Amy Boyer, I sometimes say, was the first person murdered by the Internet. Twenty years ago this fall, she was gunned down in cold blood by stalker Liam Youens. He found Amy by hiring a data broker, and told everyone about that on his website.
“It’s actually obscene what you can find out about a person on the Internet,” he wrote.
It still is.
Back then, Amy’s family launched a memorial website, and urged people to think long and hard about what this new technology is doing to our world.
Alia Tavakolian and I have spent the past 7 months talking to every privacy expert we could get into to studio. We even interviewed the private investigator who tracked down the data brokers involved in Amy’s death. And this week, we launched a 6-part series on the state of privacy in America. The series is produced by Spoke Media, my partner in Breach and So, Bob. Intel, the chipmaker, sponsored the series but has no editorial control over it. The name No Place to Hide is a tip of the cap to a great book by that name published by Washington Post reporter Robert O’Harrow in 2006.
Episode One confronts the chilling reality that privacy isn’t a first-world problem, a luxury — for violence victims on the run, privacy can be a matter of life and death. But if we build a tech world that respects these victims, a world that presumes everyone might have a safety risk from privacy violations, we’ll all be better off.
I’m really proud of the result, and I hope you’ll give it a listen. I know there are a lot of big issues facing our time — the environment, cyberwar, extremism — but I think privacy ranks right among them as a crisis that deserves our focus and attention. What’s more, most people — even those on politically opposite sides of the spectrum — generally seem to agree on privacy. Still, it’s getting away from us. Technology is running ahead of our laws, ethics and institutions. Just this week, the Baltimore Sun reported on a proposal to have surveillance aircraft in the skies, taking 24-hour-a-day footage of the city, to fight crime. It’s not science fiction. In fact, the city already tested the idea back in 2016. It’s a tactic borrowed from war zones. Maybe, if crime was bad enough on your block, you’d agree to this kind of surveillance. But we’ve barely begun to discuss how to control the images, who gets to see them and why, and if this is really the world we want to live in.
Privacy is very hard to define. You’ll hear in the podcast that I struggle with this, even after writing about privacy for 25 years. I hope this series helps kick-start the discussion.