Archive for May, 2009

Your Data Self

Note: This article was originally posted on

by Aaron Titus

Georges-Pierre Seurat was a 19th century French painter credited with starting Neo-impressionism and developing a painting technique called “pointillism.” His famous painting, La Parade, contains the detail on the right: A complicated series of blue, orange, pink, red, black, and yellow dots that together create a man’s profile.

This detail is the single best visualization of your “Data Self” I have seen. Your Data Self is a collection of your credit report, Facebook page, Google results, Bank account numbers, archived e-mails, and an endless parade of other data. Like pointillism techniques, which juxtapose contrasting dots to create vibrant masses of shaded tones, each piece of personal information is a single dot. Perhaps one is your address, your middle name, your pet’s name, or your favorite color. Maybe some represent your family, and others represent your friends or religious beliefs. Some represent your travels, magazine subscriptions, and purchase habits. Still others are intimate thoughts.

Taken individually or in small groups, they do not mean much- they may even seem to contrast or contradict one another. But all together they form your profile, or Data Self: A pretty good, but not 100% accurate representation of who you are. And this profile is exactly what data brokers, government actors, and marketers (among others) are trying to determine.

We leave trails of dots as we interact with others, especially online. As Gregory Conti, a computer science professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point, explained, “Free Web services aren’t free. We pay for them with micropayments of personal information.”

Since your Data Self is a digital alter-ego, with the power to enter contracts, grant access to your financial assets, have surgery, or commit crimes, you should actively shape and control access to your Data Self.

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Data Breach Notification Requirements in the United States and European Union

Note: This article originally appeared on

This brief analyzes more than 40 United States Breach Notification laws, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and compares those requirements with EU Directives 2002/58/EC, 2002/21/EC, and the Data Protection Working Party Opinion 1/2009 on 2002/58/EC proposed amendments. This brief does not address individual EU member states’ implementations of EU Directives 2002/58/EC and 2002/21/EC.

Executive Summary

Both the United States and European Union require certain entities to notify individuals when their personal information has been breached. In the United States, State Breach Notification Laws (BNLs) require persons and organizations to notify individuals whose personal information has been "breached." BNLs generally apply to any entity which possesses certain classes of personal information, such as social security numbers or account numbers. The usual elements of a breach are as follows, with common variations in parentheses:1. (Reasonable likelihood of) Unauthorized and Bad Faith 2. Acquisition of3. Unencrypted or Unredacted 4. (Computerized) Personal Information, 5. (Which is likely to cause harm).Absence of one or more of these elements will defeat the notification requirement, whereas mere knowledge of a potential breach will often trigger a duty to investigate.[1]With the exception of certain health information breaches, [2] breach notification requirements are not yet Federalized.

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Why You Have Something to Hide

Note: This article originally appeared on The Security Catalyst Blog.

If you have nothing to hide, why do you need privacy? This question, famously attributed to the McCarthy era, has gained currency again in this era of terrorism and national security. The question implies that privacy is a form of dishonesty, that the things people want to hide are the very things others should know about.

I admit that I bristle every time I hear someone say, “You have nothing to worry about if you have nothing to hide.” Baloney. I have everything to hide! When someone says, “I have nothing to hide,” it’s simply not true. What he really means is, “I have nothing to be ashamed of,” which may be true. But shame is only one, limited reason for confidentiality. Confidentiality is not an admission of guilt.

I have much to hide, for one simple reason. I cannot trust people to act reasonably or responsibly when they are in possession of certain facts about me, even if I am not ashamed of those facts. For example, I keep my social security number private from a would-be criminal, because I can’t trust that he’ll act responsibly with the information. I’m certainly not ashamed of my SSN. Studies have shown that cancer patients loose their jobs at five times the rate of other employees, and employers tend to overestimate cancer patients’ fatigue. Cancer patients need privacy to avoid unreasonable and irresponsible employment decisions. Cancer patients aren’t ashamed of their medical status—they just need to keep their jobs.

A person may share intimate secrets with an ecclesiastical leader that they would keep private from parents, because they fear the parents may not act reasonably or rationally when presented with the same information. During World War II, the government acted unreasonably and irresponsibly with Census data about the location of Japanese-American citizens. Privacy from government entities is paramount.

In addition, can you imagine how much damage you would impose on innocent people if you spoke every thought that came into your head? Or if doctors, lawyers, and accountants disclosed everything they knew about you?

The need for privacy is the recognition that most individuals, organizations, or institutions cannot be trusted to act reasonably, responsibly, in the best interest of the person, or in the best interests of society, when in possession of certain types personal information. Humans are biased. We have limited cognitive and analytical abilities, and never know all of the facts. We are infamously poor judges of character. We change our minds, and come to conflicting conclusions. So, the next time someone asks whether you have something to hide, do not hesitate to say, “Yes, of course I do.”

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