A Few More Thoughts on Data Security and Data Privacy in the ‘Golden Age of Surveillance’

Posted on : 30-03-2016 | By : Maria Motyka | In : Cyber Security, Data, General News, Innovation

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In the era of unparalleled tech innovation and global terrorism threats, 1) more and more of our sensitive data is being collected and 2) sophisticated surveillance measures are put into practice. We are being gradually deprived of (or perhaps willingly giving away) our privacy. Security guru Bruce Schneier goes as far as referring to current times as the ‘Golden Age of Surveillance’.

We previously discussed the issue of data security and privacy in the context of top 2015 hacks as well as innovations such as A.I. toys and healthcare wearables in our December blog post: Data Privacy/Security You Can Run But You Can’t Hide.

Here’s some more food for thought on the topic.

Governments and corporations not only collect much larger and more wide ranging datasets on us as individuals, but are also, now more than ever, able to compile it, make sense of it and take action based on in-depth big data insight. As noted by Chief Data Scientist of an admired Silicon Valley company during an interview with Jemand mit Eiern, the goal is to “change people’s actual behaviour at scale” through capturing their behaviors and identifying the ‘good’ versus ’bad’ behaviours to then create ways to reward the ‘good’ and punish the ‘bad’. The ultimate goal? Profit and control.

The application of big data to alter behaviours is very clear on both the corporate and government side; from Google, which announced that its maps will no longer merely provide users with a route they search for, but also suggest a destination, to China, which is now building a ‘pre-crime’ big data platform. China’s new tool will allow predictive policing, identifying individuals who ‘have the potential’ to engage in suspicious activities, based on complex data derived from citizens’ online and offline activity (including transactions, locations, who they engage with etc.) and thus to prevent crime, altering the way individuals behave.

Schneier finds what happens a ‘at the back-end’ in terms of big data rather disturbing. During Forbes’s first tech podcast ‘The Premise‘ he spoke about ‘dossiers’ that are built up with multiple inputs, such as “face recognition plus miniature cameras, plus Facebook’s database of tagged photos, plus the credit card database of your purchasing habits data… all of that put together…” The data privacy thought leader stresses that while on the corporate side big data and surveillance are used to get people to consume things, on the government side it is a tool for a variety of things: law enforcement, social control, terrorism, and political manipulation, making sure that ‘certain’ ideas don’t spread and silencing ‘certain’ people.

Knowledge is power and it is important to consider whom these surveillance/intelligence powers can be used against. Snowden recently reminded us of the case of UK Government Communications Headquarters (GSCHQ), which has previously used their ‘powers’ to spy on journalists and human rights groups such as Amnesty International.

How much of our data do we agree to ‘give away’? Is it at all possible to ensure that only the ‘good guys’ can access all this big, big data which, as we discussed, can be used to alter our behaviours?

During one of his recentAsk Me Anything Reddit sessions, Bill Gates himself drew the attention to the issue of data security. Microsoft’s founder demanded more public debate around bulk data collection and stressed that there are currently insufficient safeguards in place to make sure that information on us is only used for – what he called – the ‘proper’ reasons.

How do you even define ‘proper’ reasons?

The issue is highly relevant to the UK. In an interview for the Guardian, UN privacy chief Joseph Cannataci stated that “UK surveillance is worse than 1984″, “a rather bad joke at its citizens’ expense” and criticised the government for its approach to the Investigatory Powers Bill  In the case of the bill proceeding into statute, the Snooper’s Charter will have significant ramifications for Brits’ collective privacy.

Edward Snowden, during a talk he gave in Poland in mid-March, summarised the surveillance vs. security ‘dilemma’ (one, which the British MPs are currently facing) as follows:

 “Do we want liberty or do we want sort of a sense of total order where you may feel that life is a little bit more predictable but you are reliant upon some great authority that really has the extraordinary power to interfere in your life and tell you where to go what to do and how (…) and watch you at all times in exchange for a feeling of safety that in practical way is not delivered in any more reliable way today than it was before?”.

Schneier agrees with this view and stresses that surveillance with no probable cause is not compatible with liberty:

“the whole point of democracy is that we are willing to live with some amount of crime because we realise that a totalitarian police state is much worse”.

At the same time, the security champion discredits the ‘myth’ that surveillance is good for security: “There is no evidence for that. It has been stated as a truism and we’re expected to believe”. Whenever we see counter-terrorism success it is based on targeted, not mass surveillance.

Big data will get bigger, there is no question to it. However, “we need comprehensive laws that regulate all forms of data: collection, storage, use, sale, destruction. The whole process”, Schneier argues. Let’s hope that sooner or later we will learn to appreciate our privacy and put in place systems to protect it.

Data privacy/security – you can run but you can’t hide?

Posted on : 18-12-2015 | By : Jack.Rawden | In : Cloud, Cyber Security, Data, General News, Innovation

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Security and privacy are among some of the top themes discussed throughout 2015 and will likely remain an equally popular topic in 2016.

