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The tangled Web of data privacy issues

Karen Goulart, Senior Features Writer

For those who care about data privacy issues, boy was this your week. These past seven days saw National Security Agency (NSA) director Gen. Keith Alexander wonder where the love was at the annual Black Hat security conference,

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Edward Snowden end his extended stay at the Sheremetyevo International Airport, MIT release its first public response to the prosecution of late hacktivist Aaron Swartz, and the XKeyscore program revealed. But the news that seemed to reverberate the most -- it tore through social media like wildfire -- was the tale of the pressure cooker and the backpack.

Karen Goulart

Long Island writer Michele Catalano and her husband on separate occasions searched Google for the terms "pressure cooker" and "backpacks." As she explained it on her blog, what would have been innocuous online shopping for cookware and camping gear just a short time ago instead wound up sending a cadre of law enforcement in unmarked vehicles to the family's home. Cries of outrage and (sarcastic) disbelief rang out from the blogosphere to Facebook to the comment sections of every news site and content aggregator from Boston to Australia. This is the world we live in now, they wailed. Enjoy your weekly visit from the men in black, they sneered.

They were well within reason to be disturbed, but, readers, they were disturbed for the wrong reason. The collective finger of blame for this intrusion pointed back at computer and tablet screens -- Google, thou hath forsaken us -- and of course at the NSA. As it turned out, as this week's lead Searchlight item from TechCrunch explains, it seems the real "culprit" for this so-called invasion of privacy was a former employer of Catalano's husband, Todd Pinnell. Apparently it was Pinnell's former bosses who noticed the searches, got nervous and contacted law enforcement.

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So what appeared to be (at least to some) proof of the immediacy and efficiency with which our e-life is being scrutinized was actually more about data privacy issues in the workplace. As writer Alexia Tsotsis points out in the TechCruch piece, if anything, this is teachable moment for anyone who thinks what they do on workplace computers is private (Psst: It never is). But this story, and all the week's news on data privacy issues, should also give CIOs pause. What would you do if you were Pinnell's employer? Should you be focusing more on risk management and data security knowing that something like XKeyscore exists? Deep down, are your employees the White Hat types, or is black more their color? Oh what a tangled Web, indeed.

Also this week: how public-sector CIOs are handling hiring in the changing IT workforce, the future of cloud, what exactly we're up to on the Web and more.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, features writer.


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