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Privacy is a Pandora's Box

In response to the Perspectives column written by Declan McCullagh, "Navigating the law of unintended consequences":

As someone who has been active in politics his whole life, in the back rooms, writing legislation, and running for office (close, but not quite!), I was interested in your thoughts. Overall, I tend to agree that a bad law is usually worse than no law.

The problem is that "bad law"--the creation of laws over the past century that allow privacy to be eroded for commercial purposes without the consent of the affected party--is already the norm. By treating personally identifiable information as a commodity, our society has unwittingly decided to stop thinking about privacy as a right.

This is one of many inherent contradictions between what our values may be, and what our laws, commercial activities and even our personal behaviors express. This has only been aggravated by government's complicity--through the sale of access to information in many cases, and the failure to restrict use of government-generated unique identifiers such as the social security number.

Privacy is a Pandora's Box: Once you give it up, it is virtually impossible to regain. The lid on the box has been open for many years, and we should not be surprised that we now have these problems taking flight in ever-growing numbers.

We cannot reestablish a completely private society--nor should we. But we must take action, through legislation, to make certain that companies realize that personal information is not theirs to "own." They are merely its custodians, and they have both legal and ethical obligations to its true owners.

Tony Higgins
Minneapolis