Privacy, security discussed in panel

Amanda Morris , Contributing Writer

Internet privacy in the post-Snowden era was discussed at an NYU Security Research Seminar. Speakers focused their conversations on the problem of customer data privacy within the big data companies, such as Google
or Yahoo.

Senior Research Fellow at NYU’s Information Law Institute Ira Rubinstein hosted the seminar and related much of the discourse to a paper he co-wrote with postdoctoral research fellow Joris Van Hoboken at NYU’s Information
Law Institution.

Rubinstein said Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing forced the NSA to rethink their strategies.

“What Snowden really did was create a new way of thinking about the NSA,” Rubinstein said. “In our paper we have quotes from high-ranking executives that describe the NSA as another third-party adversary — no different from a hacker. The same steps are taken that were once taken against a hacker threat.”

Rubinstein added that big companies like Google and Yahoo do not want to ruin their relationships with the government. This creates a tension between a company’s commitment to its customers’ privacy, its relationship with the government and its business model.

Van Hoboken said the current legislation regarding citizens’ privacy is inadequate.

“My personal opinion on current legislation for governments to gain access to data is that it is inappropriate, especially for foreigners,” Van Hoboken said. “Foreigners don’t have the same protections. Constitutional safeguards don’t apply to foreigners and that’s a problem.”

Seda Gürses, a postdoctoral research fellow at Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development has been attending these events and researching security and privacy. She said she believes that if a company’s main priority is its customer’s privacy, then they should focus on decentralizing their data.

“When you collect so much information, then the risk that you’re carrying is very high and it’s also not surprising that the U.S. government would take an interest in their data,” Gürses said.

“If these companies are genuinely interested in protecting our data, they wouldn’t hoard it. They would find other ways of collecting that would not be all at the center. Like more data would be on your phone or they would encourage you to have different service providers, but instead we’re seeing a lot of monopolies who are hoarding a lot
of data.”

Gürses said he believes that this is an issue of importance to NYU students because Gmail hosts NYU’s
email accounts.

“If you look around, there have been concerns about who has access to the data, including the administration and Google itself and what they can do with it,” Gürses said. It’s not clear enough. A more open policy on the side of NYU and Google would
be useful.”

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Feb, 18 print edition. Email Amanda Morris at [email protected]