Curtin to Speak at Computers, Freedom, and Privacy 2005

The Computers, Freedom, and Privacy (CFP) 2005 Conference in Seattle includes a panel on the role of technology in privacy with Interhack founder Matt Curtin.

This year's Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference features the theme of “Panopticon.” Interhack founder Matt Curtin will present as part of the panel discussion scheduled for Thursday morning, “Observing hidden surveillance structures.”


Discussions of surveillance often consider well-known, large database structures at the expense of ignoring deeper, lesser known, and sometimes much smaller infrastructures and data flows that impact millions of people on a daily basis. This particular panel was built carefully to highlight hard-to-find information about data flows and infrastructures that are typically unobserved, but are nevertheless active and profoundly influential areas of surveillance in our society.

This is not a panel about the industrial-surveillance complex, which has been well-documented. It is about the smaller machines, the less visible data flows, and the identification schemes that create the backbones and ribs of modern data superstructures. For example, a database called Oxygen or a Babelfish translation page is not nearly as dangerous sounding as TIA or CAPPS II. But few realize the extent to which these sorts of small to mid-size data flows and repositories have scaled upward, and with what consequences.

Resume databases, for example, typically contain upwards of 50 million resumes, and are used for everything from fraud prevention at major retailers, to PI tools, to law enforcement treasure troves. The profoundly influential “hidden” databases such as Eliyon and Oxygen's Deep Web, which are all but unknown to most people, are based on scads of so-called “Web information” and are used to make critical decisions about peoples' lives.

Beyond what databases and data flows exist, this panel will also consider identity issues within dataflows, which is one of the key building blocks of a surveillance society. How are individuals recognized in data structures, from the smallest to the largest? How does identity tie in with surveillance?

Structure of Panel Discussion

Moderator will introduce the subject and will discuss how each panelist will focus on a different aspect of unobserved surveillance. Ms. Ackerman wil discuss data structures, and will explain the flow of the discussion. The structure of the discussion moves from the smaller information flows and structures to the largest.

The discussion will generally move from the smaller data flows to the larger dataflows. Panelists are listed in the order they will speak in.

Lee Tien
will discuss small, typically unobserved data flows and how these accrete to become substantial surveillance structures over time. Simple actions such as translating a page on Babelfish, or looking up a person's name on a search engine may become -- over time -- profound and rich sources of information for those who wish to surveil.
Beth Givens
will be discussing specialty databases, how they are used on a daily basis, what they contain, and how they impact individuals. She will also discuss recent legislation and how that has opened these databases for the first time.
Pam Dixon
will be discussing the role large employment, resume, and so-called “public information” databases like Eliyon and Deep Web play in building and maintaining a surveillance dystopia for people who are trying to find work. The uses of these databases are not typically known, but they profoundly impact individuals' lives.
Matt Curtin
will discuss how identity works in database infrastructures both large and small. Rather than focusing on a specific database or data flow, Matt will discuss how current identity practices are problematic and lead to the ability to surveil within large and small data structures. Matt will also discuss solutions, and anonymous data flows.
Michael Ostrolenk
will be discussing the new Federal public/private partnership that is creating the National Health Information Network. This network is being built based on a 2004 presidential Executive Order that mandates the digitization of all U.S. medical records in less than ten years, with full interoperability from Federal to state to hospital level.
Chris Hoofnagle
will discuss his law review article on Choicepoint, and the roles this company plays in surveillance. While Choicepoint is best-known for its role in the 2000 U.S. elections, it is a sprawling company that owns a stunning variety of data few people know about, from birth records to C.L.U.E reports to DNA to data on citizens around the world.

About CFP

For over a decade, the Computers, Freedom & Privacy Conference has played a major role in the public debate on the future of privacy and freedom in the online world. The CFP audience is as diverse as the Net itself, with attendees not only from government, business, education, and non-profits, but also from the community of computer professionals, hackers, crackers and engineers who work the code of cyberspace. The themes have been broad and forward-looking. CFP explores what will be. It is the place where the future is mapped. More information is available online at

About Interhack

Interhack is a pioneering provider of information assurance, forensic computing, and managed information services to a wide variety of clients all over North America. Interhack can be found online at