Dust-sized wireless communications nodes, pinhead-size cameras, and other sensors; contact-lens video displays and wearable computers controlled by subvocal speech and other muscle movements; and the ability to google anything, anywhere–we will soon be able to know almost everything about everyone.

Explosive advances in the technologies of sensing and data mining demand that we ask: is privacy a fundamental right or a passing phenomenon?



Privacy is mentioned in neither the U.S. Constitution nor John Stuart Mill’s seminal work, “On Liberty.” Nor does it seem to have been a basic aspect of any civilization before the late Victorian era. Perhaps it’s nothing more than a single century’s luxury, supported by an odd combination of technologies: the urban apartment building and subways, the suburban home and private automobiles.



In a special four-part report in IEEE Spectrum, “Sensor Nation,” we look at privacy under siege. Part one, “Sensors and Sensibility,” reviews the latest developments in sensing and data mining, and at a rear-guard of technologists who are fighting back, developing technologies of privacy. A second article, “We Like to Watch,” tackles head-on the difficult question of what a society without privacy would be like. Is there a healthy alternative, a so-called transparent society, in which the loss of privacy is symmetrical and universal, matched by a powerful new ability to watch the watchers?



More here.

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