Mining Data

One of the most profitable activities in the world today is data mining. Internet companies offer “free” applications for your devices to enable you to search the internet, to buy goods competitively, to arrange your transport and get advice on all sorts of matters. Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch and in return these companies harvest your personal information which they use to sell to advertisers and companies that will try to entice you to buy their particular goods and services using the most sophisticated methods known to man.

One of the better projects of the European Union was to create a directive – in effect a law – which seeks to protect personal information that you may have revealed in the course of your use of the internet. The guiding principle is that such information can only be mined under strict conditions and used for legitimate purposes.

The directive is not written in the clearest language and leaves plenty of scope for EU member states to interpret it in ways that suit themselves and the corporations that mine data the best. As yet there are many aspects of the directive which need to be completed before we can say that the law properly protects our personal information. Perhaps that will come in time.

You can read the directive at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/TXT/?uri=CELEX:31995L0046 .

In the fullness of time there will be many court cases which decide the meaning of the directive and volumes of guidance and local regulations will be written, which will reveal whether the directive will really protect citizens or whether it will be watered down.

 

 

The Communications Data Bill

In small communities people know what is going on. In a small village you rapidly learn who is good and who is bad, who is trustworthy and who is not; you also know, by gossip and observation who is unfaithful and who is unreliable. In a small very town nation you also know most of these things, but as the geographical circle widens so you are exposed to more people and know less about them. We now live in very complex societies where even if you live in a small village you are bound to come into contact with multinational companies in one way or another, and you need to know, not just your local mayor or chief of the village, but also the thousands of politicians that crave your votes, telling you that they want to improve your life.

We handle our knowledge, or lack of it, through the use of the internet and through the use of sophisticated news reporting and information sharing. However there is so much to know that you cannot get all the knowledge and asking someone on the internet is not as reliable as asking someone in a village, because usually you know how far to trust a fellow villager, and that village has to come into frequent contact with you. You mostly have no idea about whether the information you can get on the internet, including information on this blog, is reliable and true.

That problem faces every organisation as well as every person. The usual official answer to this problem by the government is to set up a system under which its forces of law and order can intercept communications to gain information and to rely on spies and informers. Hitler did this, having a network of people who reported any malfeasance, and Lenin and Stalin did this too, sending millions to prison without trial in the most cruel conditions imaginable.

If any of these undesirable politicians were running a nation today he would doubtless obtain powers to monitor the use of citizens of the internet, to see what they are looking at, and to read emails that people send to each other. The would probably come up with a piece of legislation as the Communications Data Bill, which would provide the government with all the powers it needs, were the bill to be enacted. After the dreadful slaying of a soldier in Woolwich there are calls to bring the bill into law. Somehow, the authorities seem to think, that such a law would help them in their desire to protect us from terrorism.

In truth we are in very little danger from terrorist attacks today in the developed world. The forces of law and order have reasonable control and in events of last Thursday are fortunately very rare. We are in danger of sacrificing our freedom. Each year more laws are enacted which curtail our freedom; each year the judicial system becomes less tolerant of acquitting those you may possibly be innocent and more tolerant of convicting those who may possibly be guilty.

Perhaps as a society we have passed the high water mark of freedom and now have to watch the tide roll out taking many of our precious liberties with it.

Our New Gutenberg

There are about 193 countries in the World, and every one of them has taken up the use of the internet. I remember that it was not so long ago that I was an early adopter of the internet and found so many problems in getting the internet to work properly, which problems have largely but not completely vanished. Today we can use it as a source of information or in the way that we use a department store, or as a brochure for communication or for entertainment. It is a complicated and wondrous invention, Continue reading