Upping The Ante On Data Collection

So much about the overall issue and recent incidents of data loss are astounding, it's hard to know where to start.

Patricia Keefe, Contributor

June 27, 2006

4 Min Read

So much about the overall issue and recent incidents of data loss are astounding, it's hard to know where to start.

One good place is the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, which offers up some sobering statistics on stolen data: Since Feb. 15, 2005 there has been over 200 data breaches (with some companies starring as repeat offenders) affecting the data of 88,399,953 individuals. At least - that's what's been reported.Outrageously, Congress meanwhile, has been dragging its feet and blowing hot and cold on the data protection issue for over a year. The intelligence community has supposedly quashed two pending bills while reports have emerged that law enforcement makes use of data brokers, who everyone knows tend to obtain their data illegally, often through a form of impersonation called pretexting. (Heck, I'm surprised data brokers don't just pay people to steal corporate laptops. It would be cheaper, and apparently, easier.) A congressional hearing held on the practice of data brokering meanwhile, was shocked, just shocked to conclude last week that there is no data that can be kept private! Having established the obvious, I'm sure they'll probably go back to sleep.

Meanwhile, on the corporate side, I don't know who is more arrogant: AIG for waiting three months before starting to notify the roughly 97,000 consumers whose personal data was exposed following the theft of a company laptop in March, or AT&T for informing it's video and online customers that it can do anything it wants with the data it has collected on those users.

In the case of AIG, I am not sure how the insurer plans to rationalize this egregiously late notification, but let's hope they aren't confusing it with some aborted notion of customer service. Three months is a lifetime in personal identification theft.

As for AT&T, it once again brings to the surface the long nagging issue of just whose data is it anyway?

Is data about you - your medical, educational, professional and financial records; what you read, watch and drive; where you travel, what you buy and where you wander online - is this your data, or does it belong to the companies that collect it - one way or the other?

In a June 7 editor's note, I called for a uniform bill of consumer data rights, as well as a uniform agreement on best practices for companies and law enforcement to follow in the event of a data breach. (By the way, I'm not the only one who thinks we need something like this. A week ago a dozen companies banded together under the umbrella of the Consumer Privacy Legislative Forum, and issued a call to Congress to pass a comprehensive federal consumer privacy law that would cover the handling of personal data.

The group is looking for a "legal framework" that will straddle the line between protecting consumers from inappropriate collection and misuse of personal information, and allowing legitimate companies to use data on people in conducting business.

I would love to know their definition of "using data on people in conducting business." But hey, it's a start. It's just a matter of time before people start suing the pants off corporations for either collecting the data in the first place, not protecting it adequately or not monitoring who they are making it available to. The CPLF members are just looking ahead, and maybe this is the kick in the pants Congress needs. Let's hope so.

Back to my data rights bill and the issue of data ownership, that is the one key ingredient I left out. Which got me to thinking. If Congress is right, and of course it is, that we have no prayer of keeping any of our personal data private, and since it's obvious that we can not stop legitimate and illegitimate collectors and buyers of our data - maybe it's time to consider royalties.

That's right - data royalties. Every time someone accesses or collects a piece of your data - they have to pay you for it. Everyone else is trying to make money off it, so why not cut the public in on a piece of the action? What is the fair market value of all this data anyway? It's got to be worth something - too many people are trying too hard - legally and illegally - to collect it and use it.

As silly as it may seem, the motive behind this suggestion is not. It is high time the public got something of value back from the wholesale invasion of our privacy besides spam, junk mail, spying and identity theft. And if it's not going to be protection, well than money just might be the way to go.

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