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Bruce Schneier on NSA v. Private Meta-Data Storage

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Friday, February 14, 2014 at 4:18 PM

In December I said this about the Presidential Review Group’s recommendation to transfer meta-data from NSA to private control: “I understand the Report’s concerns about the storage of bulk meta-data by the government.  But I do not understand the Report’s implicit assumption that the storage of bulk meta-data by private entities is an improvement from the perspective of privacy, or data security, or potential abuse.”

Bruce Schneier has written an interesting analysis of this issue – the best I have seen.  His conclusion is not, as Slate’s typically misleading headline states, “Let the NSA Keep Hold of the Data.”  Rather, after analyzing the costs and benefits of NSA v. private meta-date storage, Schneier concludes:

Where does this leave us? If the corporations are storing the data already—for some business purpose—then the answer is easy: Only they should store it. If the corporations are not already storing the data, then—on balance—it’s safer for the NSA to store the data. And in many cases, the right answer is for no one to store the data. It should be deleted because keeping it makes us all less secure.

This question is much bigger than the NSA. There are going to be data—medical data, movement data, transactional data—that are both valuable to us all in aggregate and private to us individually. And in every one of those instances, we’re going to be faced with the same question: How do we extract that societal value, while at the same protecting its personal nature? This is one of the key challenges of the Information Age, and figuring out where to store the data is a major part of that challenge. There certainly isn’t going to be one solution for all instances of this problem, but learning how to weigh the costs and benefits of different solutions will be a key component to harnessing the power of big data without suffering the societal harms.

Worth a read.

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