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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Network Privacy 2

Following on from my previous post on Network Privacy.

Privacy and data protection are primarily understood in terms of facts about one person. But most of the facts we are really interested in (gossip, political scandal, dastardly deeds and worse) involve more than one person.
This is particularly true if we are rigorous about including provenance. An allegation against person A by person B is a fact about B as well as a fact about A. B's credibility (and any other allegations made by B, as well as links between B and any other people making allegations against A) may be relevant to the veracity of the allegation.

(If someone made an unfounded allegation about me, I should perhaps feel slightly more comfortable if this was stored in some database as an allegation, with a defined provenance, rather than as unvarnished fact or vague probability. And I should want anyone reading the allegation to be automatically presented with my refutation as well. See my post on Google and Spin, which discusses the Prince Charles approach to news management.)

Why are we more interested in facts involving two or more people? One reason is that it is relevant to trust. If a politician has failed to disclose a loan, this may be relevant to his/her public duties. This is where there starts to be a conflict between privacy and public interest.

Where does this leave Prince Charles and his diaries? The relationship between royalty and the newspapers has often been uncomfortable. In 1908, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany unwisely gave an interview to the London Daily Telegraph, in which he liberally insulted half the people of Europe. Surely the people (vox populi and all that) have a right to know if the Kaiser is an ass?

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