Seattle Is Hungry For Your Data But Trying To Cut Back | KUOW News and Information

Seattle Is Hungry For Your Data But Trying To Cut Back

Oct 12, 2015

Somewhere in an office tower in downtown Seattle is a floor filled with data servers. Some of that data is about you. You might show up in a traffic camera video. Your personal information might show up in a utility bill.

Seattle collects a lot of such data. But data can be hacked and information can be misused. That’s why the city’s rethinking how and when it collects your personal data.

On a tour of this secret data center, Barb Hjelmstad describes the efforts the city makes to protect data.

“We have a very complex perimeter firewall, internal firewall … some of these devices are behind multiple firewalls, said Hjelmstad, a city data manager.

But no defenses are perfect.

“And so that’s why I’m a little hesitant about, you know, pointing things out in particular where everything’s at,” she said.

That’s one reason why privacy advocates say we need to stop collecting so much data.

“We need to know going in exactly why we’re collecting something, limit those collections to exactly what we need, and then make sure that we have protections in place that make sure those things don’t change down the road,” said Jared Friend, Washington ACLU's director of technology and liberty.

Jared Friend, Washington ACLU's director of technology and liberty, preferred this side photo to the frontal portrait I took, saying a side view subverts facial recognition technology. Data has a long life, whereas software continually finds new uses for data.
Credit ACLU Washington

Friend said we don’t know how the software of the future could be used against us. Such concerns have the city rethinking its data management.

“We have an obligation to earn the public’s trust in how we collect and use that information,” said Michael Mattmiller, who runs the city’s Department of Information Technology He wants to make sure every city department follows the same data privacy standards.

“So that when we buy a new technology, when we implement a new system, we can go through a thorough set of checks to understand any new privacy risk that is presented in that new system or technology.”

Later this week, his office will post the new privacy standards on its website. You’ll be able to lodge a complaint if you feel that data is being used unfairly against you.

Over time, those complaints will themselves add up to a body of data. We’ll be able to track that data to see how people feel about the city’s handling of our privacy.