Individual Information as Property

In his recent article, The Individual as Property, Timothy Birdnow doesn’t quite go far enough. He agrees with John Locke that every individual has a right of property in his own person. Indeed, Amendment IV of the US Constitution States:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Your person is grouped together with your house, papers, and effects as things being your own. Yet governments and corporations collect your personally identifiable information (PII) all the time. Your PII is bought, sold, and traded. The only participant currently excluded from the market in your PII is you.

I think that your PII is an extension of yourself – your presence in cyberspace – and that you have the same right of property in it as you have to your presence in physical space – your person, house, papers and effects. I would like to have a Constitutional Amendment that recognizes that your personally identifiable information is an inalienable part of you, and that who ever comes into possession of  it comes into a fiduciary relationship with you. That is, the possessor of your PII must make no use of that information without your consent, and may only use it to your benefit.

Governments and corporations will claim that they can’t do business unless they own our information. But in the 1800’s many agricultural interests claimed they needed to own the people who worked their land. Americans fought a Civil War to convince them to rent the people’s time instead. America ended slavery in favor of wages, salary, or compensation – a day’s pay for a day’s work.

Now technology has extended your person into cyberspace. It is time for the law to catch up, and for government and business to develop ways to respect our right to our information – ourselves.

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