I'm pleased that nudity has been such a prominent topic on this panel so far. That's because we have two obligations
up here today. The first is to be entertaining, and I can think of nothing better to capture attention than nudity.
(Be assured that I am only going to talk about it, lucky for you.) But also because the methods we use to protect
privacy in the appearance of our bodies can be very enlightening to the privacy discussion generally.
The panelists we have heard from have discussed a number of things: why privacy is important, whether personal
information can be treated as an asset and who owns it, and the crucial distinction between privacy from government
and privacy in the private sector.
But no one has yet defined privacy. And I think that's essential to do if you are going to be able to gauge your
own efforts and, for those of us in the world of public policy, if we are going to be able to judge whether law and
regulation advances privacy or not, how successful it is at doing that.
To illustrate the importance of having our terms defined, let me do a thought experiment with you: I am conducting
a conference much like this one next week. It is going to have plenary sessions like this one, and a number of different
tracks. But I'm not going to tell you the subject of the conference. I'm just going to tell you what the tracks are.
It will be up to you to figure out what the conference is about.
The five tracks are:
Now what is this conference about? Is it about taking your vacation at the beach this summer? No, of course, it's about
- Techniques for Avoiding Bruises
- To Wax or Not to Wax
- Staying Cool, Staying Fresh
- Red, Green, or Something Else
- Meaty, Mushy, or Just Right
But half of these tracks apply not just to apples, but to other fruits and vegetables as well. Just like my
conference next week, this conference is about all kinds of different information policies. You are dealing with
spam, security, identity fraud, fairness, and so on. All of these are information policies and they all have something
to do with privacy, or at least they come close. But unless you know what is privacy and what is not, you can not know
when you have delivered privacy to your customers or when a law moves privacy forward or backward.
Let me give you the definition of privacy that we have been working with at Privacilla: Privacy is the subjective
condition people enjoy when they have power to control information about themselves and when they exercise that power
consistent with their interests and values.
Very quickly, let me parse that definition for you. First, privacy is a subjective condition. I can't tell you
when you have privacy and you can't tell me when I have privacy. Likewise, you can't pass a law that tells people they
have privacy. That is up to them to decide.
Next, privacy requires people to have the power to control information about themselves. This implicates governments
the most, because they can take information from people by force of law. They can convert information to new uses after
they collect it, even contradicting statements they make at collection about how they will use it. Only governments
can use information about people to harm them. Businesses must bargain for information one way or another and they
can not use it to hurt you.
Finally, privacy happens when consumers understand how information moves and how they are choosing privacy or other
interests. I think, as often as consumers seek privacy, they seek convenience, low cost, customization, and so on.
Privacy is a priority, but it is in constant tension with other consumer interests. We can't guess very well what
exactly consumers want. But we should try to make sure their choices are informed.
So there you have a definition of privacy that you can use to figure out whether law and public policy move the ball
forward or backward. You can use it to determine whether your own efforts to comply with laws are helping privacy or not.
The alternative, leaving privacy undefined, just makes it a political football and the source of unending complex and
costly regulations. Between the Gramm-Leach-Bliley law and HIPAA alone, we as a society have spent billions of dollars,
and I think we ought to know whether we have gotten our money's worth.
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