Privacy controls == censorship (?)

Rohit Khare (
Thu, 22 Jan 1998 13:37:37 -0800

I think there's something to be said for this libertarianist slant. As an
American, the European customer-data-privacy regulations give me the willies:
businesses got the data, they can and should be free to proceed -- internally
-- and make choice a matter of competition. I, for example, don't use that
little supermarket frequency discount card and choose stores on that basis.

THe tradeoff is that we seem to defend this use by tort, than by regulation.
Equifax intentionally corrups my reocrds, I sue them; individual action.

I don't know for sure, though. I'm looking forward to reading this report...


------- Forwarded Message
Date: Wed, 21 Jan 1998 17:33:33 -0500
From: Declan McCullagh <>
Subject: FC: Privacy as Censorship -- Cato paper by Solveig Singleton

If you care about electronic privacy, read this new report. It correctly
says that many proposals to create new "privacy rights" become censorship
by another name. The paper is at:

- -Declan


PRIVACY AS CENSORSHIP: A Skeptical View of Proposals to Regulate
Privacy in the Private Sector

by Solveig Singleton (, director of information
studies at the Cato Institute.

Executive Summary

Some privacy advocates urge the adoption of a new legal regime for
the transfer of information about consumers among private-sector
databases. This "mandatory opt-in" regime would require private
businesses to ask for a consumer's permission before trading
information about that consumer, such as his buying habits or
hobbies, to third parties. This would, in effect, create new
privacy rights.

These new rights would conflict with our tradition of free speech.
>From light conversation, to journalism, to consumer credit
reporting, we rely on being able to freely communicate details of
one another's lives. Proposals to forbid businesses to communicate
with one another about real events fly in the face of that

New restrictions on speech about consumers could disproportionately
hurt small businesses, new businesses, and nonprofits. Older,
larger companies have less need for lists of potential customers,
as they have already established a customer base.

We have no good reason to create new privacy rights. Most
private-sector firms that collect information about consumers do so
only in order to sell more merchandise. That hardly constitutes a
sinister motive. There is little reason to fear the growth of
private-sector databases.

What we should fear is the growth of government databases.
Governments seek not merely to sell merchandise but to exercise
police and defense functions. Because governments claim these
unique and dangerous powers, we restrict governments' access to
information in order to prevent abuses. Privacy advocates miss the
target when they focus on the growth of private-sector databases.

To view the entire document:

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