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Privacy Implications of Ubiquitous Digital Sensors

26 January 2011

USA Today and "The Last Watchdog" blog published a story today on the privacy implications of ubiquitous digital sensors, in which Hogan Lovells Privacy and Information Management practice Director Chris Wolf is quoted at length. Some excerpts:

Odds are you will be monitored today — many times over.

Surveillance cameras at airports, subways, banks and other public venues are not the only devices tracking you. Inexpensive, ever-watchful digital sensors are now ubiquitous.

Over the next couple of years, the volume of data generated by digital sensors will surpass the flow of e-mails and social-network entries combined, predicts Stephen Brobst, chief technical officer at data analytics firm Teradata. “Sensors will touch nearly every aspect of our lives,” he says.

Meanwhile, technology is rapidly being developed to efficiently mine this mushrooming trove of sensor data in novel ways.

Privacy worries

But before the blessings of pervasive monitoring can be fully realized, privacy concerns need to be addressed, says Chris Wolf, director of privacy and information management at global law firm Hogan Lovells.

“What’s new is the capacity for databases to share data and therefore to put together the pieces of a puzzle that can identify us in surprising ways — ways that really could be an invasion of privacy,” Wolf says.

Wolf, the privacy attorney, says the right to move through public places anonymously could be at risk. “We don’t have to tell everybody we pass on the street our name, phone number and address,” Wolf says.

Losing the right to anonymity, he says, could “really have a chilling effect on where we go, with whom we meet and how we live our lives.”

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