TOC Data: the unquenchable Quest Your Turn

July 3, 2007

Late Spring and early Summer seem to trigger a seasonal rash of data gathering fever.

Count especially on international money transfers and international airline passengers. This year has given us new deals between the US and the EU on how far the US may go in violating the privacy of EU citizens. As far as money is concerned, James Risen tells us about the recent improvements to SWIFT data monitoring by the US. It is now a public program and data will be kept for five years only (*). People being ultimately far more dangerous, detailed airline passenger profiles will be kept for fifteen years, as reports Andrew Bounds (**)(***).

Since these disputes on the theme "security or privacy but not both" are anything but new, the lessons to be drawn come from the variations. For example the publicity given to money tracking is a real improvement. Few voices would deny governments the right to look after our collective security. But secrecy breeds abuse while benefits are few. Were all policemen to shed their uniform, would traffic laws be better enforced ?

The importance of geographic borders relative to data collection has also been put under the spotlight. Perhaps because terrorists are known to have beef, more probably because this item of information happens to be available, airline passenger dietary preferences are part of the data collected. The US and the EU argued on where such data was to be processed. According to Andrew Bounds, it will be in the US, the EU being granted vetting rights. This is of capital importance as UN inspectors know so well. When relations sour or become difficult in view of obstacles independent of both parties, proximate access is two thirds of possession.

If, as reported by Mark Solomons (****), the French secret service has forbidden French ministers to avail themselves of Blackberry, this emblematic icon of modernity, it is in keeping with the instincts of the US government. Where is the server, there lies the power. Overlook the lesson to share the fun made by the Financial Times of "Blackberry fools" (*****). Blackberry addict and suspected FT editor, Martin Lukes would approve but is he such a model to follow ?

Fortunately the existence of a database is not the end of the story. According to an editorial from the New-York Times (******), police and local governments in the US are not allowed to freely mine the gun-purchasing Federal database and such efforts may even come to fall under criminal sanctions. It is obviously less dangerous to buy a gun than to eat chicken. No wonder Lawrence Lessig has decided it is time to fight pronaocracy.

Happy Fourth of July!

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) ........... U.S. Reaches Tentative Deal With Europe On Bank Data, by James Risen (New-York Times) - June 29, 2007
  • (**) ......... EU pact on air passenger data sparks privacy fears, by Andrew Bounds (Financial Times) - June 28, 2007
  • (***) ....... Europe to share flight details with US , by Andrew Bounds (Financial Times) - June 29, 2007
  • (****) .... Security fears force Blackberry ban on French cabinet, by Mark Solomons (Financial Times) - June 19, 2007
  • (*****) .. Blackberry fools, editorial (Financial Times) - June 22, 2007
  • (******) The N.R.A.'s Senate, editorial (New-York Times) - July 2, 2007
July 2007
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