Commoditized Privacy

Thu, 13 Mar 2003 09:53:17 -0800

(i'm building my case against the voodoo economics of this administration,
which is currently engaged in "calculating" the real cost of loss of privacy
vs real benefit of security. thank you, john hall, for making the first part
of my case in our discussion on state spending.  more to follow, as time
allows . . . )

Kobrin’s report spells out the “very different data privacy norms” that
exist in the United States and Europe. In the United States, for example,
“rights are generally … seen as rights against the government. Thus, the
U.S. approach to data privacy reflects a basic distrust of government.”
Markets and self-regulation, not law, shape information privacy. Laws are
“reactive and issue-specific” and protection tends to be “tort-based” and
“market-oriented,” not political. Privacy is “an alienable commodity subject
to the market.”

In contrast, the European approach to privacy “puts the burden of protection
on society rather than the individual.” Privacy is considered to be
inalienable and a “fundamental human right,” as Kobrin’s paper notes. The
result of this approach is the creation of “explicit statutes accompanied by
regulatory agencies to oversee [their] enforcement.”

What’s at stake in Europe are the “rights of citizens” or “data subjects,”
not the rights of consumers or business customers. Another way to view the
contrast: In the U.S., privacy is “a right that inheres in the
individual” -- and can be traded for some benefit, Kobrin writes.  For
example, many customers gladly give away personal data in return for product
discounts, customized services, etc. In Europe, however, privacy protection
“is an obligation of the state towards its citizens,” to quote the words of
David L. Aaron, the Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade who
negotiated the Safe Harbor agreement on behalf of the United States. Because
of the European mindset outlined in Kobrin’s report, Europeans resist the
American notion that privacy can be bargained away in return for a benefit.

i love chess.