If you’re wealthy, you have options. You can put your money in a Swiss bank, for example, and your privacy and service levels increase significantly. Switzerland has set a level of regulations around financial transactions which protect the wealthy consumer from prying foreign governments, among other interested parties.
Those of you who’ve read this site for a while know I tend to go off from time to time on the issues implied by the Database of Intentions, and the clickstreams which comprise it. One of the trickiest issues if that of privacy and security: in my “Ephemeral to Eternal” riff I get into the implications of living online, and wonder when our culture will finally grapple with the implications of same.
In short, there’s an awful lot of data about each of us available to third parties, and we have precious little knowledge of it, much less control, editing privileges, ownership, or permissions control. Want some proof points? Look to the DOJ’s massive fishing expedition earlier this year, or AOL’s huge data breach. Tip of the iceberg….
It strikes me that as our society wakes up to the potential abuses of this data, and our lack of any control over it, there will be an opportunity for the free market to respond. Root.net is one such response, but it does not solve the core issue of governance and jurisdiction – as long as the data is housed on US soil and with US corporations (or on your own computer), it will still be subject to US law, including PATRIOT and its kin. (Have you heard about the loss of habeas corpus, for example? Did you know that anyone can be classified as an “enemy combatant” by the President, and therefore lose habeas? Scary, indeed).
Anyway, one idea that’s been bumping around my head a long time, and which I hope you all can help me think through, is the concept of what I’ll call the “Data Switzerland.” The concept is simple: why can’t companies that hold massive amounts of our personally identifying information – companies like Yahoo, AOL, Google, Verizon, etc – simply warehouse that information in a country that has consumer-friendly data privacy laws? Why can’t my search history, my particular entries in the database of intentions, my clickstreams, be housed in this Data Switzerland, if I so chose?
After all, Google and Microsoft both have selectively decided to house some of its data outside of China for quite similar reasons. Why not give those of us who fear abuse by third parties in the US the same option? Is it because such a move would anger US government too much? Might it even be illegal for some reason?
Those of you who are lawyers and policy experts, please chime in on this idea. It’s certainly not new, and perhaps it’s been considered and discarded for any number of reasons. But I, for one, would be happy to pay to have this peace of mind. As an inveterate Internet user, I’m data wealthy. I’d like to have options.
Update: Readers have pointed me to HavenCo, and this article in Wired (and of course, to Cryptonomicon). Good stuff, but my goal would be for major companies that own our data, like Google, to in fact act like HavenCo.
As for the issues of geographical disbursement and latency, I am sure they could be dealt with by storing copies of our datatrails in RAM, no?