A radical proposal to keep your personal data safe

By Richard Stallman – Broader, meaning extending to all surveillance systems, not just Facebook. Deeper, meaning to advance from regulating the use of data to regulating the accumulation of data. Because surveillance is so pervasive, restoring privacy is necessarily a big change, and requires powerful measures.

The surveillance imposed on us today far exceeds that of the Soviet Union. For freedom and democracy’s sake, we need to eliminate most of it. There are so many ways to use data to hurt people that the only safe database is the one that was never collected. Thus, instead of the EU’s approach of mainly regulating how personal data may be used (in its General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR), I propose a law to stop systems from collecting personal data.

The robust way to do that, the way that can’t be set aside at the whim of a government, is to require systems to be built so as not to collect data about a person. The basic principle is that a system must be designed not to collect certain data, if its basic function can be carried out without that data.

Frills on the system, such as the feature of letting a passenger review the list of past journeys, are not part of the basic function, so they can’t justify incorporating any additional surveillance.

What about security? Such systems in areas where the public are admitted must be designed so they cannot track people.

The EU’s GDPR regulations are well-meaning, but do not go very far. It will not deliver much privacy, because its rules are too lax. They permit collecting any data if it is somehow useful to the system, and it is easy to come up with a way to make any particular data useful for something. more>

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