The appropriate unit of analysis for protecting personal information including genetic information

Posted by on May 5, 2018  /  0 Comments

Much of the discussion on privacy is premised on the implicit imposition of a private-property model on data or information that is subject to control/consent. This could have worked when all we were dealing with were relatively simple data like a social security number or an address. But the really interesting data are transaction-generated data (TGD). These necessarily involve more than one person. How can I give or not give consent to the use of my TGD, when multiple entities have been involved in its production? If it is property, it is property that has been jointly produced, and is therefore jointly owned.
I wrote about the limits of the property models back in 2015:

If MNBD are property, one has to ask who owns the data. The answer depends on who produced it. It could be said that the customer who moved around with a charged-up mobile device “produced” a VLR. But was the VLR actually produced solely by the customer, who in most cases did not know her mobile device was communicating with the BTS? It may be more accurate to say it was jointly produced by the mobile operator and the customer. Therefore, it is the joint property of the company and the customer. Minimally, the joint property may be used by either party, but in a way that does not cause harm to the other. Maximally, nothing can be done with the joint property without agreement of both. In any case, big data is more about extracting value from the raw data, than it is about the raw data itself. After all, MNBD has been in existence for several decades now with no value extracted from it. Approaching the problem from the perspective of property does not appear to be very productive, except as the basis for esoteric debates on how the co-creators can be monetarily compensated.

But did not get much traction. Perhaps people will understand the point now that it is being told in relation to genetic information:

If a serial killer really has been caught using these methods, everyone will rightly applaud. But the power of forensic genomics that this case displays poses concerns for those going about their lawful business, too. It bears on the question of genetic privacy—namely, how much right people have to keep their genes to themselves—by showing that no man or woman is a genetic island. Information about one individual can reveal information about others—and not just who is related to whom.

Full article.

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