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privacy

The challenge of employee monitoring

Tam Harbert has posted a fairly even-handed discussion of employee monitoring in Computerworld. This is a difficult topic to address, since it treads on the fine line between employee privacy and a company's obligation to ensure efficient use of their resources. When Secure Computing bought Webster Webtrack, a web filtering product, back in the 1990s, the developers said that they'd see drops of 70% in web traffic when users knew they were being monitored.

It's a well known fact - people are more likely to behave if they think they're being watched. And it's easy to waste time surfing the web.

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Data Disclosure by Copy Machines

When Joanne emailed me this video a few days ago, I responded with "Yes, yes, of course. Copiers are digital. They save stuff." But then I watched the video. THIS IS BAD:

This is why all hard drives should have built-in encryption.

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Graphic of Facebook Privacy

One Matt McKeon of IBM has created a terrific graphical timeline of privacy erosion on Facebook. It's pretty alarming.

A pundit at Wired suggests the development of an open-systems alternative. It's an interesting idea.

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The blunt sword of legislation

Minnesota's Senator Klobuchar has co-sponsored a bill to criminalize certain behavior by peer-to-peer file sharing programs.

The bill is supposed to require a sort of informed consent by computer owners whenever a P2P file sharing program arrives. Here's what the bill wants to require:

• Ensures that P2P file sharing programs cannot be installed without providing clear notice and obtaining informed consent of the authorized computer user.

• Makes it unlawful to prevent the authorized user of a computer from:

1. Blocking the installation of a peer-to-peer file sharing program, and/or

2. Disabling or removing any peer-to-peer file sharing program.

Having taught several networking courses (not to mention having written my share of networking software), I'm not sure where they can draw the line. What constitutes 'clear notice,' and does that include such things as Windows and Apple file sharing? Do these OS vendors already comply with planned legislative requirements, or will they have to update their configuration software?

Does "Microsoft Genuine Advantage" violate the law if it won't let the computer owner block its communication with the Mother Ship in Redmond? If so, how does Microsoft check for people using the same license on two or more computers?

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Profiling ("Fingerprinting") a Browser

EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has put up a web site called Panopticlick.

It collects every scrap of info from your browser that it can - a browser will divulge a lot in order to optimize its display of information - so a server can find your screen size, a list of fonts, and of course the operating system and browser versions. This is even without looking for cookies!

So a clever site could try to 'fingerprint' individuals by retrieving system details from the browser.

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When is public data non-public?

If it's public information on paper, is the electronic version also a public record?

As a techie, I tend to think so. The electronic version carries more information, is easier to work with, and is sometimes easier to authenticate.

The city of Phoenix, AZ, recently argued the opposite in court, and ultimately lost. Someone was suing the city and demanded some public records. The city provided paper copies, some of which appeared to be backdated. The plaintiff demanded the electronic copies so he could examine the metadata. The city refused, saying that the metadata was not public record. Two courts agreed, but the Arizona Supreme Court disagreed. So a court is on record saying that, if the document is a public record, the electronic form is also a public record.

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