One of the biggest privacy concerns today is what is happening with all of our personal data. While many dismiss this issue as unimportant, the problem is becoming larger and larger with each passing day. We are about to propose something not many have proposed before–data should be a form of property.
In recent months, European and Asian public officials and industries have called for data ownership principles to be developed, above and beyond current privacy and data protection laws. They have taken the added step of introducing official policy guidance and legal proposals that offer to accelerate the realization of a property rights structure for digital information. The question is how can ownership of digital information be achieved? How can those rights be transferred and enforced?
The calls for data ownership always emphasize the impact of ownership on the automotive industry and the vast quantities of operational data which smart automobiles and self-driving vehicles will produce. It is curious that this issue is not being considered in consumer-facing statements addressing the data being collected by their vehicles.
To formulate our proposal, we also considered continued advances in scientific research, quantum mechanics, and quantum computing which confirms that information in any digital or electronic medium is, and always has been, physical, tangible matter. Unfortunately, to date, data regulation has attempted to adapt legal constructs for “intangible” intellectual property or to express a series of permissions and constraints tied to specific classifications of data (such as personally identifiable information). These ideas take the onus off the company collecting the data and put it squarely on the shoulders of the data’s owner.
Based on the preceding, we propose that regulation of digital information assets, and clear concepts of ownership, can be built on existing legal constructs that have enabled electronic commercial practices. We propose a property rules construct that clearly defines a right to own digital information arises upon creation (whether by keystroke or machine), and suggest when and how that right attaches to specific data through the exercise of technological controls.
This construct will enable faster, better adaptations of new rules for the ever-evolving portfolio of data assets being created around the world. This approach will also create more predictable, scalable, and extensible mechanisms for regulating data and is consistent with, and may improve the exercise and enforcement of, rights regarding personal information. We conclude by highlighting existing technologies and their potential to support this construct and begin an inventory of the steps necessary to further proceed with this process.
Only by giving us back control over our personal data will we be able to stop the abuses that are currently occurring in the tech world. If we owned our data as if it was our property, we would be able to say “Delete that from your database” and the company would have no choice but to comply with our wishes. If a company wished to utilize our data for some purpose, it would be required to pay us some small fee for that use. While not perfect, at least there would be a clear course of action when our data is misused.
Data has become a commodity that we must control. By implementing our suggestion, data will no longer be a huge privacy issue.