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Drones, phones and other 2012 privacy threats

December 28, 2012 06:16 AM ET

Despite some movement in attracting the attention of legislators, 2012 is set to close without any major changes to online consumer privacy rules.

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights , released by the Obama Administration in February, sought to encourage the creation of new industry standards for collecting, sharing, storing and using private data on the Internet and mobile networks.

The administration said at the time that the document is part of an effort to require that companies limit the collection of personal data, protect any sensitive data collected, and give consumers the right to access and to correct mistakes in personal data collected by Internet service providers, carriers and mobile application companies.

While many consumer rights groups and privacy advocates have praised the Administration's intent, they have expressed disappointment at the continued focus on industry self-regulation.

Many of them fear that the "multi-stakeholder process" outlined in Obama's Consumer Bill of Rights will be hijacked by deep-pocketed Internet companies with little real concern for consumer privacy. The consumer advocacy groups continue to maintain that meaningful privacy protections can result only from strong legislation.

Predictably, industry groups such as the Digital Advertising Alliance, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Direct Marketers Association have cautioned against any legislation and have insisted that self-regulation is the best way forward.

NYC Domain Awareness System: Surveillance city?

A New York City-wide Domain Awareness System (DAS) rolled out by the New York Police Department (NYPD) in July has left groups like the American Civil Liberties Union uneasy about its privacy implications.

The city's data aggregation and real-time analytics tool, built in collaboration with Microsoft, is designed to combat crime and terror threats in the city.

The system gives city police a way to quickly aggregate and analyze data from 3,000 surveillance cameras, along with license plate readers, radiation detectors, 911 calls and multiple public safety databases.

Housed in the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative command center, DAS is designed to provide real-time alerts on potential security threats. Operators and analysts at the command center can use the system's graphical interface to quickly pull up and correlate public safety, geospatial, chronological and other information that might be relevant to an unfolding event.

While city officials have described the system as an invaluable security tool, the ACLU and others have expressed concern about its privacy implications.

For instance, some fear that DAS -- and especially components like its license plate readers -- make it much easier for police to track and conduct warrantless surveillance of individuals and groups.

It's too soon to measure the extent of the systems privacy threat,

City officials have insisted that they have put in various, privacy-friendly measures -- such as purging license plate data every 30 days. Even so, with other cities likely to follow New York's lead, DAS could well become a barometer of things to come.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at Twitter@jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed Vijayan RSS. His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

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