Professor Laura Pinto, a digital technology professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, says that there might be something more to that elf sitting on your child’s shelf each night.
In her paper, Who’s the Boss, published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Laura Pinto argues Santa’s spying little helper “sets up children for dangerous, uncritical acceptance of power structures.”
Based on a modern-day Christmas fairy tale, the Elf on the Shelf takes up residence in children’s homes for the month of December. Each night, it flies back to the North Pole to update Santa, a.k.a. “the boss,” on the kids’ activities, both “naughty” and “nice.”
“You’re teaching (kids) a bigger lesson, which is that it’s OK for other people to spy on you and you’re not entitled to privacy,” she told the Star. And while it might be done in the spirit of fun, she said the messaging could be problematic down the road. She likened the relationship between elf, “an external form of non-familial surveillance,” and children to state and citizen.
“If you grow up thinking it’s cool for the elves to watch me and report back to Santa, well, then it’s cool for the NSA to watch me and report back to the government.”
Pinto isn’t the only one who’s worried about the elf.
Emma Waverman, a blogger with Today’s Parent, is also unimpressed with the elf.
“It’s a little creepy, this idea that this elf is watching you all the time,” she said. But her main beef is the use of a threat — not getting presents — to produce good behaviour.
“It makes the motivation to behave something that’s external,” she said. “If I’m not around or if the elf is not around, do they act crazy?”
Psychotherapist and parenting expert Alyson Schafer took a similar position; the Elf on the Shelf is an extension of the “naughty or nice list,” she said.
“Someone’s commercializing on confused parents who will just do anything that feels good if they think they can get their kid to act better.”
While some people don’t think the elf is that big of a deal and is just a nice Christmas gift, combining the elf with other surveillance tools children also encounter, such as tracking at school, it’s another small piece that conditions children to not question authority and forces them to live with the possibility of being in trouble when not conforming to what authority figures say is correct behavior.
After having disclosed the extent of the employees’ information stolen in the recent hack to the California Attorney General’s Office, Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) has sent out an email to the affected workers, outlining the scope of the potential damage the “brazen cyber attack” might bring to them personally.
“Although SPE is in the process of investigating the scope of the cyber attack, SPE believes that the following types of personally identifiable information that you provided to SPE may have been obtained by unauthorized individuals: (i) name, (ii) address, (iii) Social Security Number, driver’s license number, passport number, and/or other government identifier, (iv) bank account information, (v) credit card information for corporate travel and expense, (vi) username and passwords, (vii) compensation and (viii) other employment related information,” the letter described.
A new Youtube account is pushing local police agencies to reconsider their use of body-mounted cameras.
Despite considering officer accountability a top priority, police say records requests from that new website may make the programs too expensive and too invasive.
“We had a great experience,” said Bremerton Police Chief Steve Strachan. “The video that we had was very very good and we would like to go full steam ahead.”
But last month reality hit, in the form of a new YouTube user website, set up by someone under the name, “Police Video Requests.” The profile says it posts dash and body cam videos received after public records requests to Washington state police departments. There are just a couple of police videos there posted within the past week.
In September, “Police Video Requests” anonymously asked Poulsbo PD for every second of body cam video it has ever recorded. The department figures it will take three years to fill that request. And Chief Townsend believes it is a huge privacy concern, as officers often see people on their worst days.
“People with mental illness, people in domestic violence situations; do we really want to have to put that video out on YouTube for people? I think that’s pushing it a little bit,” he said.
Now the city of Poulsbo says it may have to suspend or even end its police body cam program. Bremerton PD is, at least temporarily, shelving its plans to start up its own body cam program because of the blanket requests received by Poulsbo and other agencies in the state.
Both departments say they have no problem with legitimate video requests from either the media or people with police complaints. But they don’t want someone making money by posting police videos that could be an invasion of privacy.
In Rochester, New York, and other cities around the country, license plate readers (LPRs) continue to pop up. With little regulation nationwide, no one really knows how much of their data is collected, how it’s used, who keeps the data or for how long.
Most surprisingly, the digital cameras are mounted on cars and trucks driven by a small army of repo men, including some in Rochester and Syracuse.
