06 November 2006

The 2006 CECI Award

Ladies and Gentlemen, follow the red carpet for a very special treat: the presentation of the first annual CECI Award for clear thinking about security, privacy, identity, and risk.

The nomination and selection process is, like that for the Nobel prizes, mysterious - so don't ask. Nominees who fall short are not humiliated by having their unsuccessful candidacies announced and discussed.

The award is simply bestowed, here, by me, in a suitably magisterial fashion, with appropriate fanfare, pomp, and circumstance (and a little gold picture of Magritte's notapipe).

The 2006 CECI Award goes to David Murakami Wood and a large cast of co-authors, expert contributors, and reviewers for the publication of "A Report on the Surveillance Society". This report was prepared for the Information Commissioner of the United Kingdom. It is in the opinion of the CECI Award selection committee (me) the best government report of the Millenium to date, and it sets a standard which is unlikely to be excelled often in the remaining 994 years.

The report's scope is breathtaking, but its focus is intense. Its language is clear, direct, and even elegant. Its importance cannot be overstated. To select a representative quote seems almost a disfigurement; the thing should be taken as a whole. Still, as an advertisement for what you absolutely must read - and I am in no way kidding or exaggerating here - I offer you the very first paragraph:

"We live in a surveillance society. It is pointless to talk about surveillance society in the future tense. In all the rich countries of the world everyday life is suffused with surveillance encounters, not merely from dawn to dusk but 24/7. Some encounters obtrude into the routine, like when we get a ticket for running a red light when no one was around but the camera. But the majority are now just part of the fabric of daily life. Unremarkable."

I will have a lot to say on topics this report addresses in the coming months, but I am not likely to improve on any topic it addresses directly. I invite you to read it. Your children's lives will be profoundly affected by how well you understand the issues it raises, and by what you choose to do based on your understanding.

Congratulations to the recipients. An acceptance speech in the comments is not required, but would be most welcome.


Blogger Craig Heath said...

This report has prompted mainstream press coverage here in the UK, which I find very encouraging! It must be embarassing for the government, and I wonder if it prompted the new line direct from Tony Blair on identity cards ("it's not a privacy issue, it's a modernisation issue" - oh, OK then!)

November 06, 2006 11:53 AM  
Blogger Craig Heath said...

Also see this communiqué calling for an international convention on data protection.

November 07, 2006 6:20 AM  
Blogger Mark Lizar said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

November 12, 2006 3:57 PM  
Blogger Mark Lizar said...

I highly recommend that people within the corporations that are participating in the ‘identity space’ read this report over and over and over again. Is it clear that corporations (and all the employees therein) need to appreciate the impact their products [may] have in our surveillance state?

"In the world of high technology and global commerce unintended consequences of well-meaning actions and policies abound."(pg.2)

Where is the responsibility, and what does it include? Is there any responsibility beyond the borders of compliance and legal obligation? Is there any likelihood that the public will be kept informed about [the impact of] this corporate education? Will there be full, or even partial, disclosure? Is there a scale to increase the responsibility of an entity in proportion to its power? Should the transparency required be proportional to the level of surveillance? What are the economics of this situation?

“Moreover, privacy and data protection laws do not easily regulate a wide range of surveillance practices, such as those that are part of modern telecommunications, and cannot easily be interpreted expansively to do so. In addition, the harm that surveillance may do to individuals, groups and whole societies do not come within the range of impacts that these individual rights-based laws are designed to remedy or prevent.”(pg. 17)

Now that the surveillance state has been officially admitted, where is the defining line between surveillance and systemic, totalitarian control? Is it in the first identity ‘law’ which states: "identity systems must only reveal information identifying a user with the user's consent."?

I find that this report has created more questions than answers. One of the most prominent questions is: What impact does the surveillance state have on an identity metasystem?

This report reveals a catalogue of latent and secondary functions that affect our identity. Are we free if we are unaware of them?

"Function Creep: Whilst the capabilities of individual technologies and systems are important, there is also increasing technological synergy, or convergence of surveillance technologies"(pg. 4)

"businesses and citizens are being ‘conscripted into the construction of a surveillance society’"(pg. 13)

In what ways can latent functions of an identity metasystem be used as modern surveillance technology?

"This also means that new products can emerge out of older technologies, which in themselves had been understood and managed by regulators, coming together to create an entirely unforeseen and unregulated function."(pg.10)

This report has definitely improved my view of what an identity metasystem can look like, leading me to ponder the responsibilities of the entities that create it. Since the identity metasystem, a systemic construct, is being created by many different entities, whose responsibility is it to answer my question? Does the diffusion of responsibility mean that I will get one answer, many answers or no answer? Is it possible to tie the level of responsibility of those entities forging such a system to the level(s) of: a) financial benefit, b) surveillance, c) intrusion etc? Unfortunately that would only be possible through the employment of surveillance technology! Lauren Weinstein discusses responsibility at length to the employee's at Google. (I highly recommend a view.)

"With human discretion removed and embedded in code, and when cultural and national identity has become such a contested dimension of life, carrying a heavy freight of life-chances and choices, memories and hopes, it is ironic that parallel efforts are made to reduce it to machine-readable formulae and algorithms for ease of bureaucratic, policing and corporate administration."(pg.14)

How deeply embedded is the surveillance state at the moment?

"Amazon.com already shown to be selling DVDs to different customers at different prices"(pg.14)

Price Fixing to ‘Life-Fixing’; any metasystem, especially an identity metasystem, will provide a far reaching lubricant for those forces that come to enjoy such an environment. As this has yet to happen it is also easy to see that these technologies have positive applications and implications, especially if put in the hands of individuals, where they (hegemonically)belong.

"There is no inherent ‘good’ or ‘evil’ within these technological (surveillance) systems."(pg.7)

Good and evil are subjective terms; systems cannot, whilst lacking their own consciousness, be described as either. The applications and/or consequences of systems can be labelled good or evil, and good or evil can be inherent in the intention(s). Genuinely unforeseen consequences may also impact the perception and labelling. What do you think Bob? Is it oracular? Or is this going to end up being a secret?

Mark Lizar
Identity Trust

November 12, 2006 5:01 PM  

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