NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Private Information for Sale

June 2, 2003

The California Constitution articulates the inalienable right to privacy, yet corporations can buy and sell an individual's private medical and financial information without the person's permission. So until California Gov. Gray Davis signs strong privacy protection legislation, his and all Californians' private information will be available for sale, says consumer advocate Jamie Court.

In the market, corporations put the system of shared private financial information into practice without asking permission.

  • They effectively force every individual to automatically "opt in" to the system, placing the burden of time and energy on individuals to know enough to "opt out" by writing a letter specifically asking for an exemption from the sharing of their personal information.
  • Privacy advocates have wanted a standard requiring that corporations receive written permission -- an "opt in" -- before sharing private information with other companies.

Such legislation has been defeated year after year by the lobbying by banks, insurers and credit card companies. Societal and individual rights are being voided for commercial priorities, says Court.

According to Court, protecting individual privacy is not just a matter of mustering the political will for an opt-in standard, even though an opt-in ballot initiative now circulating is a first step (www.

The larger need is to re-prioritize the rights of the individual and society over the corporation's, says Court. A good privacy model is the European Union, where an inalienable privacy right exists.

Source: Jamie Court, "Everything Has a Price, Including Your Private Information," Los Angeles Times, June 2, 2003.


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