Shadowing a practice of U.S. law enforcement that some find objectionable, records collected by the repo companies are added to an ever-growing database of license-plate records that is made available to government and commercial buyers.
At present that database has 2.3 billion permanent records, including hundreds of thousands gathered locally. On average, the whereabouts of every vehicle in the United States — yours, mine, your mother’s — appears in that database nine times.
Todd Hodnett, founder of the company that aggregates and sells that data, defends the activity as lawful and harmless. “We’re just photographing things that are publicly visible,” he said.
No matter how benign the intentions of camera system operators, they say, their data may prove irresistible to government or private parties bent on snooping.
“We think people are entitled to wander around this grand country without being concerned about being tracked,” said Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. “What they’re doing … is making it possible for someone to come back and check.”
As often is the case with emerging technologies, license-plate reader use is outpacing government attempts at regulation. Only five states have adopted laws regulating or banning private use of license-plate readers, also known as LPRs, with legislative bodies in as many more states having considered such measures.
Crowded mall parking lots have been favored venues for plate readers, which are deployed for market studies, security purposes or to guide shoppers who have forgotten where they left their car.
The owner of the Rochester area’s largest malls, Wilmorite Inc., is aware of the trend but has so far opted out.
“We have been approached by those companies. From our perspective … there’s still some privacy issues. People feel you’re using information they want to keep private,” said Janice Sherman, Wilmorite’s marketing director. “At this point we’re not going to jump in something like that. We want to see how it pans out.”
In some cases, motorists must provide their own personal data and then have no control over how it’s used.
At Monroe Community College, employees, students and frequent visitors register their plate numbers with the college. Employees gain access to gated lots when cameras match their plate with a number in the college database.
Campus security patrols student and visitor lots with license plate cameras, making sure everyone’s parked in the right place. If they’re not, tickets follow. The number of tickets is down, spokeswoman Cynthia Cooper said, perhaps because students no longer misplace their window stickers.
Perhaps tickets are down because access to gated areas are only allowed after plate numbers are matched with a database, not because people have forgotten to put a sticker on a window. Restricted access automatically reduces tickets.
New York State’s DMV has also jumped on the cash cow bandwagon.
Every two years, the New York DMV sells access to its database of registered vehicles. That database includes the registrant’s name and address plus the make, model and year of the vehicle. Under the current contract, Experian Information Solutions and R.L. Polk and Co. are expected to pay New York about $3 million over two years for this data.
Those two companies are free to use and to re-sell the data, but it can only be employed for “statistical compilations” and research. They cannot contact an individual or make use of their personal information except in connection with a vehicle manufacturer’s recall. Federal law contains a provision allowing registrants to “opt-in” to use of this data for marketing purposes, but New York DMV officials assume no one would want to be targeted for marketing in this way and thus the agency has no opt-in program.
Some individuals still do not see a problem with anyone obtaining this data. Your movements are tracked everywhere you go in your vehicle. After a few days, a profile can be developed on you.
Databases can, and are, hacked. If there’s a profile on you, someone now knows the schedule of your family and the most likely time you are not going to be home. They know where your spouse and children are on a regular basis.
This sort of information can be used to find out your political leanings, what protests or rallies you attend, who you associate with. It is a temptation those in power will not resist. With this information, it will be trivial to crush dissent.
The Department of Homeland Security released the 2014 Privacy Office Annual Report to Congress. The report describes a joint review conducted with the European Commission regarding the transfer of EU Passenger Name Records to the US. The European Commission found the redress mechanisms were lacking for passengers denied boarding. The Commission also found that DHS would often review passenger records without a legal reason. The Annual Report describes the sixth Compliance Review of the department’s social media monitoring program. The review found that the DHS began collecting GPS and geo-location of Internet users without assessing or mitigating the privacy risks. In 2012, EPIC obtained FOIA documents revealing that the Department of Homeland Security monitored social media for political dissent. For more information, see EPIC: EU-US Airline Passenger Data Disclosure and EPIC: EPIC v. DHS – media monitoring.