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Privacy and sensor networks

Thanks to the advancing science of nanotechnology, soon we will have a plethora of sensor networks surrounding us. So, maybe we should start thinking about the privacy implications of using such technology, warned Christine Peterson, head of the Foresight Nanotech Institute, a think tank focused on how nanotechnology-based products will affect the populace at large.

Peterson introduced this idea during her talk at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, held last month in Portland.

Nanotechnology is, of course, the science of building things on an atom-by-atom basis. Industry is now getting to the point where they can build a sensor that can detect a single molecule. Low-power and cheap, they could be spread across an area and networked together.

While it hasn't been discussed that much yet, the proliferation of sensor networks will bring with it a gaggle of privacy issues. Who gets this information? How long should it be kept? Who can have access? Will governments have de facto permission to place secret sensor networks out in public places?

When it comes to matters of terrorism, Peterson opined, 'the folks in D.C. don't have a big tool set. What they think about is surveillance ' atomic, video, biological, chemical'you name it, they want it."

Of course, we will need software for all these sensors, which is why Peterson was at OSCON, making the case for privacy issues before the open-source software crowd. Peterson said sensor network software is where e-voting software was a few years back: The e-voting debacle might have been avoided if states had relied on open source software, which would be open to inspection and perhaps less of a magnet for negative appraisal.

More importantly, the open-source crowd could simply understand all the issues involved. "We need a community that understands security and privacy how those interact, and how they affect functionality, and how they affect freedom. You're the only ones who get this," she said.

Posted by Joab Jackson on Aug 12, 2008 at 9:39 AM


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