Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What a Data-Driven Crypto-Democracy Would Look Like


When we give our data to a third party like Facebook, we do so with the feeble hope that it won’t end up in hands we’d prefer it stay out of. We know that this is rarely the case, since the US government’s overly broad  surveillance regime tracks nearly all of our interactions online, and a host of distributed third parties form a data market where users have little power and reap few benefits. It’s clear that Big Data is characterized by deepening asymmetries of power and a deficit of trust. 

To address this, researchers from the University of Rennes in France, the University of Montreal, and the University of Denmark have proposed a utopian vision for society-wide data privacy that places trust at the fore in  a position paper presented last week at the 2014 Data Privacy Management workshop in Wroclaw, Poland. They call their idealistic solution a “crypto-democracy.” 

“Right now, all the information, everywhere, on our accounts is always stored in one single place, so there is one institution who controls the information. So that would be the main difference,” Alain Tapp, the Montreal-based author of the paper, said. “We’re proposing it would be a group of institutions, and none of them would have control or access to the data on their own.” 

In the proposed framework, we would upload data to a central encrypted server called “The Trustworthy.” Three elected organizations armed with supercomputers and a legion of 
cryptographers—like the CIA, Google, the ACLU, and the  International Telecommunications Union, say—would then have access to it under strict parameters.

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