Biometrics: 'the deal' at the heart of privacy sacrifice

'Some know more about the deal they're making than others' Exaggeration, fears, gradual acceptance, trust and deal-making were identified as among the dynamics of a relationship between sacrifice of privacy and gaining technologically-assisted benefits, at an energetic panel session at last week’s biometrics conference in Wellington. Discussion ranged beyond biometrics to citizens’ confidence in “joined-up government” and the shock of finding an Indian helpdesk apparently in possession of personal information entrusted to a US company's Australian branch. A rational person might find it very difficult to be opposed to the alleged privacy invasion of a biometric “when we’ve already accepted that we’re safer with CCTV cameras in our streets,” says privacy lawyer John Edwards. On the other hand, a significant number of citizens had raised objections to their driver’s licence photographs being digitised. “At the heart of it is the deal,” says Australian code of practice coordinator Terry Aulich. It’s a matter of the privacy citizens are prepared to give up, including their perception of the possibility of subsequent abuse, in return for increased convenience in the transaction or some other kind of “reward”. “Some people are more knowledgeable about the ‘deal’ they’re making than others will be,” he said. In an earlier era, “joined-up government”, where one government agency exchanges a citizen’s personal information with another, “was seen as a bogeyman. Now [many citizens] see it as a sensible way of easing their burden of compliance with the law.” In practice, “Big Brother” activity is more likely to come from private industry than government, says Aulich; public trust in government to do the right thing is still high, “though it’s dropped back a bit recently.”

Government and the media are two of the few groups exempted from the provisions of Australia’s Privacy Act, he notes.of easing their burden of compliance with the law.


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Top Stories - October 21st, 2004


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