"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Data Mining: A "Kindler, Gentler Surveillance"?

Your human capital is important to Silicon Valley

Data issues and invasion of privacy concerns crop up constantly these days.  We hear reports of Anonymous hacking into government websites, credit card information compromised and people are upset their Facebook information gets posted in places unknown to the Facebook user.  

Quartz (qz.com) asked this question:  Analysis: Is big data to Barack Obama what big oil was to George W. Bush? and informs the reader how this administration is allowing private business freedom to use personal data for corporate gain.  This data sharing of personal information, however, is eroding individual privacy and has privacy experts concerned about the manner in which this bill of rights was developed and lack of legal protection for individuals:

When the White House unveiled its new privacy bill of rights, almost exactly one year ago, the event was heralded by one consumer advocate as “the clearest articulation of the right to privacy by a US president in history.” But attention quickly shifted to the the bill’s limitations. Users could opt out of targeted ads, but this alone wouldn’t end ad tracking. The bill relied too heavily on voluntary commitments by advertisers like Google and Facebook. And though the bill was strong on “rights,” it lacked details on implementation and enforcement. Critics also pointed out that the American Commerce Department, which represents American businesses—not consumers—had spearheaded the bill and was in charge of developing the policies meant to enforce it.

Reread that last sentence and compare it to the education reform spearheaded by special interests,  Common Core Standards in particular.  Consumers (taxpayers) did not spearhead this initiative.  It was formulated by private trade organizations (the National Governors Association and the Chief Council of State School Officers) and the public was largely unaware of this takeover of state/local control of education.  Like the American Commerce Department, the NGA and CCSSO are in charge (with funding from the Federal Government) of developing the policies meant to enforce it.  And like the privacy bill of rights for consumers designed by this administration, FERPA lacks details on implementation and enforcement and expands the transmission of personal data to third parties.

The article states the EU is concerned about this data sharing:

Now, one year later, as Europe reviews its own wide-ranging privacy legislation for implementation, Silicon Valley is sending hordes of lobbyists across the Atlantic. And the Commerce Department is at it again, leading the charge in Brussels.

Two requirements in the proposed EU laws stick like thorns in the side of the American data collection industry: one, that tech firms receive prior approval (i.e., informed consent) from users before collecting their personal data, and two, that the refusal of data tracking be an accessible and irreversible option. Silicon Valley, which has built a thriving global business around targeted ads and data brokering, is understandably antsy.
Take those two EU requirements for data collection and expand it to the data collection envisioned for children tracked from "cradle to career": 
  • One, that educational institutions receive prior approval (i.e., informed consent) from parents before collecting children's personal data
  • Two, that the refusal of data tracking be an accessible and irreversible option.
These options have not been given to parents regarding the massive upcoming data collection on their children and most parents are probably not even aware what data is being gathered and where this data is being sent and for what purposes.

Big business does not like these privacy safeguards in the educational or non-educational realm:

To the growing indignation of European officials (paywall), lawmakers in Brussels are lobbied by five or six different American law firms every single day. And the American government is adding fuel to fire. A recent statement from the US Mission to the EU urges Europe to be “more flexible” about issues such as consent from internet users. “Interoperability of our respective privacy regimes is critical to maintaining our extraordinary economic relationship,” it said. For its part, the American Chamber of Commerce has been organizing events in Brussels and Strasbourg, leading one European official to tell the New York Times that, “My impression is that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Commerce Department are mostly just following the interests of Silicon Valley.”  (MEW note: See letter of 72 businesses signing on to the support of CCSS here).

Why are business interests superseding the rights of the individual?

This lobbying highlights a relationship between technology companies and the American government that echoes the close ties between the energy sector and the previous administration of George W. Bush. Silicon Valley was an important source of campaign finance for the Obama presidential campaign: Employees of tech firms donated seven times as much to the Democratic candidate as to his opponent, Mitt Romney. (Big Oil, by contrast, gave eight times as much to Romney as to Obama.) Obama’s election victories in 2008 and 2012 hinged at least to some degree on his campaign’s groundbreaking use of technology and social media. And the president’s second-term agenda, such as his proposal to ease immigration requirements for high-skilled workers, has drawn applause from technology executives.
Data mining your human capital to educational reform companies is no different than accessing your Facebook information, your credit card scores and your shopping habits.  The educational reforms require massive Silicon Valley technologies and the CCSS are important to drive this implementation.  Think how handy it will be for companies to hire employees based on their data sets and the issues of human personalities won't have to figure into the equation.  The data is measurable and scientific.  The hunt for data is too much to resist (and creates more jobs ) and the vision of data solving the world's problems is guiding many of these companies:

....Tien, the EFF lawyer, also suggests that the American government isn’t putting pressure on Europe solely for the sake of American business. “You have to think about the phenomenon of Big Data, how enthralling that vision is,” he says. “The way people in Silicon Valley talk about harnessing Big Data isn’t just about economic incentives, it’s about solving problems, curing cancer, solving the world’s ills. It’s ultimately quite different from railing against the Patriot Act. It’s a kinder, gentler surveillance.”  But still, Tien said, the American government, and Silicon Valley lobbyists, “should own up to the real privacy issues Big Data raises.”

Why do your children require a "kinder, gentler surveillance" from "cradle to career"? Do you really believe the American government and lobbyists are concerned about privacy issues?  With all the furor over the privacy issues raised post Patriot Act, where is the outrage of the data gathering/sharing of children's personal data to government agencies and private firms?


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