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Big Brother in Davos

Keystone

Davos delegates would be forgiven for feeling a tad paranoid this year after WEF founder Klaus Schwab admitted he had no idea if the NSA was bugging the hallowed halls of the Congress centre.

This content was published on January 22, 2014 - 15:57
Matt Allen, swissinfo.ch

But the average Davos man and woman has taken this revelation in their stride. “I’m not taking any more precautions than any other time I travel abroad,” one South African businessman told me. “Besides, I’ve got no intention of shouting out company secrets here.”

In fact, government agencies trawling though large swathes of private data could actually bring positive side benefits, according to one debating session entitled ‘The Big Brother Problem’.

While all members of the panel deplored the widespread fishing expeditions of national security agencies, some thought people’s lives could potentially be improved by searching for needles amongst ‘haystacks’ of data.

Sticking with the needle analogy, Shyam Sankar, President of US company Palantir technologies, put forward the idea that health officials could identify and help people at risk of drugs overdoses if they had access to their spending records.

Bradford Smith, general counsel at Microsoft, suggested a novel measure that would allow such philanthropic mining of data to proceed without violating individual privacy rights.

Why not create ‘anonymous haystacks’ of data that showed trends in behavior and revealed worrying anomalies that needed remedial action whilst at the same time preserving privacy by wiping away all traces of personal identification from the information.

Matthew Allen

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