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Sleepwalking Toward a Control Society? Ten Must-Know Trends



6. Database Citizenship - a new form of citizenship

Managing person related information has become a new hot currency and an asset in fighting for the governance of the next phase of the Internet. Google, Facebook, Amazon, eBay and Apple and personal data vendors such as ChoicePoint and Axciom, do massive business on personal data. Rights on the vast amounts of person related data are practically in the hands of data vendors and governments: they own this data, may make profit on it or provide personal data for a basis of decision making. They become kings of personal data economy - but also in the ubiquitous environment as regulators of users' access, communications and everyday activities. (Karhula 2012b)

Database Citizenship is a new form of citizenship, not recognized by the legislator. Information on citizens is stored in numerous databases and registers, which more and more cover also transactional data on users' activities. The extent of collected data partly relates to the person's own activity and role, technical environment and his /her activities on the net. However users' possibilities to regulate data collection are decreasing, since they are increasingly dependent on the networked services and data collection and monitoring practices in networked environment are largely hidden and intertwined to the regular use of the net.

Data Protection Ombudsman Reijo Aarnio prepared a report of all the personal registers and databases in Finland as early as 1988. According to the report, there were already about a million different registers or records (Salminen 2011). The survey lists all the government held public registers and databases like the Population Register, the Land Registry, the Building and Dwelling Register. Municipalities maintain a number of registers related, for example, to health care, education and housing. Registers by banks, credit card companies, payment defaults authorities, trading companies, telecommunication operators and Internet companies are also relevant from the standpoint of ordinary citizens.

Official databases and registers are at least controlled - and in many western countries protected by data protection legislation. In Finland, anyone can demand a registration book on himself/herself. According to law, every register must give a report of its privacy policy. The report should be available for everyone on whom information is collected. (The Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman)

Unfortunately these practices do not concern major global data vendors. Users typically don't have access on their databases, or have right to manage their data to check its' validity or track uses of their data. Users may not even have control over the data they produce themselves. It may be impossible for them to delete their data and future uses of their data may be uncontrollable. Their data may be merged, manipulated and interpreted outside of the original contexts for various possible purposes. Basically their rights on data may be given contractually to the service provider. Users' cannot really count on that their data becomes fairly used in a long run, since they don't have means and rights to track or check what kinds of data is stored of them and how it is used. (Karhula 2012b)

All government efforts may not be very transparent either. In USA, it was disclosed in 2006, that three major telecommunications providers, AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth, had cooperated with the NSA to provide the phone call records of "tens of millions of Americans"- a program which was described "the largest database ever assembled in the world." (Etzioni 2012)

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