Bruce Schneier over at Wired had an article about our data shadow which was posted 5.15.08 in which he describes a) that we create a shadow of data for ourselves as individuals, b) that while we’re cognizant of some of the places where this happens in our lives (bank statements, driving records, etc) there are others which might not be as apparent to us (ATM records, EZPass records, grocery loyalty card programs, etc), and c) we need to start considering Data Privacy laws.
I heartily agree with the need to craft these laws, but I’m thinking a bit higher up on the food chain. Everyone says how several of the Bill of Rights amendments no longer seem entirely relevant, so I’m thinking that We the People need to actually organize and craft one or more Constitutional Amendments which can become the Digital Bill of Rights. And not entrust it to mere federal law, but push it through the Constitutional Amendment ratification process so that it becomes enshrined as the highest law of the country, beyond the reach of the federal government itself, beyond the reach of states tinkering. Besides, new Constitutional Amendments give the Supreme Court something new to chew on for the next century or so.
In all seriousness, technology certainly has changed, and we need to be able to work within the new changes that are coming. If we don’t start thinking about it for ourselves as individual citizens with vested interest in controlling the uses and abuses of our personal data, then we leave it at the mercy of the sitting government… and no sitting government ever votes to weaken its own power. We need to start this discussion in earnest, because we’re already seeing how abuses of personal data are causing problems.(Identity theft anyone? Spamming email lists?)
More than Piracy, more than Privacy, it’s about Rights.
This isn’t just about insuring privacy, although it can certainly address that too. It needs to be about actually setting definitions of Rights. The internet has opened many different arenas where traditional legal rights and notions of property do not function in the same mode that they have, or they are being bent or broadened in ways that don’t seem to favor the individual citizen, but instead place power in the hands of the corporations and the government because those are the groups who have the cash to retain the better lawyers or the power to enforce their own hegemony.
The Bill of Digital Rights will need to actually settle some questions with definitions. Who owns the data shadow of a person, for instance? Should it be legally mandated that personal data cannot be collected, manipulated, traded, or sold without direct permission of the person being collected from? And there should be a law which removes any sort of mandatory opt-ins. In other words, you shouldn’t be forced to “optionally” allow data collection or release of personal data in order to receive a good or service. The grocery loyalty cards, for example, must be available to everyone, even those who do not consent to the grocery store collecting information on the purchasing habits of the person using it.
I don’t know what will stand up to the long term consideration and what will be taken out, but I definitely think we need to start having this discussion. After all, the process to ratify a Constitutional Amendment is long and deliberate. If we’re going to hold on to anything, we’d better start soon.