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‘People should rethink privacy, anonymity, safety, wellbeing & fundamental freedoms’ ahead of 5G: RAND

Should private citizens consider balancing their fundamental freedoms with what governments and corporations tell them is in their best interest? perspective

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With the “ubiquitous surveillance” that 5G will unleash, people should rethink privacy, anonymity, safety, wellbeing, and fundamental freedoms, according to a recent RAND report.

“Perhaps nothing exemplifies the future of the 5G era more than the ubiquitous surveillance that is gathering more and more-diverse data on people,” reads the perspective report, “America’s 5G Era: Balancing Big Data and Privacy.”

Now is the time when people should rethink and more thoughtfully balance concepts of privacy, anonymity, safety, well-being, and fundamental freedoms” — America’s 5G Era: Balancing Big Data and Privacy, RAND, 2022

Referencing the high volume of data collected for contact tracing purposes during the pandemic, the RAND authors advised:

“Now is the time when people should rethink and more thoughtfully balance concepts of privacy, anonymity, safety, well-being, and fundamental freedoms.”

Powerful people don’t let good crises go to waste.

And emergency powers tend to get renewed for decades.

As the RAND report observes:

Emergencies have a habit of suspending democratic norms, and many short-term emergency measures become permanent […] The decisions made during crisis have long-lasting effects, so people should consider this when deciding what norms they are willing to accept.”

The challenge for US policymakers, according to RAND, lay in “striking a balance between the potential gains of the 5G era and the potential loss of privacy and of control over personal data.”

The 5G era, with its ubiquitous surveillance, brings the promise of real economic gains but also the threat of great losses of privacy, anonymity, safety, and general well-being” — America’s 5G Era: Balancing Big Data and Privacy, RAND, 2022

5G will have its risks and rewards.

According to the report, “The 5G era, with its ubiquitous surveillance, brings the promise of real economic gains but also the threat of great losses of privacy, anonymity, safety, and general well-being.”

With ubiquitous surveillance comes ubiquitous data collection, especially with regards to smart devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), and by extension, the Internet of Bodies (IoB) that will always be recording and sharing information.

“Wearable devices, such as smart watches and fitness trackers, are already common, as are smart assistants, such as Alexa,” says RAND, adding, “In the 5G era, these devices will increasingly talk to each other and to additional smart devices in the home.

“Today, the user must connect devices though Wi-Fi; in the 5G future, smart devices will automatically connect directly to the 5G network without a guarantee of an off switch. They already listen to conversations—even when users have not asked them to or acted to turn them on—again raising privacy concerns.”

In essence, anyone, including high-ranking officials, influential businesspeople, or politicians, can be identified by their pattern of life in anonymized location data” — America’s 5G Era: Balancing Big Data and Privacy, RAND, 2022

Speaking of privacy, you may have heard corporations or governments talk about contact tracing apps as “anonymously” pinging people when they’ve been in close proximity to someone who is reported sick.

However, even anonymized data can be exploited over time to unmask just about any individual on the planet.

“Often, some effort is made to anonymize data in order to protect privacy and prevent malicious use, but this has proved to be of limited benefit,” the RAND report observes.

“In essence, anyone, including high-ranking officials, influential businesspeople, or politicians, can be identified by their pattern of life in anonymized location data.”

The use of data and modeling also has the potential to change people’s behavior in real time” — America’s 5G Era: Balancing Big Data and Privacy, RAND, 2022

Why would any organization collect personal data on someone else if they’re weren’t going to use it to elicit an intended outcome?

According to the RAND report, “The use of data and modeling also has the potential to change people’s behavior in real time.”

Once governments and corporations have enough data and processing power to know more about you than you know yourself, you will have become what historian Yuval Harari calls a “hackable human.”

Humans can be hacked and manipulated into changing their behavior in positive ways, such as incentivizing us into adopting healthier lifestyle habits, or in dubious ways, such as coercing us into giving up our fundamental freedoms in exchange for the promise of our safety, security, and employment.

Increasingly, these networks will inform artificial-intelligence algorithms, which will then autonomously make decisions and take actions — with humans directly involved only infrequently” — America’s 5G Era: Balancing Big Data and Privacy, RAND, 2022

“The ability to analyze someone’s intimate pattern of life based on their connected devices already exists,” the report reads.

This ability will only become more efficient with the spread of 5G.

What’s more, “The number of automated sensors and devices connected to wireless networks will grow in the next few years by an order of magnitude or more.

“Increasingly, these networks will inform artificial-intelligence algorithms, which will then autonomously make decisions and take actions — with humans directly involved only infrequently.”

We propose a basic principle: that the beneficial uses be identified, well defined, and agreed upon before data are collected or new analysis is conducted” — America’s 5G Era: Balancing Big Data and Privacy, RAND, 2022

The RAND report lists one guiding principle for US policymakers regarding regulation over 5G’s ubiquitous surveillance, data collection, and analyses.

“We propose a basic principle: that the beneficial uses be identified, well defined, and agreed upon before data are collected or new analysis is conducted,” the authors report.

“This principle also allows—and, in fact, demands—that the related ethical questions be broadly discussed in some structured manner before a system is implemented.”

They go on to list several potential approaches to 5G data regulation and accountability, including:

  • Self-governance by Technology Companies, in which industry would regulate itself
  • Alternative Models of Data Ownership, such as people owning their data while being able to grant permission, for only certain uses, to a firm or firms
  • Rights for People to Know About and Control Their Data, in which people have fundamental rights to know about the data collected about themselves and have some power over the use of those data

The decisions made during crisis have long-lasting effects, so people should consider this when deciding what norms they are willing to accept” — America’s 5G Era: Balancing Big Data and Privacy, RAND, 2022

Indeed, anonymity, privacy, and fundamental freedoms, which the RAND authors say we should rethink, are all under threat from public and private data exploitation on future 5G networks.

The same was true under 4G and will be again with 6G.

But should private citizens really consider balancing their fundamental freedoms, privacy, and anonymity with what governments and corporations tell them is in their best interest for safety and wellbeing?

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Tim Hinchliffe
The Sociable editor Tim Hinchliffe covers tech and society, with perspectives on public and private policies proposed by governments, unelected globalists, think tanks, big tech companies, defense departments, and intelligence agencies. Previously, Tim was a reporter for the Ghanaian Chronicle in West Africa and an editor at Colombia Reports in South America. These days, he is only responsible for articles he writes and publishes in his own name. tim@sociable.co