My information

There’s been a lot of talk recently about privacy and the right to access personal information for “new” purposes, mainly in connection with new taxes that will require a census of home ownership, which some are proposing be based on data from utility bills. The information held by the utility companies was given to them to facilitate the payment of utility bills, not the gathering of unrelated taxes. People are a little concerned. The Data Protection Commissioner is echoing that concern.

So in what way can we consider certain facts to belong to us? It’s easy enough to understand that one’s thoughts and opinions are “owned”, and perhaps the derivatives of these (e.g. artistic works) could also be owned. But surely the fact that I own property is just that: a fact. This is something that is verifiable; an important characteristic of what we call facts. How can I own this fact? Perhaps one might say that only I have the right to alter this particular fact, but does this mean that nobody else is permitted to know it?

The government clearly believes that it has the right to know such facts, as a means of enforcing laws. Maybe what concerns people is the absence of any clear boundary between personal knowledge and public facts. No doubt the DP Commissioner will be trying hard to create some clarity.

Furthermore, as the recent interaction between Facebook and the Irish DPA shows, clarification on the rights and wrongs with respect to “personal” information can and will affect several global names, such as Facebook, Google, eBay and others. Watch this space.

Categorised as: Security

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