Jordan Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah students who gathered Friday to hear a panel discussion on the ethics of "big data" were asked if any of them had consented to the iTunes user agreement.
Nearly every hand was raised.
XMission founder Pete Ashdown then asked which of them actually read the agreement. All hands dropped but one.
"That's the kind of difficulty we have in the Internet age," Ashdown said.
To fully understand what consent means, especially with big companies that change their agreements frequently, he said, people likely need a computer science degree and about 30 years of experience in the field.
Ashdown was one of three members of a panel to discuss with students the role of the National Security Agency and the rising generation's role in protecting their anonymity.
James Bamford, author of multiple books on the NSA, said some of the information that came forward after Edward Snowden leaked details of the agency's surveillance program was that companies such as Google didn't encrypt their data.
Bamford said that means the NSA doesn't have to go through the "front door" of getting a warrant to access information.
"They have the back door that gives them everything they want anyway," he said.
The problem won't be solved with an increased degree of encryption, Bamford said. Instead, "it needs to be an effort by the grass roots to change what's going on in Washington and the NSA," he said.
Students were enthralled during the nearly 90-minute discussion, with several offering questions about how to hold the NSA accountable, how to build trust with companies, and how involved the rising generation should be.
"I think this generation of students we have right now has the opportunity to continually raise the question of the issues of transparency and accountability," said Eric Denna, chief information officer at the University of Utah. "This is going to require a structural change."
Denna said while there is explicit consent about personal information, one "uncharted territory" is the question about online behavior.
"As we begin to wonder around something like Amazon, Amazon is constantly using our activity to try to shape the service for us," he said.
And even though the company is not necessarily looking for secrets, Denna said, it is watching its customers' online shopping habits.
Ashdown said there is a trade-off between convenience and privacy.
"If you want absolute privacy, you can live in a cash-only world and not use the Internet," he said.
Ashdown said he appreciates when he shops at Amazon and receives an email that the item he recently browsed is on sale. But he questions when such companies will be offered incentives from the government to share that information.
University of Utah student Tanner Hall said it is “creepy” knowing the access the NSA has to his personal information.
“It’s important for us to know about this stuff going forward,” Hall said. “It’s really hard to go someplace and not have access to the Internet anymore. And anytime you’re on the Internet, you’re exposed to the NSA.”
Using Google to search for a vacation destination or about a recently diagnosed disease is a way Bamford said the NSA essentially has access to people's thoughts.
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