Lanier’s answer to the NSA’s PRISM privacy problem

You know, maybe I was too hard on Lanier‘s idea that people should get paid for the use of their personal data.  Sure, it seems far-fetched right now, but it would pose an interesting solution to this NSA PRISM privacy scandal.  At one point in ‘Who Owns the Future” Lanier suggests that citizens could set a price on their data.  So whoever wanted a copy of it, would need to actually pay the citizen who created that data directly.  Lanier even considers the consequences of criminals trying to game the system:

A criminal who sets a high price on his data to avoid being tracked while committing a crime will find himself owing that amount if law enforcement has to get a warrant to track him in order to gain a conviction. On the other hand, if law enforcement doesn’t get a conviction, the price of the data will be taken out of a department’s budget. This balance of power can be tweaked to find a reasonable sweet spot generally balancing police effectiveness and civil liberties protection. Maybe the police would only owe up to a fixed limit, unlike civilian actors. However, a reasonable, intermediate solution to the quandary of access to digital information would come about without requiring constant reinterpretation.

Lanier, Jaron (2013-05-07). Who Owns the Future? (p. 304). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

He’s really proposing a market based solution here, which should theoretically appeal to libertarians and other capitalists.  Of course my main gripe is that it’s hard to build a market from scratch.  Also, the NSA aren’t really law enforcement people.  It actually seems less incendiary for the FBI to be snooping on us since they theoretically are steeped in due process and rule of law.  The NSA are more like military guys.  They don’t need no stinkin’ badges.  Though I guess the recent spying is actually A-OK from a legal point of view due to the Patriot Act.  Good luck getting that monstrosity declared unconstitutional with the current Supreme Court lineup.

But suppose that anyone who wanted access to your data actually played by Lanier’s rules and paid you some amount for it.  This would be a pretty decent solution.  The NSA would need to wedge another line item onto their top-secret budget, and in theory, this would force them to be somewhat more discriminating about who they wanted to snoop on.  Also, we would all get a nano payment and some notification that we were being watched and by whom.  This is a far better scenario than the current one and it does have the virtues of being market based and scalable.  Such a good idea, but really, really hard to see how it gets instantiated.  Think on this you smart people who care about privacy!

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