By Heather Clancy
October 9, 2015

It’s been quite the week for data privacy, one that started with the landmark European legal decision to ditch the trans-Atlantic data-sharing pact and ended with the enactment of a tough new law in California.

The latter regulation, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, actually favors both consumers and businesses. The law makes it impossible for law enforcement officials to get at emails, texts, or documents stored in the cloud without a search warrant. It also requires a warrant for the practice of tracking someone by using the location data on their smartphone or mobile device.

“For what logical reason should a handwritten letter stored in a desk drawer enjoy more protection from warrantless government surveillance than an email sent to a colleague or a text message to a loved one?” noted one of the bill’s authors, state senator Mark Leno, earlier this year.

Both developments this week stem in part from paranoia over the government’s unauthorized surveillance of digital communications. Credit Edward Snowden for that. There’s also an underlying concern, especially among European privacy advocates, that U.S. tech companies still don’t take privacy rights seriously enough. You can thank a 28-year-old law student for making this an issue. Yes, everyone has privacy policies but most are confusing agreements steeped with legalese. Trust comes through transparency not obfuscation.

“Data protection is a right to determine how—rather than whether—one participates in sharing information,” notes Oxford Internet Institute professor Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, in a comprehensive New York Times article this morning about the Safe Harbor ruling.

I’ll leave you with an interesting prediction issued this week by tech market research firm Gartner: by 2018, more than half of business ethics violations will be related to the way companies use their data for business analytics. Considering that data scientist is one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States, it isn’t just Apple or Facebook or Google that should be worrying about the implications.

 

 

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