Privacy, Openness, and Access to Information

Posted: August 5, 2008 in communication, information, internet, meredith farkas
Tags: , ,

Time for some randomness. A trio of stories caught my eye recently. The topics are vastly different, but there is a loose common theme that ties them all together: restricting or opening access to information.

Libraries are all about open access to information. Libraries have tons of great content, and they want to share this content with the widest possible audience. The very title of Meredith Farkas‘ blog emphasizes this: Information Wants To Be Free. However, librarians will readily admit that there is some information which should not be freely available. (Patrons choosing to opt-in on book reviewer services is another matter.) Patron reading records come to mind. Patrons’ reference questions are also taken to be private and confidential with libraries taking great steps to anonymize all questions before analyzing their service quality.

I guess this dual perspective of openness and privacy helped pique my interest in these stories:

CNET: Olympic head: No deal on Internet censorship
CNET: The FCC on Comcast: Confusion in spades
MSNBC: Recordings raise questions about inmate rights

The first story continues the saga of China’s ongoing efforts at Internet censorship. In spite of an agreement with the International Olympic Committee, the Chinese government continues to block access to Internet sites of which it does not approve. International journalists are up in arms about it. This censorship limits their ability to do their jobs, and it simply isn’t what China promised.

The second story deals with Comcast‘s throttling of BitTorrent traffic. Interestingly enough, what Comcast did is regularly replicated on university campuses across the country through various packet shaping technologies. Apparently the FCC’s biggest complaint about Comcast was that the company hid their activities from customers.

The third story highlights illegal eavesdropping on privileged attorney-inmate conversations by the San Diego county jails. Apparently the jails were not only recording these conversations, they were also making them available to prosecuting attorneys. In at least one case, this gave the prosecutor explicit information about the defendant’s trial strategy. The story also reveals that similar recordings occurred in other counties as well. Interestingly enough, in California eavesdropping on inmates’ telephone calls with their attorneys is a felony. I wonder how the state will choose to punish the county?

So here we have a country censoring information that should be open and freely available. We have a company secretly throttling customers’ access to certain types of data streams. And we have county governments clandestinely recording privileged conversations.

In the United States we (SHOULD) treasure our free speech. We (SHOULD) treasure our free press. We (SHOULD) maintain an awareness of corporate practices that impact our access to information. We (SHOULD) actively protect confidential communication from unlawful scrutiny. These stories serve to illustrate that people need to protect their information rights. Without demanding constant accountability, these rights will be slowly, surreptitiously whittled away.

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