Data Theft and Copyright

The theft of our personal data has become a ubiquitous problem, but it is not with identity thieves in Nigeria or the Ukraine that I take issue. The real concern emanates from corporations large and small that treat our data with contempt.

If an individual downloads a song or a book, or a picture for their own purposes, without paying for it, they are quite likely to face prosecution and lawsuits both from copyright owners, and from the authorities. Movies have a copyright notice that threatens up to five years in prison for the theft of copyright material, and up to $250k in damages.

Cases are brought before the World Trade Organization that attempt to prevent countries like China from infringing on American copyright.

Yet, the biggest thieves of data are not individuals, rather it is corporations that steal enormous volumes of data from individuals. When people sign up for a credit card, or a bank account, all their information is collected and stored in databases that contain terabytes, petabytes or exabytes of data. The volume of information collected by corporations continues to expand at a logarithmic rate. Corporations now know more about individuals than those individuals do.



Internet companies like Facebook collect data about people in a clandestine, or even furtive manner. Companies like Facebook continually change their privacy policy, making it close to impossible for individuals to know exactly what is private and what is publically available. Even when security settings are set up, changes in the security approach may make the settings irrelevant. Information that users would rather not have available are broadcast for all to see. People do not thave the time to keep following the security changes.

Companies share information with other companies without informing their customers as to who has access to their information. There are any number of reasons that an individual would rather not have his or her information shared, regardless of what that information may be.

There are real world issues and reasons that corporations should not be allowed access to the enormous amount of data they currently store. It makes the tracking of individuals quite easy, without the need for a warrant. There was a time that law enforcement in particular required a warrant to monitor a persons phone calls, or to enter their premises. With the vast amount of information available to corporations and law enforcement, warrants could well become extinct.

Law enforcement now commonly requests cell phone information from cell companies to determine a persons movements, something that should by rights require a warrant. It is not just law enforcement, but companies and individuals within those companies that can now track people using their data.

This is an ominous precedent for the future of privacy. If people believe that companies will respect their privacy and not abuse the information at their fingertips, they are sadly mistaken. Information has always been used against people, often for monetary gain, but increasingly for political gain. The use of this data produces a pervasive monitoring culture in which anyones movements are easily investigated, probed and scrutinized.

It is not difficult, once the data is obtained, to use ones movements, encounters, expenditure, friends or acquaintances, communications, or even the books that they read against them. People can be denied jobs, fired, prevented from attaining political office, or even incarcerated based on collected data, whether incorrect or not. History has not had a sanguine record of information being used to advance the common good, rather than as a form of blackmail.

Platforms like Facebook are increasingly being used for behavioral advertising and harvesting of data. While Facebook has yet to produce a truly viable commercial revenue stream, it will happen at some point, and the chances are that it will leverage its databases to do so.

Considering the staggering amount of information that people give out about themselves, this is a gold mine for behavioural advertising. Increasingly, Facebook and other sides use advertising to produce revenue, and Facebook is unlikely to treat its users data with respect.

To my mind, when I purchase a service, or a good, that is all I am interested in. I expect that the corporation will treat my data with the same concern and respect as it should treat my investments, my savings, or anything else I may place in their hands. If I go to an attorney, I do not expect that they will broadcast my legal matters to all and sundry, and the same can be said for my physician. Why should it be any different to my bank, or mortgage lender?

I purchase a financial service that gives me access to fundamental data about the stock market. Every year after I renew my subscription, I get a deluge of solicitations from other financial firms, finance magazines, timeshare, and vacation services. What I wanted from that organization was the information they are providing to me.

I expect that they will not sell my information to anyone they see fit. I have no control over that information once it leaves their company, I do not know what other companies do with it, whether they resell it, analyze it, or use it to profile me. Every year I have to spend time on the phone requesting that they take me off any mailing list that they have. It should not be up to me to spend my time doing this sort of thing. My time is valuable to me, and I do not want to waste it on frivolous pursuits.

Every time my information is given out, it becomes so much easier for identity thieves to obtain the data and destroy my life. There is no way that I will be able to track down where that information was leaked. Increasingly we have become not citizens, or people with rights, but revenue centers, mere advertising targets. The increasingly belligerent pursuit of profit has steamrollered our uniqueness as people, our right to live a quiet life without intrusion.


Target, Data Thief

I had another encounter just yesterday that served to enrage me further. I went to a local retailer, Target, to buy some cod and some beer which I use to make fish and chips. At the cashier, I was asked for my drivers license, which I produced and held for the cashier to see. He reached for the id and I pulled it away. I know that they like to scan the drivers license. I asked him why he has to scan the license. His reply was that he cannot sell beer without a drivers license.

Now, what happens if someone walks in without a driver’s license, or doesn’t have one, are you going to deny him the right to buy alcohol? The system does not allow cashiers to sell alcohol to customers without a license. The purpose is not to determine whether you are of age – that can be easily ascertained by looking at the license. The reason is to scan the license and obtain the information that is stored on the document. This information is added to their database, packaged and sold to all and sundry, placing my information at risk from countless corporations and probably identity thieves.

Target has a history of this kind of harassment. They use facial recognition, together with credit card information to create profiles of their customers, which are then used to target customers and populate databases. I have no control over what use they make of what I consider to be my information. It does not belong to them, it belongs to me.

Just as a writer has an implicit copyright when he creates a work, so the person should have an implicit copyright as he lives his life. Getting a driver’s license is part of my story, part of the life that I have created, and as such should be copyright. My story, which is what I consciously do with my life, ought to be protected. To have anyone take that story, package it, and sell it as they please without paying me for the information, is theft of personal data.

I dont see why people should not have control over their data just as artists, writers, poets and others have protection over their work. I don’t see why large corporations should be able to abuse our information, or use it without our direct consent, each time they do it.

This is what happens when it is no longer the electorate that controls elections, but those with the deepest pockets. The people are treated with contempt. It is time that we had rights extended to us that are available under the Constitution. I believe that it is the Fourth Amendment that guarantees the right to privacy. It should not only be privacy from governmental intrusion, but from corporate intrusion, and data theft.

There is no difference in my mind between stealing a copyright work such as a song or book and stealing personal information. If there is any money to be made from selling my information, I should have the right to claim that money. I should be able to demand royalties on my information.

Naturally, this is unlikely to happen as long as large powerful corporations are allowed to govern in lieu of the people governing. Both parties are to blame in this as they kowtow to corporations and the wealthy.

Suffice it to say that I will not be purchasing any alcohol at Target, and the next time I go in to buy anything, it will be with cash. As it is, I refuse to buy from Target for the most part. If I have any alternative, I will use it, just as I do with Wal-Mart. It is only when corporations learn that they cannot treat their customers with contempt that they will change their ways. The only way that the customer has of showing displeasure is to boycott the institution as far as possible.

it is not identity thieves that are of particular concern, since they have a small chance of stealing your identity. It is the large corporations that pilfer our information and trade it as a commodity. It is time that they were stopped.

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