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Dear privacy pros,

For our readers who commemorate the recent Hari Raya Puasa or Vesak Day, I hope you had a joyous and peaceful celebration with your loved ones.

One theme that resounded with me as I made my way through privacy-related news these past few weeks is the increasing frequency with which data is being “weaponized” for political or other ideological motives.

Some examples include the gathering of data relating to assets of Russian oligarchs for the purposes of enforcing sanctions (see this Washington Post article for an interesting counterpoint) or the doxxing of Russian spies and other military personnel as a result of the conflict in Ukraine. It is no wonder that the Hong Kong government is reportedly considering restricting access to Telegram in order to curtail doxxing activities.

Even the hackers are getting into the act. After a series of distributed denial-of-service and other cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure in support of the Ukrainian cause, the ransomware group Conti (which I have covered in previous introductions) voiced support for Russia and threatened to retaliate against Western countries engaging in digital warfare targeting Russian interests. Shortly thereafter, 60,000 internal messages and files relating to the secretive organization were leaked, along with the message “Glory to Ukraine!” While researchers parse through the revelations, Conti has allegedly started dismantling some of their infrastructure, which is somewhat ironic given their usual mode of operation.

Conti is in the news again this week, giving a glimpse into what the future could look like if and when ransomware groups are able to “leapfrog” security companies in the cyberwar arms race by automating their attacks with the application of artificial intelligence technology.

All this brings to mind some wise words from historian Yuval Noah Harari. When asked in an interview what the most pressing issue humankind faces "today" (this was way back in 2018), Harari stated it was properly regulating the ownership of data.

"Because today data is the most important asset in the world. In ancient times land was the most important asset, politics was a struggle to control land, and if too much land became concentrated in too few hands, society split into aristocrats and commoners. In the last two centuries machines and factories became more important than land, political struggles focused on controlling machinery. If ownership of the machines became concentrated in too few hands, society split into capitalists and proletariats. In the twenty-first century, however, data will eclipse both land and machinery as the most important asset, and politics will be a struggle to control the flow of data. If data becomes concentrated in too few hands, humankind might split not into classes, but into different species."

However, as Harari also pointed out in his book "21 Lessons for the 21st Century," unlike land during the Agricultural Revolution and machines during the Industrial Revolution, humans have thus far been very bad at regulating ownership of data.

It is my earnest hope that privacy professionals will advance the cause by helping define better rules around who owns and who controls the ever-increasing amount of data generated each day. 

Happy reading!


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