project.  Perhaps they would be open to some kind of collaboration? —Chris Peterson