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Schneier sticks it to surveillance

Inglorious five-year snoop-plan

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Security guru Bruce Schneier has challenged the view that privacy and security are at loggerheads, suggesting the real debate is between liberty and control.

Schneier, security technologist and CTO of BT Counterpane, made the comments during a keynote address at the RSA Conference in London on Tuesday. He sees ubiquitous surveillance and measures such as identity cards tipping the balance towards the state, describing them as stepping stones towards a future where checks become less obtrusive while simultaneously more all-encompassing.

"Identity checks will fade into the background," Schneier said. "At the moment there are CCTV cameras everywhere and you can see them. There are identity checks everywhere and you know it is happening. Five years ago these technologies weren't everywhere and in five years' time they won't be visible."

"Identity cards are just a temporary solution until biometrics take over. In five years or so these checks will happen in the background using RFID chips, you won't even know you are being checked."

Mobile phone tracking and facial recognition technology will also advance. Eventually it may get to the point where even airports don't do identity checks because they already know who individuals are, Schneier half-jokingly said.

Schneier said that technology advances (such as cheaper prices for storage) were an ally of obtrusive tools, so that we are moving towards an era of "wholesale surveillance" where every car or person can be tracked using image recognition technology and CCTV cameras.

"At the moment you can't process the data from surveillance cameras, but that will change within five years."

The cryptography expert said that it has become cheaper for governments and organisations to save information then decide whether or not to throw it away. Computers produce records, creating copious data records, an issue Schneier described as "data pollution".

In addition people leave digital footprints themselves through use of social networking, instant messaging and blogging, a phenomenon Schneier described as the "death of ephemeral conversation".

"The law is not keeping pace with technology improvements... but the death of privacy, while natural, isn't inevitable," Schneier argued. "Future generations will judge us on how well we grapple with issues such as the data pollution and the protection of privacy." ®

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