Is Anonymity a Right?

Jed Rubenfeld clarifies what personal freedoms are at stake under the NSA surveillance program.

“The NSA program isn’t really about gathering data. It’s about mining data. All the data are there already, digitally stored and collected by telecom giants, just waiting.”

“In the world of data-gathering, the key concept for setting limits on government surveillance is privacy. But in the world of data-mining, the key is anonymity.”

“The question is not whether privacy should be honored but whether anonymity should be protected.”

As Judge Richard Leon cautioned in his ruling against the NSA program, cellphone  “metadata can be mined to produce a live-streaming digital portrait of an individual’s entire life.”

“This is an anonymity problem: The NSA cannot create a dossier on you from your metadata unless it knows that you made the calls the agency is looking at.”

“Today, we need a new jurisprudence of anonymity. We need laws and technologies that can break through anonymity when people commit crimes or torts online. But we also need laws and technologies that will protect anonymity when government engages in 21st-century data-mining.”

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  • pbrower2a

    The solution is for people to overload the snoops with stuff that they can’t touch.

    • Joe Blowe

      You privacy freaks are all the same. You want your digital toys, yet at the same time, you don’t want to take ANY responsibility for ANY of your actions online (under the misguided notion, you’re not a terrorist because you listen to Alex Jones and Hannity…only terrorist do bad things online so you want to be left alone to shop on Amazon and Google the local Piggy Wiggly). It’s like the morons who endlessly tweet and FB their vacation plans and then are STUNNED someone broke into their home while they were away for two weeks! How about you try speaking to your ‘real’ friends in person (all ten of them, not the 100 or so you ‘think’ are your friends) every once in a while or memorize a few phone numbers and addresses so you’re no so ‘beholden’ to the internet to get around and communicate with people. What really amazes me, is how the ones who raise THE MOST heck about all of this think Snowden is a ‘hero’ when in truth he’s a thief and a traitor. If Snowden is so great, he sure has a funny way of showing it when he RUNS RIGHT INTO THE WELCOMING ARMS of our enemies (Russia/China) and trades an apartment and job for U.S. intelligence community secrets.

      • pbrower2a

        Edward Snowden is no hero. I can see no moral difference between him and the people who steal credit-card data.

        Of course, broadcasting your vacation plans such as “I’m going to take a cruise on the Baltic in July” is one way to attract burglars. (OK, maybe you add that Messrs. D. Oberman and R. Ottweiler will be watching your house, so that your silver service will not be worth stealing — Man’s Best Friend is about the last animal that one wants as an enemy). Don’t send instant messages of your journey while you are in Riga. Save the photos for your return so that you don’t return to find your dresser drawers ransacked. Never brag about possessions.

        …Decidedly on the Left, I could easily be seen as a subversive if America ends up with the sort of leadership that Hannity would like — someone who endorses extreme inequality, severe hierarchy, and majoritarian ways of life. Model minorities can quickly become pariahs; think of German Jews. So watch the political trends, learn a foreign language, prepare to adapt to unfamiliar cuisine and habits of entertainment (example: German tastes in sport are vastly different from those in the US) and keep your suitcase packed and your passport up to date. I can think of some Governor of some state who scares the Hell out of me should he become President. .

        In the meantime, vote for the people most likely to respect human dignity — including privacy.

      • Juan

        While I on the other hand am amazed by the ability of people like you to fill in for others what they want, their motivations and their considerations.

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