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Colorado Needs Comprehensive Protection for Government Compelled Data

IB-2006-B  (February 2006)
Author: Mike Krause

PDF of full Issue Backgrounder
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One by-product of advancing technology is the unprecedented ability to collect, analyze, use and store information generated by the day-to-day lives of people. On one hand, this information gathering ability is highly beneficial, creating new efficiencies in, among other things, medicine, credit-granting, shipping and commerce, and even in government.

The information age also has a downside. Advancing technology often helps along identity theft and fraud, creates new ways to invade individual privacy, and new ways to abuse authority.

Most laws empowering citizens with regard to information collected about them concerns the private sector. For instance as of July 2006, thanks to legislation signed by Governor Bill Owens, Coloradoans will have the right to “freeze” their credit reports. This law still allows— with the individuals permission—credit reports to be used for credit-granting purposes, but empowers individuals to deny would be identity thieves the ability to open credit in their names.

But many Coloradoans inherently understand that they have less to fear from the private sector collecting data on them than from the government doing so.

Writer P.J. O’Rourke makes this point, “Wal-Mart, while it may sell guns, it doesn’t have guns.” In other words, the worst a corporation can do with your data is to try to sell you things. The state, on the other hand, has a legal monopoly on the use of force, and the government’s ability to track and monitor the lives of its citizenry might be used to criminalize, or otherwise marginalize, those who live their lives in a way unpopular with whoever happens to hold power.

In other words if information is power, then information gathered and used by government needs to be regulated.

The obvious answer is less government data collection, but unfortunately state compelled information gathering is only going to increase (more on this later).

The next best thing is comprehensive data privacy legislation that state government has to obey, and which empowers citizens.

There are numerous good reasons for such a law: ….