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Laws to protect individuals from having their privacy used as a business commodity are being fought on two fronts in the United States: internationally and domestically.
On the international front, the European Union now has laws that effectively prevent businesses from selling, trading, or otherwise disseminating personal information about their customers and employees. Complaints from U.S. businesses that want to operate in Europe and therefore must abide by those laws threatens to create a trade war between the E.U. and the U.S. Even our own government has branded those laws as unfair. In a joint letter from the Treasury and Commerce Departments, the Bush II administration described E.U. laws as imposing "unduly burdensome requirements that are incompatible with real world operations."
On the domestic front, laws proposed in Congress — definitely weaker than the laws already in force in the E.U. — have triggered major lobbying efforts to defeat them. Business organizations — joined by top members of President Bush's administration — claim these laws would be too costly.
This political opposition to privacy laws raises several questions:
Perhaps that last question is the key to the whole issue. If so, the time has come to tell businesses that there are some commodities that should not be merchandised. Since personal information really would not exist if we did not live our lives, this is indeed one of those commodities.
In the meantime, rather than fighting the E.U. over privacy legislation, our own government should embrace the very same laws. No, this would not be over-regulation. U.S. companies have already demonstrated that self-imposed privacy rules mean we have no privacy.
1 April 2001
(but no April Fool's joke)
Because of the growing problem of identity theft, privacy has become much more important since I wrote the above. The widespread dissemination of personal information about us by various businesses is the primary resource of identity thieves. In recognition of the growth of this crime, California and other states — seeing inaction at the federal level — have enacted stringent laws to limit the dissemination of personal information. In response, the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress are railroading a law that would address identity theft by overturning those state laws. The federal approach will not prevent identity theft, it will only punish the thieves after they destroy our credit worthiness and our reputations.
One of the most important pieces of personal data used by identity thieves is your Social Security number (SSN). You must protect this.
When I first wrote this commentary, I was merely annoyed with the thought that businesses were profiting by trading in my personal data, data that exists only because of my actions. And not only businesses were profiting; even non-profit charities generated revenues by selling information about their donors. Now we find that criminals are profiting, too; and we can suffer real harm.
9 November 2003
Buying, selling, and exchanging personal information about you and me is a very big business. Therefore, Congress passed and President Bush signed a federal law that invalidates state laws that restrict such commerce. This new law punishes identity theft after it happens but does little to prevent such crimes.
9 December 2003
The following was found on a site that distributes a Firefox add-on for downloading YouTube videos. While it appear facetious, it illustrates the reality of privacy when using search services, social networks, and other means of communicating through third-party Internet services.
We firmly believe that privacy is unimportant and meaningless to you. If it were not, you probably would not have a Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn account: and you certainly wouldn't ever use a search engine like Google. If you're one of those tin-foil-hat crazies that actually cares about privacy: stop using our services and get a life.
We agree with Mark Zuckerberg when he pithily opined "The age of Privacy is Over."
My copyright does not include the contents of this box.
Instead, credit belongs to Konverts and Skipity, whoever they are.
20 February 2012
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