Posted by: Chris | 20/05/2010

Does Pervasive Computing Equal More Security or Less Freedom?

This week I was invited to a podium discussion at the 7th International Human Rights Forum in Lucerne. The topic was “Does Pervasive Computing Guarantee More Security for All Through Reduction of the Freedom of the Individual?” – quite mouth full. However, as it turns out it was a very interesting discussion.

Being from IBM, I represented technology and the other participants included a philosopher, a lawyer and as moderator a journalist writing about politics. We ventured into fields such as; “Are public security cameras an intrusion into privacy?; Do they work effectively?; Are they necessary?” to “Should technologists pursue anything feasible or are there moral/ethical limits?”

While I don’t believe these questions have a clear yes or no answer, I would like to make two observations.

(1) Apparently the security cameras deployed in the London subway system were key to resolving the bombings and in apprehending the terrorists. So while they didn’t prevent the crime, they at least helped effectively resolve it. It also appears that cameras deter certain criminals from performing their acts when they’re being filmed and cause them to move elsewhere. Do they reduce crime? Probably not.

(2) As far as information technology goes, I think researchers will do everything possible to push the boundaries of knowledge and capability. While the lawyer and philosopher in our discussion felt there should be laws and moral codes of conduct to keep this from happening, I said that whatever can be done in IT will be done. If not here then elsewhere. Think of China where IT is used to limit access to the Internet and track down Internet activists for publishing opinions and facts not in the “interest of the state”. Here I believe we need to know what is possible and work on technologies to deal with these possibilities. A good example is our Identity Mixer technology that allows one to do authenticated, but privacy preserving internet transactions.

I wonder what you think about these dilemmas and how you would answer them?



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by IBMResearch, IBM Switzerland. IBM Switzerland said: RT @IBMResearch: A scientist, a lawyer, a philosopher and a political journalist talk privacy/security — who do u side with? – […]

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