The former Secretary of Homeland Security surveys the brave new world of data collection and analysis and finds that both the legal system and international relations have yet to keep pace with technology.
Chertoff (Homeland Security: Assessing the First Five Years, 2009), who has also served as a judge and a prosecutor, contrasts the present day with earlier eras when there was more of a strong distinction between public and private. An invasion of privacy once meant encroaching on one’s property, but technology has dissolved any expectation of privacy or even a sense of who is doing the encroaching and what is being encroached upon. We share our information freely despite the consequences, we depend on smartphones that track us everywhere and lack adequate safeguards, and we invite devices into our homes to monitor our preferences and activities. In an era of facial-recognition software, laws reflect the days when surveillance was by camera (before every phone had one) or phone tapping (on landlines). “When technology has dramatically expanded the ability to monitor activities in a previously unrecognizable way, we need a new set of laws,” writes the author, whose current company offers security consulting. He continues, “Inevitably, this will require tradeoffs between different values: privacy, autonomy, security, and the individual versus the collective interest.” Chertoff shows how such an initiative is necessary as well as extremely challenging, as the internet transcends borders of nations that have very different attitudes toward individual rights and as the process involves different stages of collecting and analyzing data, by governments and commercial concerns alike. Though the writing rarely rises above workmanlike, the author’s experience in these areas runs deep, and he shows reasons for concern in areas many readers might not have considered. “We frequently trade away our data for a short-term convenience or lower-cost gratification without realizing the long-term consequences,” he warns—until our insurance companies start monitoring our grocery purchases and restaurant preferences to determine how healthy our diets are.
The world of data as illuminated here would have scared George Orwell.