Privacy Matters; Globalization Opens Many Eyes

Article excerpt


Even if you've never physically set foot outside the United States, your personal information has traveled the globe. Credit card transactions, calls to customer service centers, credit checks and the transcription of medical records are frequently out-sourced to far-flung locations. Personal information knows no national boundary and is no longer attached to any single physical location. Your personal information is now a global business.

Why should the average citizen care? There are at least a few reasons. What are the rules in other countries on how personal information is used, shared and protected? Is it shared with other commercial or government entities such as the police or the intelligence communities?

There is also the fallibility factor: Humans and machines are not perfect. In the last several years there has been a steady stream of headlines reporting lost or stolen personal information on millions of Americans that was maintained by companies such as ChoicePoint and Bank of America as well as U.S. government agencies.

So how can individuals expect their governments to protect their personal information in a globalized world, where personal information has become a major form of currency for both private industry and government? This is the starting point of Colin J. Bennett and Charles D. Raab's book, "The Governance of Privacy."

Mr. Bennett, a professor at the University of Victoria in Canada, and Mr. Raab, a professor at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, are both highly regarded authorities in the specialized world of international privacy. The authors' extensive knowledge is evident throughout the book, which offers a useful and wide range of legal, policy and scholarly references.

"The Governance of Privacy" is a well-organized and comprehensive three-part look at the world of global privacy. The first section defines the goals of privacy protection, the second examines the global frameworks that exist to protect it and the third analyzes the effectiveness of those instruments.

Section one broadly identifies the goals of privacy as equity, reduction of risk and trust. Equity may be the most abstract and elusive of the three.

Section two is particularly important because it provides an extensive and complex inventory and analysis of existing global privacy instruments. Privacy laws based on traditional notions of sovereignty and jurisdiction have become obsolete because of the global acceleration of complex technology. …