Privacy Pragmatism

Focus on Data Use, Not Data Collection

Rafe Swan / Corbis

Ever since the Internet became a mass social phenomenon in the 1990s, people have worried about its effects on their privacy. From time to time, a major scandal has erupted, focusing attention on those anxieties; last year’s revelations concerning the U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance of electronic communications are only the most recent example. In most cases, the subsequent debate has been about who should be able to collect and store personal data and how they should be able to go about it. When people hear or read about the issue, they tend to worry about who has access to information about their health, their finances, their relationships, and their political activities.

But those fears and the public conversations that articulate them have not kept up with the technological reality. Today, the widespread and perpetual collection and storage of personal data have become practically inevitable. Every day,

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