Privacy Surgeon offers a $1,000 bounty for capture of the DNA and fingerprints of spy chiefs

14041878-vintage-wanted-poster-backgroundBy Simon Davies

The Privacy Surgeon is offering a $1,000 cash bounty for anyone who sends us an item – such as a drinking glass – with the DNA and fingerprints of any senior intelligence official of the “Five Eyes” alliance of spy agencies.

The aim of this bounty-hunt is not to actually use the biometrics, but to send a potent message to intelligence chiefs that personal information must be treated with respect. The aim is to raise their level of awareness and sensitivity, not to exploit the data. Indeed, once the acquisition has been fully verified, the data – and the associated receptacle – will be publicly destroyed.

The 2008 bounty hunt: Captured DNA and fingerprints on UK Home Secretary's drinking glass

The 2008 bounty hunt: Captured DNA and fingerprints on UK Home Secretary’s drinking glass

Of course this exercise is entirely in the public interest, and don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise. All of us desire a safe society based on highly trusted security procedures, so you’re merely doing your bit to help this global effort. This isn’t about being mischievous; it’s about being responsible citizens.

All the same, anyone submitting an item should familiarise themselves with possible violation of criminal law. Confiscating a glass could be construed as theft, and establishing a public interest defence in court might be a difficult challenge. Contributors should therefore compensate the owner of the glass in whatever discreet way they can and ensure that they obtain a receipt or a written indemnity.

As for the DNA and fingerprint data, these – like the data which are so routinely exploited by those agencies – are open season. Agencies that claim the right of unconditional access to the trails we leave behind are not in any position to assert the privacy of their own “incidental” personal information. We love irony at that scale. And hypocrisy has never been a friend to privacy.

The agencies – particularly the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ but also the agencies of Australia, Canada and New Zealand – have adopted a position that all communications data should be a “free for all” subjected to only the most generic and theoretical oversight. They have aggressively asserted the need for operational independence at the expense of due process and the protection of rights.

Wanted poster from the 2008 Privacy International/NO2ID fingerprint bounty

Wanted poster from the 2008 Privacy International/NO2ID fingerprint bounty

The rationale of these agencies could well be summarised as “the ends justify the means” – were it not that there’s little measurable evidence of the value of their “ends”.

In the process, public trust in data and communications systems has been devastated. Moreover, trust in the agencies and corporations that have custody of this data has been compromised to an almost fatal extent. More than six months has passed since the revelations became public, and yet there has been no indication of any meaningful improvement in accountability or governance of the key spy agencies.

This bounty is not without precedent. In 2008 in response to the UK Government’s plan to introduce mandatory fingerprinting for a national ID card, both Privacy International and the campaign group NO2ID offered bounties for the acquisition of the fingerprints of senior Ministers. This Home Secretary’s data was successfully obtained from her water glass at a conference.

The Fine Print

  • Bounty money is entirely provided by Simon Davies (the Privacy Surgeon) and is awarded at his discretion and subject to the conditions below.
  • A bounty will not be awarded where the acquisition of data or a physical item is believed to be in violation of criminal law.
  • Supporting evidence must be submitted in the form of a visual image and/or statements from credible witnesses.
  • Submitters should contact the Privacy Surgeon to arrange secure transportation of the material.
  • Biometric data is unstable and vulnerable, and should be handled with care. Any item containing this data should be stored inside a larger receptacle to avoid air and skin contact.
  • This is a high-cost action with a limited budget. Only a limited number of bounties can be paid.