Privacy By Design — Conference Report

Posted by Prasad Krishna at May 02, 2011 05:35 AM |
How do we imagine privacy? How is privacy being built into technological systems? On April 16th,The Center for Internet and Society hosted Privacy by Design, an Open Space meant to answer these questions and more around the topic of privacy. Below is a summary of the conversations and dialogs from the event.

Introduction

On April 16th, The Center for Internet and Society hosted Privacy by Design, an Open Space meant to foster discussions around questions related to how privacy is being designed into technological systems. The day opened with two basic questions: How do we imagine privacy? And how are individuals building technology systems incorporating privacy into the system? Throughout the day the conversations took many twist and turns, but at the end of the day three basic points about privacy had come out of the many discussions: 1. Privacy cannot be limited to one definition; it is constantly changing based on person and on context 2. To a person - privacy is a function of abuse and violation 3. The increased generation of data that was made possible by web 2.0 has lead to a rise in privacy issues and is significantly changing many traditional concepts, spaces, and relationships – such as what constitutes a public space, and the relationship between a state and its citizens.

Database architecture and privacy

The morning discussion focused on databases and privacy, and began with questions like: How can a database be built to protect privacy? When a database is built, what role does privacy play in the migration of data? Is privacy protected in databases simply by limiting access to certain parts of data sets? Though many of these were left unanswered, the conversation highlighted the fact that th databases are coded to segregate /regulate users and information in order to protect the system. Thus, databases are architected to incorporate privacy in such a way that protects the viability of only the system and not the individual. In our research we have seen many cases of this. Individual’s privacy has been violated because of malfunctioning or poorly constructed databases. For example, currently Indian governmental databases often have incorrect information, individuals do not have the ability to access and change their information, and if an individual’s information is compromised the government is not held accountable, and there is no course of action that an individual can take towards redress.

Security vs. Privacy

Embedded in this understanding of how privacy is built into technological systems is the question of what security is, and when systems are built, whether privacy and security are considered to be essentially the same. Thus far in our research we have distinguished between privacy and security, saying that, security and privacy have an interesting relationship, because they go hand in hand, and yet at the same time have a different focus, because of this differing focus data security and privacy are not the same. Data breaches that contain personal information of any sort that can be matched, tracked or otherwise co-related to a person or persons will result in a privacy breach too. Though data security is critical for protecting privacy, because data security and privacy have different focuses, the principles that each follows are also different and sometimes conflicting. For example, data security focuses on data retention, logging, etc, while privacy focuses on consent, restricted access to data, limited data retention, and anonymity. If security measures are carried out without privacy interests in mind, privacy violations can easily result. Therefore we have thought that data security should influence and support a privacy regime, but not drive it.

security and privacy have an interesting relationship, because they go hand in hand, and yet at the same time have a different focus, because of this differing focus data security and privacy are not the same. Data breaches that contain personal information of any sort that can be matched, tracked or otherwise co-related to a person or persons will result in a privacy breach too. Though data security is critical for protecting privacy, because data security and privacy have different focuses, the principles that each follows are also different and sometimes conflicting. For example, data security focuses on data retention, logging, etc, while privacy focuses on consent, restricted access to data, limited data retention, and anonymity. If security measures are carried out without privacy interests in mind, privacy violations can easily result. Therefore we have thought that data security should influence and support a privacy regime, but not drive it.

The right to be forgotten and regulation of data

The possibility of creating systems with "off switches" also came out of this thread of conversation. For instance, can a database be structured to show only necessary information to third parties based on the context. In this scenario a card would be created that has all of an individual’s information on it, but only the pertinent information will be shown based on the different situations - if, for example, a teenager goes to a bar, the card will only show a third party that he is over 18. This idea is already taking shape in many Western countries, and is similar to the idea of a federated identity system. A question to ask though is if such a system could work for India, or be even more appropriate for India than a system like the UID. The purpose of federated systems of identity is to take context into consideration, and enable users to keep contexts separate, and link information about an individual only takes place when consent is given by the user. In response to the idea of an identity system that allows only certain information to be seen by third parties based on the situation, it was brought out that privacy is not protected simply by the separation of data into public or private categories, because all data have the potential to be misused. The immediate response to this concern was that if all data have the potential to be mis-used – than the use of data should be carefully regulated. The regulation of data though is also a double edged sword. On one hand regulating the use of data can stop a company from misusing information, but on the other hand it can keep a country from having full and equal access to the internet. A question that came out of this discussion on regulation was about the right to be forgotten. Does an individual have the right to regulate all information about themselves that is in the public sphere? Can they ask for their photos or videos to be taken down from the internet? In India this question has yet to be answered by the law, and it is a question that our research is looking into.

The purpose of federated systems of identity is to take context into consideration, and enable users to keep contexts separate, and link information about an individual only takes place when consent is given by the user. In response to the idea of an identity system that allows only certain information to be seen by third parties based on the situation, it was brought out that privacy is not protected simply by the separation of data into public or private categories, because all data have the potential to be misused. The immediate response to this concern was that if all data have the potential to be mis-used – than the use of data should be carefully regulated. The regulation of data though is also a double edged sword. On one hand regulating the use of data can stop a company from misusing information, but on the other hand it can keep a country from having full and equal access to the internet. A question that came out of this discussion on regulation was about the right to be forgotten. Does an individual have the right to regulate all information about themselves that is in the public sphere? Can they ask for their photos or videos to be taken down from the internet? In India this question has yet to be answered by the law, and it is a question that our research is looking into.

