Privacy is in the eye of the beholder. From time to time something happens that gives spectacular confirmation of that simple statement. Consider what happened in Italy just few hours ago.
“L’agenzia delle entrate”, the Italian tax agency, published on their website the all tax declarations filed in Italy in 2006 (story in English here). It is my understanding that this is perfectly common practice in various countries, like some Scandinavian nations, but in Italy that gesture simply had no precedents. The same data has always been available in paper format in local offices, which of course made impractical (borderline impossible) consulting it, while on the web it perfectly accessible. Surprise surprise, the site crashed for all the accesses and in few hours the “garante della privacy” (an institutional figure who safeguards the right to privacy in Italy) who formally requested the data to be taken down. Too late, of course: they promptly ended up in the P2P circuits, where they’ll probably circulate (no pun intended) for the next decennia. Interestingly enough, the law in some sense backs both the decisions of agenzia delle entrate and il garante. One should “assicurare la fruibilità dell’informazione in modalità digitale utilizzando con le modalità più appropriate le tecnologie dell’informazione e della comunicazione”, or “ensure the access to the information in digital format, taking advantage in the most suitable ways information & communication technologies”; that would seem to back the decision of putting the data online. OTOH “most suitable ways” is sort of ambiguous: the law establishes that the maximum timeframe in which such information should be available is a year, and even if you take down the data within that term there’s no guarantee that it won’t be replicated in search engine caches, P2P networks and so on.
Of course the media jumped immediately on the story, comparing the declarations of actresses and public figures (including the superblogger Beppe Grillo, who is Genovese like me :)) and in general everything and the opposite of everything happened. Politicians who claims they don’t understand what the problem is, others who suggest that the taxpayers should be entitled a refund for the offense suffered, and so on. If you can read Italian, I suggest going through the comments on this article on il Corriere: again, the variety of opinions it presents is noteworthy.
I have 2 takes on this:
- It is very difficult to adapt a law system to the situations that are possible in our modern world
- Privacy is in the eye of the beholder. Everybody draws the line in a different place, deciding what is private and what it isn’t; and I won’t even mention the usual comment “the facebook generation have a different concept of privacy”, because here it would be overkill. I think that the law of user control and consent is always a great CRC check; I suggest that we should all work for making its application super easy from the technical standpoint, so that it can be applied consistently whenever necessary
What can I say. E’ proprio vero che a questo mondo non si finisce mai di imparare 😀 e non commento oltre senno’ rivelo troppo 😉