On one hand, consumers’ private data is increasingly being revealed through major security breaches and hacks, causing widespread outrage. On the other, in the face of terror, many are willing to voluntarily give up more and more of their privacy to be (or at least feel) more secure.

At the same time, new technologies offer solutions in healthcare, payments and entertainment, to name a few, with the potential to have a highly positive impact on the quality of our everyday lives. Their adoption however is often almost synonymous with sharing highly intimate data, raising concerns of many.

All of the above stir the data privacy/security debate. How much privacy are we willing to give up and in exchange for what?

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Your kids’ A.I. frenemies

In many cases it’s not even just about our data and our security…

For example, the scandal over the recent V-Tech hack, exposing data of 6.4 million children and the launch of the widely boycotted A.I., Wi-Fi enabled Barbie, designed to engage in dialogue with kids and ‘treasure’ their secrets, beg the question whether we are really willing to risk not only ours, but also our children’s sensitive data being revealed, in exchange for more interactive play experience.

Data collected via high-tech toys could not only be used for commercial reasons, but also for example to identify the times you leave home to drop off your kids to school.

 

‘Terrorised’ into sharing data?

In the wake of Paris attacks, European parliament civil liberties committee dropped its opposition to EU counter-terror plan to collect air passengers’ data. Data protection watchdogs described this as “the first large-scale and indiscriminate collection of personal data in the history of the European Union”.

The passing of laws allowing the EU to collect and store our personal data in the name of terrorism prevention means irreversible changes to the extent to which we are invigilated, taking us yet another step closer to the Big Brother reality scenario.

Nevertheless, it seems like privacy becomes irrelevant to the scared masses.

The UK media is heating up the atmosphere with warnings that a UK terror attack is only a matter of time and escalating fear through falsely labelling tube fire alarm incidents ‘terrorist’ scares; the Brits are concerned with safety. According to Dr David Purves, psychologist specialising in trauma “When something dramatic happens, such as the attacks in Paris, something called the ‘availability heuristic’ kicks in”. This means that certain things, such as a terrorist attack, seem more likely than they really are. The UK national counter-terrorism security office (NACTSO) publishing official advice on how to behave in case of a terror attack, including to ‘run or hide rather than lie down and play dead’, doesn’t necessarily contribute to our sense of security.

In this context, we either chose to turn a blind eye or even support governments’ and EU institutions’ steps depriving us from our privacy. The question is whether there is an end to this? Under more severe terrorist threats, how much surveillance are we willing to agree to?

 

IT health-care?

According to Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter, Britain is on ‘the brink of a personalised healthcare revolution that could scarcely have been predicted a few years ago.’; the NHS is soon to go high-tech with new proposals announced in mid-2015. Within the next five years, UK patients are very likely to be able to use the Internet to order prescriptions or access their health records, as well as speak to their GP. Wearable healthcare devices are also going mainstream, with estimates of 70% of us using them by 2025 (IDC).

A world in which we are much more in control over our wellness by being able to constantly track and monitor the state of your health and reach the expertise of our doctor through video calling does sound idyllic.

However, healthcare digitisation also has serious data security implications. Hacked healthcare data could be used for several purposes; imagine your potential employer or insurer could use it to assess the state your health? What if a hacker could tweak your health records?

A NHS spokesman said: ‘Ensuring patient confidentiality is of upmost importance to everyone working in the NHS and the robust processes already in place to ensure that patient data is protected extends data held electronically’, but let’s be realistic – if self-driving cars and Pentagon are being hacked, wearable health & wellness devices and the NHS are far from ‘unhackable’.

Education – How can technology help?

Posted on : 28-03-2012 | By : richard.gale | In : General News

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The development of the Raspberry Pi, (a £30 computer designed to give the next generation of children programming skills) started a few of us at Broadgate thinking about technology and education – Are there ways that schools and other organisations could utilise some of the current technology trends?

 

Background

ICT in the classroom has changed radically over the last 30 years. In the 1980s there existed  ‘the school computer’ where a select group of students could spend lunch-times and evenings writing programmes in incomprehensible languages resulting in simple calculators or battleship type games. Now computers are embedded in homes, offices and schools – the UK GCSE ICT course now includes a full project management lifecycle study from initial requirements gathering to system implementation. Outside the classroom computers are used for all the usual business processes including pupil records, finance, scheduling and communications.

In the UK the Professor Steve Furber of Royal Society  criticised the skills of ICT teachers (for example only 35% have a specific qualification in the subject contrasting with 74% of maths teachers) and teaching and proposed the standalone subject be scrapped. He said that IT was so important it should be part of the core curriculum integrated into schools to improve digital literacy alongside reading, writing and arithmetic.

 

Our Broad Thoughts

Integrating technology into the core of the curriculum is key and we think the opportunities for technology to improve, accelerate and enhance the educational experience for both pupils and teachers are huge.

A few of our ideas are below and we’d welcome your thoughts on these and other areas.

