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Digital Privacy News

Harvard’s Elizabeth Renieris: Privacy Is an Inalienable Right

By Jeff Benson

Last of two parts. (First part here.)

Worldwide, individuals remain at the whim of unfair data practices, says Elizabeth Renieris, a data protection lawyer and fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.

She now discusses how to rebalance the scales toward individuals.

Many technologists talk about data ownership as enabling digital privacy. Yet, you’ve written that they’re at odds. Why?

The way I think about privacy and data protection, though there is a difference, is through the lens of fundamental rights that are inalienable, which means they’re non-transferrable. So, you can never waive those rights.

The problem with most data-ownership models, and monetization in particular, is that the type of ownership that allows you to monetize something is typically a property-style framework. So, something akin to personal (or movable) property, or sometimes intellectual property.

Those things are monetizable because they’re transferrable, because they allow you to dispose of and do things with that data as property that you could not necessarily do under other legal frameworks.

So, there’s a direct tension between the inalienability and non-transferability of human rights and the alienability and transferability of property.