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Expert Urges Individuals To Press For Privacy And Security

The author of <i>The Unwanted Gaze: The Destruction of Privacy in America</i> urges technology executives to think about privacy in broad terms.

K.C. Jones

June 21, 2006

2 Min Read

Technology's heavy-hitters are not alone in their ability to join forces to press for consumer privacy.

Consumers and designers can also do their part, according to author Jeffrey Rosen, who spoke Wednesday at the annual Security Industry Association Technology Management Conference in New York City.

Rosen's speech came one day after a dozen companies, including eBay, Google, HP, Intel, Microsoft and Oracle, announced an effort to pass a comprehensive federal consumer privacy package.

Rosen, who wrote The Unwanted Gaze: The Destruction of Privacy in America, urged executives and consumers to think about privacy in broad terms.

"I urge you to resist the simplistic view, 'If I've got nothing to hide, I've got nothing to fear," he said. "That doesn't coincide with intuition."

Rosen, a law professor and legal affairs editor for The New Republic, used several examples in which law-abiding citizens could be embarrassed by too much transparency. He relayed a newspaper story about young people who were shocked to find out that prospective employers looked up their pages on MySpace and took a dim view of job candidates with unusual taste in music, pictures of themselves drinking with friends and photographs of them posing in bikinis.

The reason they were surprised is that people present different faces in different situations.

"It's not because I'm a hypocrite," he said. "It's because I'm human."

Rosen, whose latest book, The Naked Crowd: Reclaiming Security and Freedom in an Anxious Age, also rejected the idea that people must choose between protecting personal information and overall security.

Airports that used "naked machines," which give high-resolution, three-dimensional views of ceramics, plastics and knives, also revealed nude bodies of screened passengers. Developers, however, discovered that the knives and other materials could be projected onto the image of a mannequin and the images of passengers' bodies could be scrambled to form a blob.

The same types of solutions can be developed for personal data, he said, and regular people should keep that in mind when choosing technology at home, on the job and in the public arena.

"You have a unique role to play when choosing technology that can protect privacy and security," Rosen said.

The decision should not be left to policymakers and courts, which often reflect values rather than take the lead, he said.

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