 

1. Social Media – collaborative approach

This is an area were the pupils excel and, as a rule, are ahead of the teachers. These technical natives have grown up with technology and the use of social networks is a natural extension of them. They are used for updating friends, promoting themselves, discussing & arguing and sharing information. Are there ways schools can utilise this technology and more importantly energy & enthusiasm?

The key element of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc etc. is socialising and sharing ideas. Discussions started in the classroom can be extended to home/remote working. These often happen informally amongst pupils but could have added value if teachers could interact and assist. Schools could create ecosystems for collaborative working. Initially it may be difficult to attract pupils to the school created areas so a more successful approach may be for the pupils to create and teachers to join. Obviously there are risks to this but the idea that there be a shared area for thoughts and ideas without negativity in a safe space.

 

2. BYOD/Mobility – help or hindrance?

Many pupils now carry smartphones some are starting to carry iPads too. These can be viewed negatively from a school perspective as they can, at worst, be a distraction in class and potentially a cheating and bullying device.

So, accepting they are not going away, how can the positive aspects of smartphones be utilised?

Simple techniques such as using calendar facilities to upload the class timetables, reminders for homework, coursework etc. Alerts for taking in gym kit could be pushed out to pupils (and parents) devices. Obviously this does not completely remove ‘The dog ate my blackberry’ issue for teachers but it should help!

Coursework, homework and useful reference material & links can be also pushed up to phones to consolidate knowledge and aide pupils.

Even more useful would be to think how people use their phones and tablets, as well as communicating they are great research tools and could be used within the classroom situation helping finding different viewpoints on historical events for instance (and so helping improve the critical thinking of children as there are so many different and potentially inaccurate ‘facts’ out there –  “Always check your sources!” as my history teacher used to say).

Tablets and iPads in particular are very exciting tools for learning. They move away from the conformity of keyboards and mice and can make learning truly interactive. They are starting to be adopted in schools but we think there is a great potential to radically change the classroom and learning experience.

Obviously not all pupils can afford smartphones so to avoid technology related poverty trap, less well-off pupils should be provided with the same phones/tablets. Cash rich technology organisations should be approached to assist and a need mechanism could be introduced such as that for school dinners. Also parents’ wishes need to be taken into account as the age that a child is allowed to use a phone can vary widely.

 

3. Data Intelligence – Capturing Trends

As with any organisation there are large amounts of data contained in multiple stores. Also as with any other organisation that data is often not connected with other relevant sources so the information value of that data is lost.

One of our colleagues moved from financial services to education and was surprised by the lack of management information available to the teaching team. The data is there but it was not being translated into meaningful information.

There must be potential to link an individual teachers/class/subject results to identify trends. E.g. if the interim test results for the year 8 history class is going down, is it because the course work has been modified, there is a new teacher or the pupils socio-economic make up has changed? A good business intelligence application can trawl the data to identify the causes and so the appropriate remedial actions taken.

Similarly if maths A level results suddenly improve, what are the reasons for this and how can then they be applied elsewhere (internally or externally see Communications below)

If an individual pupils attainment levels started dropping off then additional attention could be provided to that student to help them get back on track and also identify and help hopefully resolve the underlying cause of the issue.

Other areas which may be more radical may involve gathering the information and identifying the better performing areas within or across schools including measurements such as a ‘cost per GCSE’ or ‘Entry/Exit attainment improvement’ of pupils.

 

4. Communications – sharing

Schools can sometimes be inward looking. Often teachers stay in one school for a considerable time. This is great for continuity and progression but may result in lost opportunities for innovation and changes that are happening in the extended educational community. Some schools encourage visits to other schools, conferences and courses can help here and there is big opportunity to take this further.

Businesses utilise management consultants to help improve organisations for efficiency or growth with the view to build revenue and profits.

Could information sharing, more inter-school communications, best practice and teaching artefact sharing help schools and teaching? Information is now available locally, nationally and internationally so can be shared and used amongst educational establishments.

 

5. Cloud Computing – Who needs infrastructure?

Most schools have a room/office with the computers/servers. As IT requirements grew in terms of finance, pupils’ records, assessments, operational and staff information the amount and complexity of equipment expanded often requiring dedicated resources to support and change. As we have been saying to our clients, with the advent of Cloud and Software as a Service the need for this is reducing to the point where the default should be for someone else to host, manage and support a schools technology infrastructure.

Obviously, as with any sensitive information, the question of student data privacy and security needs to be addressed. This should already be the case and the existing policies should be proved by any potential vendor and tested regularly by the educational authority.

 

6. Security – Paramount

The most important part of the use of technology is pupil safety and confidentiality. This is obvious and needs to be kept in the forefront of any discussion in regard to the introduction of a system whether it is IT or other mechanism.

 

Final thoughts

The opportunities for technology to help improve schools is both immense and exciting, this is not an area we have worked in but are really interested in stimulating a debate and seeing if we can assist in any way. Every time we help people outside our core business areas of finance IT we find not only do we enjoy it but we too learn a great deal from different working structures and cultures.

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow” John Dewey – innovation & technology can help us help the next generation.