The question of privacy

Matt Tett

Matt Tett is the Managing Director of Enex TestLab, an independent testing laboratory with over 22 years history and a heritage stemming from RMIT University. Matt holds the following security certifications in good standing CISSP, CISM, CSEPS and CISA. He is a long standing committee member of the Australian Information Security Association (AISA), Melbourne branch, and is also a member of the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA). Enex TestLab can be found at blog at and can be found on twitter as @enextestlab.

It is an interesting construct this theory of privacy. Increasingly, people are becoming aware that the more highly and ubiquitously they become digitally connected to the global economy, the more they are forsaking their personal information. Not just basic information either, but their likes, dislikes, views, opinions and passions. And that information is being aggregated.

Mega online organisations like Google and Facebook have profited enormously by collecting and mining this data, and selling it to the highest bidder – both have public social media platforms and “private” communications channels. So does Microsoft with Skype and Outlook, and even Apple also gets in on the action. “Big data” mining is a mega business, and now it’s also focused on identifying, classifying and targeting global audiences through these avenues. No point in spamming about ice to Eskimos or Aston Martins to the middle class.

Recent revelations have resulted in the US Government admitting that they target foreigners’—non-US citizens’—information for intelligence activities, and they do this by recruiting the support of these mega US conglomerates to enable intercepts of communications. This could be metadata—headers, timestamps etc.—or the whole body of information. Regardless if which it is, when aggregated, information is powerful.

It’s one thing to the take this intelligence and analyse it for criminal activity, but amid all the noise there would also be a wealth of government, corporate and highly personal information anyone would reasonably expect to not be passed to third parties.

No doubt trust has been broken—what shreds were left. The revelations, ironically, have the US Government up in arms over their own breach of privacy. They’re calling it unconstitutional. How will they be held accountable internationally over their breach of foreigners’ privacy?

Are we at a point where the anomaly is that those who try and remain private are going to be classified as criminals due to pattern matching (and lack of real information)?

Are people going to be vilified for their electronic beliefs? Will everyone start living separate double lives—a digital one and a real one (with neither reflecting any truth about the other)?

Should we all go back to living in the forests and cease electronic engagement for fear it continues to bite us like this?

Should the US corporations have the right to say NO to requests from their Government?

Are we victims of the monster that we have created?

There are many people living on this planet who have very little electronic engagement and are therefore maintaining their data privacy very well. What about the rest of us? What is more important?

Tags: privacy

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