PROJECT M
Q&A

Q&A: Fred Cate

Fred H. Cate is professor of law at Indiana University and Director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research. As a data privacy and security expert, he calls for a rational approach to the excess of data generated in the digital world

© Berto Martinez

Q&A: Fred Cate

Fred H. Cate is professor of law at Indiana University and Director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research. As a data privacy and security expert, he calls for a rational approach to the excess of data generated in the digital world

Maybe you'd prefer to conduct this telephone interview over the hotel’s landline? If so, I can call back.

My decision is based on the connection’s quality, not its data privacy. I do use a mobile phone, including Google Maps’ location service, which leaves a large digital footprint. But I decided not to use Facebook.

Governments and private-sector firms are collecting more and more data on individual behavior. What will this mean for individuals’ rights?

We have to put appropriate oversight mechanisms in place. The collection needs to be monitored and an appeals process established to challenge decisions based on this data.

And if most people feel uncomfortable with that?

I say big data is not necessarily a bad thing. We are constantly judged on often incomplete information. Depending on my zip code, my car insurance may be more expensive than yours for reasons that have more to do with my neighbor’s driving abilities than my own.

Big data provides a more comprehensive and accurate understanding, but what are its risks?

We have to be wary not to become overly enthusiastic. Governments and companies should continually question their data’s accuracy. This – as well as the decision-making process based on big data – needs to be subject to external checks and balances.

When you consider the debate over Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency, what do you think are the implications?

The NSA is exploiting ambiguities in the current legislation. While I do not condone stealing confidential information, Snowden deserves credit for initiating the necessary public debate.

Looking ahead, what do you think will be one of the challenges concerning privacy?

We can do better. We have come to accept outdated legislation, but there is no need to rely on 20-year-old data privacy laws.

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