Using the Concept of Databuse to Protect Privacy

Everyone wants to enjoy the benefits of privacy. But, the term has a surprisingly nebulous definition. This has important implications for privacy policy. For example, it’s easy for someone to get a wiretap in Great Britain, while it’s relatively hard to obtain a wiretap in the United States. In our increasingly global and inter-connected world we lack a common vocabulary to describe issues related to privacy. In part that’s why Ben Wittes and Wells Bennett developed the idea of “databuse”; meaning the negligent handling, collection or misuse of personal information.

Disagreements about the meaning of privacy, present challenges to all countries including the United States who seek to improve privacy policy:

Barriers to Better Privacy Policies

  • Companies need to strike a balance between using our data for their benefit, but not to our detriment. However, what is considered to be the perfect balance? One consumer could find fault with the use of their data, while another consumer has no problem with it. It’s a tricky situation for the companies.
  • People have different opinions about surveillance strategies. Most are comfortable with the police taking pictures of alleged criminals with cameras, but dislike the idea of drones taking those same pictures. From a legal perspective they are similar but governments will need to find a way to strike a balance.

Smart Policy Solutions

  • In the wake of the Snowden disclosures, consumers have settled on a core set of expectations about privacy. The beliefs about privacy are in line with the concept of databuse. The FTC and other regulatory agencies should take actions in accordance with the approach to protecting privacy.
  • Large technology companies have recently started to encrypt data on devices and networks. All companies should follow their lead. This will allow consumers to feel at ease with surfing the web or using their phones.
  • Consumers understand that companies will trade user data but want firms to clearly describe who has access to their information. Consumers still want to have a say in how their data is being used and traded.

The rise of mass data collection by companies and governments has created a fog obscuring who can access our personal information. Luckily people are becoming more aware of how big companies are using their data. Smart policies that empower consumers can help to both protect privacy and ensure that all people can enjoy the benefits of technology.

Emily Feldmesser contributed to this post.