Privacy is a human right, and is essential if people are to develop autonomy. It is central to freedom of expression and association, and to preventing abuse of personal information. There are numerous examples of misuse of private data by agencies and law enforcement, including intimidation, selective character assassination, repression of dissent and wrongful arrest. Privacy is a cornerstone of a free and creative society, and is an essential defence against unwarranted social control.
The [recent] revelations seem to vindicate many of the conclusions and recommendations of a 2008 report by the US National Research Council (NRC) — Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists: A Framework for Program Assessment (go.nature.com/bsooux). That report addressed privacy issues raised by the Total Information Awareness programme, a research effort launched by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 2002 to develop data mining and other technologies to link and search disparate databases, for example to try to identify suspicious patterns to detect and track terrorists.