At first glance this may seem like an odd combination of subjects – combining the current debate on our privacy and personal data with recent scandal at Penn State University, and the prophecy of George Orwell. And furthermore, what do these topics have to do with the World Economic Forum study on Personal Data: The Emergence of a New Asset Class?
The answer is individual freedom and the balance between the power of institutions and the rights of the individual. In spite of the perceived individual benefits of the Information Age and the Internet, in spite of the creativity of Steve Jobs and the i(for individual)pod, phone and pad, we are continuing to lose ground to the collective interests of governments and big business. We are moving farther out-of balance and the great majority of us don’t seem to be aware. Or are we? Let’s show you a few examples and see what you think.
The first hint comes from the title of the World Economic Forum study — personal data as an asset class. The Introduction elaborates on the “new oil of the Internet and the currency of the digital world”, how the value of personal data is generation multiple business opportunities. As if on a roll, the study goes on to say that “increasing the control that individuals have of the manner in which their personal data is collected, managed, and shared will spur a host of new services and applications…(and) emerge as a new asses class toughing all aspects of society.” Although the authors declare that “rethinking the central importance of the individual is fundamental to the transformational nature of this opportunity because that will spur solutions and insights”, their focus is clearly on the solutions part of this statement. How can it be anything else since only one (ACLU) of the 30 plus contributors was not from a governmental or industry association or corporation?
This then begs the question: what was the real purpose of the study and who is the beneficiary? The individual and his or her rights is not the answer (only how we can make money). And this line of thought is not just confined to business issues, which brings us to Joe Paterno and the recent Penn State molestation cover-up. The reason (excuses) offered by Joe and the rest of administration for not taking immediate (and eventually any) action was to “protect the University.” This is what the Penn State scandal is really about – the importance of the institution (financial and otherwise) over that of the individual.
The third example, or should we say question, is are we heading headlong into 1984? Is the favoring of business interest over that of the individual a la 1984 the new world order? Is anonymity the last freedom? Governments are supposed to protect the individual, not to trade their constitutional rights for the benefit of the bottom line, yet this seems to be what is happening.
The hand writing is on the wall, which is why the Personal Data Coalition advocates a single version of the truth approach that is under the supervision of an elected democracy and constitutional government as the starting point for any meaningful resolution of the personal information issue. This approach focuses on the real issue, the one for which we should have the most concern. For all of us th 4th Amendment is not and should not be an option.