We Need Better Data Privacy Laws

Bruce Schneier posted a piece yesterday about the death of ephemeral conversation. I think it meshes well with what I was saying a few days ago, albeit in reference to this blog and myself:

With the Internet caching everything that becomes part of it, what if I write something that labels me? What if I say something that makes me unemployable, or causes mail bombs to be sent to my mother? The scope of a blunder is no longer local, it is global. The lifetime of a blunder is no longer measured in hours or days, but in lifetimes, as humanity records everything as a permanent record. People routinely judge others as they would never want to be judged. Corporations have zero tolerance policies for opinions. Why would I want to put anything of my own out there, with my name on it, so that someone might decide I am not worthy even before they meet me? What happens when my boss doesn’t like something I’ve written? Labor laws don’t protect anybody from their employers. And now I can’t get another job because I mentioned Nazis in a blog post.

I was writing about how my blog might come back to haunt me later. I’m doing this willingly, intentionally. What about people who are using these technologies to communicate without knowing that it’s all being monitored? And who is doing the monitoring? And who is watching them? The crux of Schneier’s article:

We can’t turn back technology; electronic communications are here to stay. But as technology makes our conversations less ephemeral, we need laws to step in and safeguard our privacy. We need a comprehensive data privacy law, protecting our data and communications regardless of where it is stored or how it is processed. We need laws forcing companies to keep it private and to delete it as soon as it is no longer needed.

We don’t need laws that make illegal activity more illegal, such as laws increasing the punishment for operating a meth lab near a school. We need laws that work on the unregulated parts of our society, like our data. Unfortunately I think this Mark Foley debacle will drive the debate the other way. These proposed laws would help protect the rights of the Foleys of the world, and protecting the rights of the accused is just something that U.S. citizens aren’t interested in anymore. Which makes it politically unpopular to do anything about this, especially since the exposure of Foley is generally regarded as a good thing. Why would we make laws to make it tougher to catch these guys?

Why should the accused have rights, anyhow? The police never make mistakes. And like the whole China thing, the corporations like Google and Yahoo! will only protect people’s rights if it’s coincident with their best interests. That isn’t something we can rely on.

Oh, and as for Foley, I think his direct constituency should not be allowed to have representation for a term. You elect someone who sucks to mess with the rest of the U.S. and drag us down, the rest of the U.S. should be able to censure you.