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Chapter 2. WHAT IS PRIVACY IN A DIGITAL ... > Finally, It Comes Down to Control - Pg. 13

WHAT IS PRIVACY IN A DIGITAL WORLD? It was just this scenario with similar facts that led to the granddaddy of privacy laws, the Fair Credit Reporting Act. In fact, the Fair Credit Reporting Act probably covers this set of facts, since the act covers insurance underwriting. The point is where a harmful use can be defined, we can craft specific rules to cover the it. In Australia, policy makers went in a different direction. They restricted the types of data that could be collected from credit grantors and used in decision-making, and the societal cost is fewer creditworthy citizens get credit. In fact, if the Australian rules were applied to the United States, 19 percent of creditworthy consumers would not get it. Autonomy Not all things that happen when information is collected and used is harmful in the sense that we can measure the affect. There is a definitive relationship between information flows in the direct marketing industry and the mail that I receive at my house. Some of the mail is interesting and brings me opportunities with value, others are a complete waste of my time; however, none of those advertisements is harmful to me. My wallet isn't less full and my body bears no bruises. Data flows do not inconvenience or embarrass me; although I might want to reinvent myself and the data flows could make that more difficult. Nonetheless, this is not the type of harm that has been recognized by our legal system. What we have is a matter of autonomy. We all have an interest in preserving a space where we may define ourselves. That is increasingly difficult in a world where another party has the ability to do an immediate search and define us based on our data flows. The policy debate often confuses these three concepts. Advocates desire greater autonomy, and employ hypo- thetical harmful uses to justify restrictions on data collection. Rather than proposing a solution to the hypothetical that fits the situation, they propose solutions that take data out of play. Autonomy is a real issue. Civilized societies give all individuals a place where they can be a stranger. Increasingly that has become difficult because of the ease in collecting and using data. But rather than letting myths define policy, let's address autonomy with honesty. Let's have a national (or global) debate where we define how much space will be protected by law. -- Marty Abrams, Executive Director, Center for Information Policy Leadership at Hunton & Williams, mab- 13