James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA

We are in the midst of an age where all of us are completely exposed and, in fact, are owned and sold by others, most of whom we will never know. Who is selling you today, in fact right now?

As usual, in America, business opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. The information industry has explosively exploited its un-tethered opportunities to explore, expose, interpret and market virtually every aspect of our lives.

Now, some individuals, including the founder of Reputation.com, are trying to make a market out of preserving our data, for a fee of course, and for the opportunity to have them manage our exposure. Their strategy being that so much data has now been released about all of us and continues to be released daily, that we are incapable of managing it ourselves and require their help.

The Sunday New York Times on December 9, 2012 carried an extraordinary article describing at least one concept of developing secure repositories for personal data, over which each of us might have some specific control. There are a number of companies moving into and talking seriously about the “vault” concept of personal data protection. Reputation.com seems to be getting most of the visibility.

This whole area is extremely complicated because we summarily grant an extraordinary number of people virtually unlimited access to our personal records, whether we realize it or not. Much of the time we do realize it.

One of the most blatant areas is the so-called HIPPA law designed to protect our personal health care privacy. However, if you read the privacy statements of any hospital, doctor’s office, clinic or medical practice, what you will see is a laundry list of circumstances under which they can share your information with just about anybody they determine is entitled to have it. Should you deny this permission, in almost any respect, your doctor will tell you that it could mean that treatment could be denied and you might be seriously injured as a result of your own decisions not to share data. Who is going to say no? You should really start thinking about it.

There is an extraordinary drive in America to digitize medical records. What this is turning out to be is the preservation of bad information originally provided by busy physicians and other medical personnel erroneously recorded in charts and other documents. No one is checking, because no one can know. In addition, it seems the sole purpose of digitalization is to expedite the further exploitation of health care data for purposes you did not authorize, or maybe you have, you just don’t realize it. A lot of data is collected simply to protect from liability those who provide services or products. But even then, these efforts are just another extraordinary data suck about each one of us.

It is often pointed out plainly that current generations of individuals voluntarily provide extraordinary amounts of data, just because they want the world to know about them, sometimes with devastating consequences. More and more employers and educational institutions who can reach young adults and others are reminding them that whatever they put up in a public place these days stays up forever, and that virtually every employment organization analyzing people’s resumes goes to the various media platforms and conducts sophisticated searches to determine the exposures, behaviors, decisions, and attitudes of those they are planning to interview. Unless we begin looking at these fundamental privacy concerns, we’ll have a generation or two of wounded individuals whose naïveté will make their life extremely complicated. One recent example was a young man who was about to be deployed. He posted a part of his orders on his Facebook page. He was removed from his unit as a security risk and, he indeed was.

It seems to me the answer to these extraordinary practices has to be far more powerful than public education and a few opt-in laws. There are powerful organizations and individuals developing extraordinary ways to extract, interpret and otherwise infer information from the data they are gathering on each of us at the speed of light.

When you are being told that information being collected about you will not be shared, this is fundamentally a lie. This information and data is simply too valuable to hide or hold back.

America needs to seriously consider a privacy amendment to its Constitution. We need to look at the fact that we now need more than life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We need a tool more powerful than all the lobbyists Washington can muster. We need to begin restoring privacy and privacy protection as quickly as we can. And there needs to be a Privacy Bill of Rights associated with such an amendment. For example:

1. The first Right is disclosure to the owner of all data being stored, retrieved, manipulated or interpreted and be required to obtain permission to retain and use such data.

2. The Right to correct or eliminate any information being collected, interpreted or otherwise utilized and commercialized.

3. When information is being sold, as brokers are now doing, the subject of that information is entitled to compensation equal to that obtained by those who may be lawfully marketing their information.

4. Data collected from any lawful source must be made perishable and deleteable within a reasonable length of time from its acquisition, probably twelve months.

5. Trafficking in data illegally or without the permission of the data owner, can be prosecuted as criminal offenses.

I can see a lot of you there scratching your heads and saying, “What is this guy proposing?” But it’s something we all need to think about because there are a huge number of businesses and organizations who are creating pictures of each of us that have no relation to reality, but can and will have increasing impact on our ability to buy things, own things, even to know things, that can help us have the life America promises. We simply have to think seriously about how the unfettered collection of data about each of us is destroying our opportunity for those most precious fruits of our freedoms: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness protected by a secure right to privacy. The question is, who already knows what’s in your wallet, and what are they doing there?