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Why Data-Abuse is Bad (Ask the Japanese)

Bruce Schneier posted a great essay about how US Census data was used by the government to incarcerate innocent Japanese Americans during WWII.
When we think about our personal data, what bothers us most is generally not the initial collection and use, but the secondary uses. I personally appreciate it when suggests books that might interest me, based on books I have already bought. I like it that my airline knows what type of seat and meal I prefer, and my hotel chain keeps records of my room preferences. I don't mind that my automatic road-toll collection tag is tied to my credit card, and that I get billed automatically. I even like the detailed summary of my purchases that my credit card company sends me at the end of every year. What I don't want, though, is any of these companies selling that data to brokers, or for law enforcement to be allowed to paw through those records without a warrant.

He goes on to say that the two dangers of data abuse (a.k.a data mining or data brokering) are that when people aren't certain that their data is private, they become less willing to provide it or give false information. The second is the risk of errors in the data which can cause different kinds of headaches altogether (think of the no-fly list snafus).

Most of us who complain about the systems and laws that are changing for the worse over time (and especially during the regime of emperor Bush and our flaccid Congress) are those who can clearly see how they can be used for more than intended. But you don't have to be a visionary to see what can happen. Look into history instead.

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