Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Privacy issues that Mark Zuckerberg would never dream about

A lot of people in the tech world speak of privacy in terms of what Facebook, Google, Microsoft, or your friendly neighborhood Internet Service Provider could potentially do to you. However, in most cases, the people at Facebook et al aren't armed and don't have jail cells that they can use to detain you.

Let's insert the necessary disclosure - I work for a company that supplies equipment and software to law enforcement agencies. Now that I've clarified this, I'll present (without comment) another type of privacy issue that has been getting play for the past few months.

What information are you required to provide when you cross an international border?

More to the point - what information are you required to provide when you cross an international border into your own country?

Now answers to the latter question vary widely, and include some responses such as "If you don't have anything to hide, then why not respond?" or "It's best to be as cooperative as possible with the law enforcement personnel."

Paul Karl Lukacs has a different view. Back on April 24, he wrote a post that began as follows:

I was detained last night by federal authorities at San Francisco International Airport for refusing to answer questions about why I had travelled outside the United States.

The end result is that, after waiting for about half an hour and refusing to answer further questions, I was released – because U.S. citizens who have produced proof of citizenship and a written customs declaration are not obligated to answer questions.

After refusing to answer questions such as "Why were you in China?", Lukacs was subject to secondary questioning before being released. You can read the full story here.

This post received a lot of attention from Boing Boing, the Consumerist, and other sources, which led Lukacs to write a follow-up post in which he explained his rationale. In addition to citing various sources which justified a U.S. citizen's right to re-enter the United States, Lukacs cited some practical reasons for refusing to answer questions.

CBP officers are law enforcement (pictured), who can detain you, arrest you and testify against you in criminal court. You place yourself in jeopardy every time you speak to them about anything....

If a federal officer claims you lied to him, you can be arrested and charged with the crime of making false statements. You do not have to make the statements under oath (which would be the different charge of perjury).

This statute – which is referred to as Section 1001...is the reason why Martha Stewart has a Bureau of Prisons number.

Lukacs then poses the question: "What about telling the truth?"

If, in the course of your conversation, you mis-remember something or speak inarticulately, you can now be arrested. Innocent mistake? Prove it in court after being jailed, charged, tried and paying for a lawyer.

I'll stop there, and (as previously noted) without further comment.

But let's carry this back to the tech world, where people can't detain you, but they can sell any information that you give them. What would a Lukacs-like view of the world mean when you were signing up for the latest and greatest service...or connecting to the latest and greatest service via an existing service?
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