I think that as we evolve into a more digital world, we really need to modify and enhance the various legal systems around the world to cope with the challenges of digital information. The world changes when vast troves of information can be gathered, indexed, easily maintained, queried, and copied without anyone being aware, or few people understanding how any particular data is used. Data fundamentally is different in the digital world precisely because the costs and barriers to its movement are so low.
I’ve been concerned with this for a few reasons. One is that I like my personal privacy and would like to ensure that data collected about me and my family is something I have some say in. Or at least some understanding. However as a data professional, I also have concerns about the responsibilities and potentials liabilities of managing data in the future. There’s also the not-so-little concern about employers pressuring employees to deal with data in a way that might conflict with their personal ethics, or even the local laws.
I’m glad someone at Microsoft is taking a stance, asking the US and EU to recognize the privacy of digital data as a right we have as individuals and corporations. The request asks that governments treat digital data like they treat analog data, serving subpoenas and warrants to the owners of the data, not the custodians. While this isn’t what always happens in the real world, we certainly should have more protections for digital data than we have now.
I’d like to see governments amend their laws to also exclude IT workers from liability in working with data that they are custodians of. We often don’t make the decisions about what data to gather or how it should be managed and moved. We just implement the decisions, often under coercion from our employers. Liability should rest with those employers, not those the employers have hired.
I don’t have hope that things will change anytime soon, but I hold out hope they will at some point.