Data types and privacy

Emerging from the conversation on database structure, a conversation on types of data in databases was started. The question was raised as to whether or not databases can actually handle certain types of data. The example given was caste-related data. Information about a person’s caste is constantly changing as people lie about their caste, change their caste, and become married and take on another caste. Furthermore, some people do not want to live with their caste and want to shed off their caste. Therefore, can a database accurately represent such a dynamic data set? Is it dangerous to put such a politically volatile concept as caste into a database where it will confine a person to one definition once entered? Another side to this question though is that perhaps it is in fact necessary to try and place a person in one caste, as there benefits enshrined by law based on a person’s caste, and an individual who has the ability to change his/her caste at their whim therefore defeats and takes advantage of governmental benefits. The point was also raised that by placing information like caste and identity into a database, governments have the ability to divide the country into subsets of identities that they decide to generate. Caste is not the only data that faces these complications and issues. For instance religion and race raise similar question. How can you define and represent a person’s relationship with God in a database? How to you represent a child of multiracial parents on a database?

Changes in the relationship between the state and the citizen

It was also brought out that the representation of citizens’ identities on a database changes the relationship between a state and its citizenry. States no longer see citizens as individuals, but instead as data samples. The UID is an example of an e-governance program that if enacted, could further such a change in the relationship between the state and the citizen, as the whole of India will suddenly and ubiquitously be recognized by the Government (and other entities/organizations) according to their aadhaar number. The relationship between the state and the citizen is not the only social change that databases bring about. Databases also change the concept of public space. As web 2.0 has facilitated the generation of large amounts of data, public space has become a space where one enters and interacts as a dataset. For example face book and twitter allow individuals to create datasets of them and interact with other people through their datasets. Beyond social networking online banking and online shopping also push people to form datasets about themselves and interact with services that were traditionally done in person as individuals, as datasets.

Questions of ownership

The above thread of conversation led to the next question of whether or not individuals control technology or whether technology controls individuals. The example of Facebook was used to illustrate this question. Even though Facebook has a privacy policy, once a person engages with Facebook he or she accepts Facebook’s definition of privacy – which is two tiered. On one level Facebook defines user privacy in terms of restriction - allowing the user to limit who can see their profiles. On another level Facebook’s privacy policy allows the company to share and sell personal information. In these ways companies are constructing databases so that instead of the company being the custodian of information – an entity that provides a structure to protect and hold information - the companies are now the owners of information- selling and using individuals information for profit. In India, this is a problem. Companies, once they collect data, treat it as their own - selling and sharing data with third parties, or using it in ways that were not agreed to by the customer. The question of ownership was a critical question for the group. In the discussions it was important to individuals that they had control and ownership over their information. Individuals felt that information that could be traced back to them or their identity belonged to them, and that in order to protect privacy consent should be secured before any information is used. For instance, data mining by websites without notice was seen as a violation of privacy. The collection of data in public places for marketing purposes without a person’s consent or awareness was similarly seen as a privacy violation. It was also brought out from this conversation that the digitization of information has caused a commercialization of information, and that has led to a sense of ownership and need for privacy over information. For example, before, if someone were to take one’s name and mis-use it, that person was charged with defamation – not for violation of privacy – but if someone misuses information that is in a database or online, that person is now charged for a violation of privacy. This shift in thinking is another example of how web 2.0 has increased privacy violations.

Perceptions and expectations of privacy

The day ended with a conversation about the perceptions and expectations of privacy. Privacy as it relates to an individual is almost wholly dependent on expectation, which changes from person to person, from community to community, and from culture to culture. Just as the expectation of privacy varies between individuals, so does the degree of violation. Thus, it is important to recognize the changing nature of privacy, because it explains why it is difficult for the legal system to address all the nuances of privacy with one broad legislation. This point has been crucial in our research thus far as we are consulting with the public, analyzing legislation, and following news items to see if privacy legislation is wanted and needed in India, and if it is - how it should be shaped.

From the conversation on perceptions of privacy and privacy violations it was also brought out that the concept of privacy is on one hand related to the notion of ownership, and on the other hand it is related to the violation. From the experiences shared by individuals, their privacy never became a concern until it was violated, or they learned about someone else’s privacy being violated. This led to the observation that not only is it difficult for the law to address privacy violations because the violation is based on perception, but also because the effect when one’s privacy is violated is often an emotional one.

Conclusion

The conversations held throughout the day showed the dynamic and personal nature of privacy, and how when databases are constructed, and how our lives made digital this personal aspect is easily lost. When we think about the conversations held throughout the day in relation to our initial questions: what are the different ways of imagining privacy, and how is privacy being built into technological systems, besides the three basic themes of privacy highlighted in the beginning of this blog - there emerged to more themes. One theme portrayed an imagination of privacy that is more personal, and that address the emotional component and the perception component to privacy. Another theme portrayed an imagination of privacy that is technologically more controlled, that allows for more personal regulation, more precise segregation of information in a database, and restricted access by third parties. This imagination of privacy can be and is being met by new and developing technologies. Increasingly in many countries technology is being structured with privacy built into the system. The larger question that this open space has raised, and not completely answered is if privacy legislation can adequately protect an individual’s privacy, and if it cannot, can technology can fill the gaps that privacy legislation leaves open.

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