(Herald-Times (Bloomington, IN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 30--When he got the news, it was no surprise Fred Cate was at an airport.
A flight for congressional testimony in Washington, D.C., is followed by a board meeting at Microsoft headquarters in Seattle, which is followed by a conference with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. The data revolution calls because he arrived in the right time and place -- an expert on privacy and the law in the age of Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency.
But years before Americans would hear the name Snowden, Beth Cate met her husband at the Charlotte airport and delivered news of a different sort.
"People passing by," Fred Cate remembers. "They must have thought I had lost a loved one."
The world's weightiest struggles with technology and "Big Brother" are one thing; the death of a pet gerbil is another. The man directing the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University comes to the airport armed with suits and ties and a cool command of intellectual debate, but he leaves the fray with his sensitivity intact.
He loves animals -- big and small, real or imaginary. He tells time with a Winnie the Pooh wristwatch, a timepiece prone to slip out from under his left sleeve during committee hearings. He has collected thousands of stuffed animals, travel companions during long flights to and from meetings. Because of his crammed schedule, there is no place for live pets at the Cates' Bloomington home these days, but they dote over an elephant and an Alaskan brown bear they "parent" at the Indianapolis Zoo.
Cate doesn't take himself too seriously, but he's an internationally respected voice in his field. The powerful listen as he tells them uncomfortable truths about invading privacy. The Transportation Security Administration placed hundreds of body scanners in airports; too bad, Cate said, they do more to show someone naked than to root out terrorism. Governments use metadata to pre-empt wrongdoers; but remember, Cate said, data can be misinterpreted.
Despite all his thinking, there is no keeping up with a bullet train of technological advances. At some point, between the flights, the briefings and the lectures, he withdraws back to his other life.
That life has its quirks.
Even as Beth Cate utters the name Snowflake years after the gerbil's death, Fred Cate walks out of the living room, unsure of his composure. Snowflake started out as a neighbor's pet. The Cates filled in so well during the neighbor's vacation, her stay became permanent. They made sure she had a mountain of shredded cardboard to scale.
As he recalls Snowflake, his eyes are drawn to the backyard where he buried her. The motion-activated lights have turned on and now illuminate the manmade waterfall outside his bathroom window. "I'm going to see who that is," Cate says. He grabs his camera and hurries down a dark hallway. Under a pair of bird feeders, a rabbit gnashes its teeth.
Before the lights switch off, Cate gets his bunny picture.
Petey and Timothy T.
The world was once a simpler place. Cate's father was an Old Testament scholar and a Baptist preacher who taught the local kindergartners about Petey Church Mouse and Timothy T. Turtle.
According to Robert Cate's stories, Petey lived in a tissue box in the preacher's top drawer, but would embark on wild adventures. The fox and the raccoon, who also populated the stories, didn't sneer at one another as they would in real life. They were friends.
Fred Cate's own plush miniature of Petey sits in a glass case. Small things still captivate him. At the zoo, during one of his weekly Sunday visits, he set a pretzel down to photograph a lion. He then heard the dragging of wax paper beneath him. A mouse pulled his snack back into the brush.
A brave mouse to live where it did. An ambitious mouse to claim a prize twice its size.
"Needless to say, I wasn't going to fight him for it," Cate said.
He took a picture, or several.
On a Monday, Cate heads back to his office at the Maurer School of Law and a world far removed from the innocence of Petey Church Mouse or animals at the zoo. In the early 1990s, when he first started lecturing on the scope of the "World Wide Web," he would bring a Kellogg's cereal box to point to the "www." The Internet was a small thing then. Now, the malicious code that spun Iran's nuclear centrifuges out of control floats through cyberspace. A microchip no bigger than a grain of sand rests inside a pill.
When swallowed, the chip transmits data from within the human body.
Cate doesn't see technology as a malevolent force by itself. "It could all be wonderful," he says. He imagines a service where patients with multiple medications opt to have an ambulance rushed to their door if the data-producing pill detects a deadly mix.
But humanity's fascination with technology can push it forward without accounting for the risks.
"Every time a former student walks in my office, I'd love if their image popped up on my glasses and told me who the hell they are," Cate says. "On the other hand, it's going to lead to instant fraud. If I can get your Google Glass to tell you I'm somebody that I'm not, you are going to believe I'm somebody I'm not."
In his role with Microsoft's academic advisory board on Trustworthy Computing, as well as gigs advising the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, Cate weighs the potential effects of the data revolution on private lives. It's a complex picture. The Internet, after all, not only is a vehicle for porn, malicious viruses and massive theft, it also pays the bills, delivers Social Security checks and might even introduce you to the love of your life.
Such huge complexity is Cate's life. But there comes a time for him to disconnect from the digital world. Below his desk and a pile of academic papers, a sheep named Norman rests at his feet. Just one of many.
