My latest Guardian column "Surveillance: You can know too much," explains how collecting too much information on innocent people makes it harder to catch guilty ones:
At a certain point, data gathered to predict the weather overwhelms your capacity to add it to your calculations efficiently, resulting in ever-longer runtimes that give less accurate predictions. It's better to crunch the data needed to calculate tomorrow's weather in 10 minutes (and refine your guess twice an hour) than to shovel so much data into the hopper that you don't get tomorrow's forecast until next week.
The sweet spot lies somewhere between gathering too much information and gathering too little – and the secret to hitting that spot is intelligent, discriminating data-acquisition.
Take London: cover every square inch of the city with CCTVs and you'll get so much information that you'll never make any sense of it. Scotland Yard says that CCTVs help solve fewer than 3% of all crimes, while a study in San Francisco found that at best, criminals simply move out of camera range, while at worst they assume no one is watching.
Similarly, if you take fingerprints from every person who applies for a visa – or worse still, from every person in Britain who has to carry one of the proposed new biometric cards – you will fill the databases with chaff that slows down searches, generates endless false matches, and threatens everyone in the database with the worst kind of identity theft.
White cops from Aiken, SC improperly stopped a car driven by a black woman (they claimed the stop was motivated by temporary tags, but driving with current temporary tags is not grounds for a stop), then improperly questioned her passenger, who voluntarily gave them his ID, then induced a drug dog to “alert” on the […]
Amendment 90 to France’s penal reform bill provides for five year prison sentences and €350,000 fines for companies that refuse to accede to law enforcement demands to decrypt devices.
In 1996, in the midst of the Clinton administration’s attack on the Internet and cryptography, Grateful Dead lyricist and EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow sat down in Davos, Switzerland, where he’d been addressing world leaders on the subject of the Internet and human rights, and wrote one of net-culture’s formative documents: The Declaration of Independence […]
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