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05/08/2005

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Rick Wash

One issue that frequently comes up about privacy is the correctness of the information. Even worse than a bad credit record is an undeserved bad credit record. Does this property right include the right to correct bad (incorrect) information?

Palooka

"A harder case is information about persons who are HIV positive since that disease is not yet curable, but HIV positive persons pose major threats to anyone who has sexual relations or share needles with them. I believe the social gain from publicizing that information outweighs the right to privacy, although that position is arguable because individuals might then delay seeking treatment and discovering whether they are positive."

Couldn't you just prosecute those who do not disclose their HIV status to partners? Granted, many would still immorally expose others to danger, but so would making the HIV status public knowledge let cases slip through the cracks. This is especially true for the "one night stand." How many people do not even know the person's full name, or if they did, how many would take a few mintues to slip away to check the public database, presumably online?

Ronald Ayers

While in high school I remember reading Hawthorn's The Scarlet Letter and trying to reconcile the "damage" that Hester's "crime" had done to society against the benefit to society of her being forced to display the letter "A". The specifics change, but the questions linger on. For example, I've read that there are web sites devoted to "outing" gays and lesbians who are "public" figures. Does being a public figure mean that someone gives up all rights to privacy? How public does the figure have to be before those rights are relinquished? I like the way the Bush family has asked for the President's twin daughters to be granted some relief from the prying eyes of the media. They may not have a right to privacy, but they sure deserve more than they've gotten.

DailyDetritus

Doesn't the rather lukewarm view both Posner and Becker offer in favor of privacy fly in the face of the right against self incrimination? Isn't the basic state of affairs that we're all struggling sacks of protoplasm working quite hard, and usually without much chance of success, to better ourselves day to day? Dumping our ubiquitous and continuing failures into the public domain seems to strike at the heart of individualism itself, and put us at the mercy of those who are better at keeping their own failures out of the public domain.

Ryan Kasprzak

Outside of any legal constraint on the digitization of medical information, it would be interesting to see whether market solutions develop to balance the supply and demand for medical information digitization. I can envision two such possibilities, but there are certainly more. If the gains from digitization are administrative (for example, resulting in lower individual cost to provide medical services) it would be natural for medical providers or insurance companies to compensate individuals for their permission to digitize their information. If the motive for digitization is for reasons such as the facilitation of medical research, it seems again that compensation should be in order. People are compensated for their explicit participation in medical studies; why not compensate them for the implicit participation implied by the aggregation of anonymous statistical data? (One why not might be selection bias, but, that is the researchers problem) Much has been learned about consumer behavior through analogous consumption tracking programs in which individuals are paid to record their consumption behavior.
The lack of markets for such information makes our debate on value of such information too abstract. Whether the social good of sharing information exceeds the value of privacy surely depends on how much individuals value their privacy. It would be interesting to look at instances where individuals, through their choices, reveal the value they place on privacy. If someone stole your medical records and threatened to post them on the internet, how much would you pay to prevent this?

Ifti Qurashi

The market for personal information already exists. If we consider that privacy is a property right then that right is being "stolen" (or at least traded without explicit consent) everytime a credit card, loyalty card or internet site tracks user activity. This theft is mostly harmless. It may even be socially useful if it allows firms to design and market products that are closer to consumer tastes, or if allows websites to better deliver the content users seek. Furthermore, just because the average consumer is seldom aware that he is trading away his privacy right doesn't preclude consumers from protecting their privacy. Indeed a great and growing number of people now use antispyware and other software to protect their privacy rights when online (the amount spent on such software may be a useful proxy for the value of privacy). Furthermore by transacting purely in cash and refusing loyalty cards consumers can protect their privacy rights. In many ways the market for personal information functions efficiently. We can conclude that because consumers continue to use loyalty schemes and credit cards they value the convenenience of use more than the privacy lost.

Digitization would enable medical records to benefit from a market structure. Medical insurance providers could "rent" privacy rights from consumers, offering lower premiums to those that choose to allow greater use of their records. Furthermore they could then aggregate and sublet these rights to research firms (almost like a bank aggregating and securitizing hundreds of individual mortgages). This would have the benefit of eliminating the need for legislation, consumers would be able to decide for themselves how much information they wanted to divulge and would be duly compensated.

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