Island of Misfit Toys
One full bedroom wall is outfitted with shelves, and those shelves are completely covered by stuffed animals.
There are no cyber-terrorism thrillers on Cate's bookshelves. He couldn't stand to bring that part of his life home.
But the living room has two walls lined with shelves and Starbucks teddy bears -- holiday themed for Christmas, Valentine's Day and New Year's, baseball themed from various cities across the U.S., along with a white-wigged George Washington from D.C. and a taxi driver bear from New York City.
Starbucks also has released 70 country-themed bears, but Cate has chosen only to get the bears from countries he has visited. "You'll find a new wife," Beth Cate warns him as he sorts through the collection, "if we get every country."
"You cannot walk into a room that has 400 bears in it and be depressed or sad or uptight or worried," Cate said. "I'll come out of a budget meeting, slamming things around, knocking stacks of paper over, but I come home and see all these furry, smiling faces."
A survey by the hotel chain Travelodge once found a quarter of men travel with a stuffed animal. Cate doesn't hide that he's one of them -- a child-sized moose once sat in a nearby airplane seat, belt fastened. For Cate, a stuffed animal in a suitcase is no different than a child in one.
Cate and his furry companions have flown all around the world. He's advised the governments of Finland, Japan and Taiwan. He's worked with China, as well. He recently traveled there to talk to students about privacy protections, an awkward task following Snowden's revelations of domestic spy programs in the U.S.; after all, American policymakers have been flogging China for years about its surveillance state.
Leaks from Snowden about NSA data-mining operations kept Cate's phone ringing through the summer of 2013, with media outlets wanting his perspective on it all. Cate has access to confidential documents -- guidelines on how to protect the cyberinfrastructure of a water plant, for example -- but he jokes he's slightly bitter that, despite Snowden's somewhat lower level security clearance, the young NSA contractor saw "juicier" information.
Called to serve on President Obama's review group on the intelligence community, Cate advocated for an end to bulk data collection programs and a split of the NSA, one part securing data for the Department of Defense and the other responsible for surveillance. Otherwise, the intelligence gatherers will exploit the weaknesses uncovered by security personnel.
Obama recently called for legislative action to require a judge's order before the government can access phone companies' records. While the government will no longer store the data, legislators in the House want investigators to be able to access the data before it is reviewed by a court.
Cate has been watching, wondering how far the president, a former constitutional law professor, will go.
"My fear is that it's an issue that is not worth his political capital," Cate says of reforming the intelligence community, "and it will certainly take a lot of political capital."
His home, his privacy
Beth Cate is a legal scholar herself -- she went to Harvard with Obama -- so the conversations about privacy law never quite end. Fred and Beth Cate might teach a class together and, an hour afterward, in the parking lot, continue to bounce back and forth about what they heard on the news.
Eventually, there's a pause. They return to their plush animal kingdom, insulation against busy thoughts. A line of polar bears from Coca-Cola ad campaigns loop around the living room, and Cate once flirted with the idea of painting his ceiling with Michelangelo's painting "The Creation of Adam," with a bear subbing for Adam.
As over-the-top as this aspect of Fred Cate's personality might seem, his colleagues understand it. He cares about people. He cares about animals, and he goes as far as to care about stuffed animals, rescuing a toy duck he later named Hu De from a display full of toy pandas in China. "They call to you," Cate said, "and how can you say no?"
The thought of Cate's shelves evokes laughter from Microsoft's Chief Privacy Officer Peter Cullen. But Cullen has seen both sides of Fred Cate, and he doesn't underestimate either one -- the person or the professional.
"He's so smart, and he doesn't suffer fools lightly," Cullen said. "There's just a part of him that is very compassionate. He's a multi-faceted person."
Earlier this month, in Paris, Cate joined Cullen and privacy officers from large data-holding companies, and data protection officials from across Europe, to work on a "Privacy Risk Framework."
Cate wants a threshold-based system where some data face more stringent regulations against sharing than others, but individuals wouldn't be burdened by choice. Does someone really have a choice, he asks, when they must click "I agree" or "No, thanks" on a user agreement that would take hours to read? On the other hand, why can the U.S. government collect information about every phone call, but laws make it almost impossible to collect medical information for research?
"If we are going to have all the incursions of using data," Cate said, "let's at least heighten the benefits."
These questions circle through Cate's mind as he sinks his teeth into a "Hobo banquet" breakfast at Le Peep restaurant in Indianapolis, an hour before he heads to the zoo. He pays with his credit card, leaving one "digital footprint." Outside, there are cameras on street corners recording his walk back to his car.
A bear's life
Only a thin, black glove protects Cate's clicking hand from the cold. The camera's 400-millimeter lens is cupped by an ice-fishing mitt on his left. He works for his next photograph, encouraging a 3-year-old Alaskan brown bear to live completely as a bear. Mi-kal, impervious to the chill, sits up and relaxes as if he's lounging in a lawn chair.
"I'm a bear, and I am very happy to be a bear," Cate says to Mi-kal as the animal flops back to the ground. "There is no greater dignity in life."
This is nearly every Sunday for Cate, in the cold or the heat, before crowds arrive and the only sounds are the scratching of leaves along an abandoned trail. Tuesday will bring a flight to somewhere and important meetings with a who's who of professors, politicians and executives, but on Sunday, he takes thousands of pictures and tells a keeper how his wife says he is 75 percent bear.
Only 25 percent removed from bliss.
Beth Cate will spend her time at the zoo rubbing the bottom of Tombi the elephant's tree-stump feet and scooping up with a steel shovel what Tombi leaves behind. Fred Cate will stand outside of Mi-kal's space and watch him lie flat on his back, legs spread apart.
Mi-kal offers Cate a reprieve from privacy questions. The bear doesn't care if his picture is taken, how the image will be used, what it will look like.
He's happy to be alive. His mother was shot after an encounter with a jogger. He was found in "disgusting condition," Cate said. But fortune came at the right time. The female brown bear at the Indy Zoo, Kiak, had just had her brother die; bears don't live together in the wild unless they are related.
"She conveyed heartbreak as effectively as you could convey it, to not use words," Cate said.
It was a long shot, but with the help of FedEx and Cate's sponsorship, Mi-kal was shipped from Alaska to Indiana to bond with Kiak. "It was an unmitigated disaster," Cate said.
Mi-kal, younger and smaller than Kiak, cowered in fear when she graciously offered him her share of fish and cardboard.
But Mi-kal grew up, and now the two bears playfully bite at each other's throats. They wrestle and slide on their backs in the winter snow.
A keeper throws slices of strawberry and peach into their enclosure, and Mi-kal sits in front of Kiak. He eats everything. "She brought you her fish, and you aren't going to share?" Cate chides. Kiak slaps Mi-kal on the back, but he doesn't move. Their heads turn in unison to follow a falling leaf as it floats by.
Leaving a half-hour stay with Mi-kal, Cate spend a minute or two with the sea lions -- "You have to pay your respects," Cate says -- then joins his wife with Tombi, the elephant they helped bring to the zoo in the late '90s.
On the car ride up, Beth Cate had wondered if Tombi would take a liking to the shampoo she had used that morning. Tombi did, a point confirmed when the elephant inhaled the fragrance of Beth Cate's hair with her trunk. Tombi gets her bath, extending her ears like wings as a hose blast cleans behind them.
Zoo staff then let Tombi out from her indoor enclosure, for only a few seconds because of the cold. Fred Cate nestles his head up against her thick skin and whispers into her ears. "Hey there, girl."
He takes a hundred photographs and says goodbye.
Before the drive back to Bloomington, Cate sits in his car, checks his Winnie the Pooh watch and waits for his wife to come out of the elephant enclosure. She slips into the passenger seat, the distinct aroma of what she's been shoveling hanging in the air. One time, she says, the scent so overwhelmed a police officer when she rolled down the window that it got her out of a speeding ticket.
Tuesday will be a day for suits and airport security. Sunday is the smell of escape.
Fred Cate details
--A.B. in history, Stanford, 1984.
--J.D., Stanford, 1987.
--Professor at Indiana University since 1990.
--Director of: Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research, 2003-present; Center for Law, Ethics & Applied Research in Health Information, 2010-present; Institute for Information Policy Research, 2011-present.
--Member of: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Privacy Oversight Board; Intel Corp., Privacy and Security External Advisory Board; U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Data Privacy and Integrity Committee Cybersecurity Subcommittee; Microsoft Corp., Trustworthy Computing Academic Advisory Board.
--One of Computerworld's "Best Privacy Advisers" in 2007, 2008 and 2011.
--Has testified 47 times before the Legislature or government agencies.
--Has participated in 440 panels and conferences.
--His first pet was "Hamlet Cate Evans Pig," gifted to him by his father's friend. The pig could not stay in their suburban subdivision -- hence the "Evans" for Evans Farm when he was adopted out.
--Cate's stuffed animal collection was an "adult thing," starting mostly in college at Stanford. One of his first: Droopy Dog. Norman, the sheep in his office, is from his honeymoon.
--His father was a religious scholar and his mother an antique dealer; Cate spent many summers in London, England. He actually wanted to pursue a career in history, but went to law school when job prospects weren't great. He has a particular interest in the English Reformation period.
--An avid fan of Microsoft's "Flight Simulator," Cate waits for the day when a flight attendant comes down the aisle, asking, "Can anyone land this plane?" For his 50th birthday, his wife organized a group of IU colleagues to wait for Cate in white silk scarves and aviator glasses as he landed at the Monroe County Airport during a flight lesson.
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