When I first heard about USA Today breaking the NSA domestic phone spying scandal involving the major long distance phone companies, I wasn’t surprised. I won’t even be surprised when, in the next few months, word leaks out that Federal agencies are also involved in non-court-approved electronic screening of domestic call traffic looking for specific words and word combinations.
That’s the world we live in and why we are having a debate about balancing privacy against security. It’s a good debate to bring out in the open.
Instead of outrage my first reaction, instead, was, “What, you’re selling data about my calls and not giving me a piece of the action?”
Let me explain. One of the areas that interests me is the impact of technology on intellectual property rights. Last year I started thinking about what might happen if concepts like copyright and intellectual property ownership were extended to cover personal data such as personal medical and financial details. I wrote about some of my early ideas here, here, and here. The idea is that you own your personal data and you alone have the right to make it public and to earn money from business transactions based on that data. You should even be able to auction off to the highest bidder your most intimate and personal details, if you so desire.
Or you should also be able to maintain total and complete privacy and control over your personal data, no matter how much someone wants to pay for it.
Admittedly, the thought that you should be able to draw a “privacy bubble” around you and your family — a bubble that you can control for your own personal and monetary benefit — flies in the face of much of what’s happening today, not only in terms of what the government says it has the right to do with your communication habits but also in terms of what financial institutions, insurance companies, credit bureaus, and others have grown to manipulate for their own benefit.
Add to that the increasing willingness of so many people to publicize details of their personal lives on blogs and on social networking tools such as Facebook. You can already see the lobbyists lining up outside the doors of senators and congress people to write legislation protecting “the free and unfettered exchange of personal data necessary for the conduct of commerce,” or something like that.
Still, if somebody is going to make money from selling something about me, I think I should be able to benefit directly AND know when my data is being bought and sold.
Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.
Copyright (c) 2006 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D.