Bring Your Politics to Work Day: Curt Monash on Database Snooping

I’ve never been one to keep quiet about my politics – much to the dismay and horror of many of my Leftist friends.  It usually doesn’t take too long for my business associates,  customers and vendors to get the message either.  It probably costs me some business but the alternative costs me something a lot more dear.

That’s why I have to applaud Curt Monash, who’s February 2nd Blog in Intelligent Enterprise seeks to raise awareness of Database Snooping as a threat to liberty.

Monash’s company, surprisingly named Monash Research, is in the business of predicting the future effects of technological trends.  So he makes a living thinking about this stuff . 

Monash does something controversial.  He calls on us geeks to take on some political responsibility.  That is, to think about something besides our paychecks.  In his post he says…

  • Database and analytic technology, as they evolve, will pose tremendous danger to individual liberties.
  • We in the industry who are creating this problem also have a duty to help fix it.

We should apply personal ethics to our work?  What a concept!

He goes on to make specific suggestions about needed legal restrictions  and even considers the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.  He even mentions the Ninth and Tenth Amendment – imagine that.

Here are his “four pillars of liberty in an information age” taken from what he calls his best writing about the subject of liberty.

  • Reading and writing should be unrestricted, with only the narrowest of exceptions. Almost all forms of censorship are wrongful and dangerous. And while it may not be possible to win every battle about pictures, videos, and the like, there’s no reason to tolerate the slightest censorship when what’s being censored is simply words.
  • “State of mind” evidence inferred from – for example – logs of search or surfing behavior should be inadmissible in legal proceedings, investigations, and hiring decisions. Whether it’s your interest in Islam, pornography, or the untraceable disposal of corpses, what you look into shouldn’t get you into trouble. Yes, there are a few cases where forgoing such tools is regrettable. But the slippery-slope dangers are far too great to make relying on them worth the risk and cost. The Petrick case is a dangerous precedent.
  • All uses of data that are not explicitly permitted to government must be forbidden. Given how many gray areas get created by technological advancement, a catch-all rule like this seems crucial. Analogies to the Ninth and Tenth Amendments are not coincidental.
  • All government programs (with only the narrowest of security exceptions) that use data should be disclosed. Even the narrow security exceptions should be subject to separation-of-powers oversight. David Brin and the Dutch government both have some good ideas along those lines.

You should read both blogs.  There are a lot of great links to other work of his and some interesting court cases.

But the real message in his blog is that our work can be more than a cash machine.  For many of us our work is more than what we do.  For many of us our work is who we are.  We aren’t much if we aren’t principled.

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