Thursday, March 11, 2010

Harmless Data Mining?

Harmless data mining. Would that be an oxymoron? I am not so sure that it isn't and this report will give you an idea as to why.

CDC uses shopper-card data to trace salmonella

How serious could a little harmless gathering of personal data really be? I mean after all, as one of those who became a victim of it in this report said......he wasn't hiding anything. Is that really the point? Is it really the point that as long as you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear? I am afraid that most of us would answer that query in the affirmative and I am equally afraid that most of us would be dead wrong.

Are we being seriously short sighted in our decision making, as it concerns what and how we allow our government to use of our personal data? Is all this mining simply a harmless accumulation of information designed only to help us? Again, I don't think so.

Keep in mind, this story involving the CDC is but one example of the uses of information that can be applied to our everyday lives. There are far more worrisome concerns looming on our horizon right now. And each is being cleverly cloaked in the representation that it will be for our own good in the end.

In the example cited in this report, people's information concerning their shopping habits and grocery purchases were scanned and investigated by the CDC, in order to help them track a salmonella outbreak. But what if they were looking for say "spending habits" as compared to reported income? Far fetched? I don't think so. All it takes is a representation that it is in the better interest of public safety, and suddenly all those barriers that the constitution promises are breached and set aside.

As they scrambled recently to trace the source of a salmonella outbreak that has sickened hundreds around the country, investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention successfully used a new tool for the first time — the shopper cards that millions of Americans swipe every time they buy groceries.

With permission from the patients, investigators followed the trail of grocery purchases to a Rhode Island company that makes salami, then zeroed in on the pepper used to season the meat.

Never before had the CDC successfully mined the mountain of data that supermarket chains compile.

"It was really exciting. It was a break in the investigation for sure," CDC epidemiologist Casey Barton Behravesh said.

Wow! "It was really exciting!"

Imagine that. Of course exciting is not an adjective that I would use to describe what is being done and explored as it concerns the violating of our privacy and the ongoing mining of personal information being used by our government.

"I don't have any secrets, so I'm not worried about it," he said. "It's kind of like the whole airport security and all that. I'd rather fly on a safe plane."

Shopper cards have been around for more than a decade, offering customers discounts in exchange for letting supermarkets track their buying habits. The cards are used to build customer loyalty and help stores market their products.

So what is next?

Well let's see. Presently, our friend in the senate (Lindsey Graham) is sponsoring and pushing a bill to require every American to obtain an ID card, just to be legally employed or remain legally employed in this country. And not just a regular ID car, but a "biometric ID card." A card capable of encoding the person's fingerprints and other biometric data and capable of being scanned or downloaded by a reader.

And what of the HIPAA regulations that are already in effect. Those provisions that supposedly protect your patient confidentiality and right to privacy, but only after you provide in depth and extensive personal information to your health care provider and your pharmacist for their data base.

Anyone other than me? Been confronted in your doctors office recently? With the "Let's play twenty questions about your private life" aspect of "updating your medical files? I first experienced it last year during my annual physical, when the nurse practitioner came into the room with the portable laptop and began asking me questions that had absolutely nothing to do with my health. How many people lived in my home, were they relatives or others, how many firearms did I own etc.

I balked and refused to answer these invasive non health related questions, but I am sure that millions have simply prattled on when asked and answered everything that was asked of them. Because as they say...."they don't have anything to hide" and after all, "as long as it helps the government? What could go wrong?"

Which leads to the reality of the real threat in the end, once this personal information has been collected and correlated and cross referenced by multiple government agencies. Should the time ever arise when your rightfully did have something to hide from an oppressive and intrusive government, the probability will be that it will be too late at that point. Particularly if you have allowed the data mining of your life for years. You will already be so thoroughly engrossed and indexed into the government's data matrix of cross indexed files, as to make every aspect of your life an open book to any and all in any government agency that wants to access them.

So think about that the next time you fill out that simple form or apply for that 'convenience and discount card' at the local grocery or pharmacy. Meanwhile, I began a while back either getting rid of these convenience cards completely. Or I have been re-submitting applications for them with my personal information obscured or purposely deleted.

I would recommend that everyone do the same.

No comments: