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Today @ PC World 

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Privacy Confab Opens in Seattle
Posted by Andrew Brandt
Wednesday, April 13, 2005, 07:54 AM (PST)

The 15th Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference opens today in Seattle, with a series of talks and debates about privacy in the information age. The conference organizers coordinate the talks around a theme every year, and this year's confab theme is "panopticon," which translates roughly to mean "see everything." (The Panopticon itself is a 1787 architectural design for a round prison where one guard in a monitoring tower can see every prisoner all at once, and where the prisoners couldn't see the guard.)

One issue the conference organizers raise is the question of whether you can guard your personal privacy by monitoring those who monitor you. The conference organizers call this "sousveillance," a French word that means "watch from below"--the opposite of surveillance (French for "watch from above"). They call the amateur video of police beating Rodney King "one of the most famous examples of sousveillance."

Many of the topics for the discussion that will take place over the next three days revolve around this central theme: Should governments require their citizens to use poorly-protected, remotely-readable passports? Should all adware be illegal, or can we trust some kinds of adware if it doesn't engage in sleazy tactics to install itself onto our PCs? What is the value of our private information, and is there any way to opt-out of commercial databases like the ones run by Lexis-Nexis or Choicepoint, both of which collect and resell sensitive data about millions of individuals (or, more recently, present a juicy target to data criminals) without regard to the accuracy of that data.

I'll be at the conference for the rest of the week, blogging periodically about some of the more interesting or provocative sessions. One of those sessions is slated for this afternoon, when privacy activists and adware executives take part in a panel discussion about the sensitive topic of software that serves ads to your desktop.

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