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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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Chapter 8. Who Owns Your Information?

In the past seven chapters, we've seen many different ways that personal information is being captured, used without our permission, and frequently, turned against us. In these chapters, I've argued that the most effective solution for preventing the unwanted collection and disclosure of personal information is sweeping legislation designed to restore our right to privacy in this age of computers. But other contemporary thinkers, looking at the same set of facts, have come up with another solution. "We don't need new legislation," they say, echoing the libertarian leaning that is so popular among today's information intelligentsia. "All we need is to treat personal information as a property right, and then to use existing property laws to prevent unauthorized appropriation."

But treating personal information as a new kind of property right could easily do more harm than good. That's because information is not like other kinds of tangible property. Applying traditional property law could easily have unintended consequences.

"The very nature of information is so different from the properties of material resources that it defies all methods of measurement," says C.B. (Jack) Rogers, Jr., CEO of Equifax, the consumer reporting company. "For one thing, I can sell it to you and keep it at the same time. It doesn't wear out, it increases in value and it increases in value with use, and it is the primary resource for worldwide commerce and trade."[1]

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