Ali Data and the 40 thieves

Reading Justice Kozinski’s latest article “The Dead Past” on Stanford’s Law Review gave birth to a sensible question: has humanity’s desire for time travel come to effect, and we don’t even know it?

The article is basically based upon a novel by Isaac Assimov bearing the same title, where the government had secretly invented the time machine, subsequently discovered and reverse-engineered by the private sector. At the end of the book it is revealed that the government did not wish to keep the invention a secret due to some conspiracy theory, but to merely protect the privacy of the people, for after its discovery anyone could travel back in time and snoop around business, other than their own.

This brings us to the question: the past is “dead” and the present is now – all of our digital steps leave a footprint stored in the form of data. Isn’t having access to that data like having access to the past? How valuable is that data, does it bear a price tag and if it does, can it be owned?

A very recent matter is the well discussed privatisation of Dublin City Council’s waste collection service – Greyhound. The current owners of Greyhound paid a considerable amount and received a company, employees .. and customers. In particular, a notice of sale was sent to Dublin residents that used the services of Greyhound post-vendio, along with the lovely request of 100 euros should they wish to continue availing of its services. By that time the names, dwelling addresses and bin data had already passed to the new private management. Is using the word scandalous too much?

In reply to the question “is data a good for sale”, the answer is “apparently yes”. What is even more disturbing is that the seller is a public authority, obliged by the Constitution to protect and respect the rights of the citizens (let’s argue about how rights buried under “public policy” never get to see the light of day).

In defence of the Data Protection Commissioner, he has been very active in the private sector, he has prosecuted companies for unsolicited text messages, emails, phone calls, unlawful use of CCTV, tracking devices in vehicles, personal data disclosure, and the list goes on.

But that member of the  Garda that tapped her boyfriend was never prosecuted or fired – kindly keep in mind that phone tapping could only be authorised by a member of the Garda not below the rank of Chief Superintendent – as per s.12 of the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005.

Now, should we talk about SOPA Ireland?

EMI, the colossal music company, sued UPC in the High Court back in 2010 demanding an injunction against the defendant’s customers, claiming copyright breach for anauthorised reproduction and redistribution of their music products. Charleton J suggested internet anti-piracy measures are the job of the legislature and dismissed the case.

It didn’t take the Oireachtas long, did it?

There are, of course, many other ways in which the government “vindicates” the rights of the citizen when it comes to privacy of data. Personal data could be described as the past, caught in the present: Google Maps, mobile phones, biometrics, the eye of the beholder … this mere post – someone out there has fully logged  how, on what, where from and through what I wrote it (though I would gladly share the information and spare you the agony if interested).

Paul Bernal wrote a very insightful post on data retention recently, “If you build it, they will come…“; not only will they come through fiber-optics, they will obtain access from the inside, but also do it the old-fashioned way, just take the hardware and go! Visualise the concept in addition to s.63 of the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005. As Justice Kozinski wonders, what would happen in the case that one leaves their mobile phone at the scene of the crime, while they are physically elsewhere? Have I scared you yet?

The protection of personal data as it now stands is, by all means, insufficient. The Data Protection Acts 1988 & 2003 have proved to be nothing but means for complaint escalation. It should be noted here that penalties for not complying with the said Act’s provisions can go up to 100,000 euros, while the fine for unlawful data leakage of the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011 is a mere 10,000 euros.

As every argument has a counter-argument, any retention has a disclosure; and so the 2011 is not a mere retention tool, but it also gives public bodies the authority they need to access personal data if considered necessary, especially the Garda..

… as long as the member is not below the rank of Chief Superintendent.

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