Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Here I Scoop the Whole Journalism Industry

I've always liked writing essays.   Op-Eds, blog posts, and speeches.   Back in the 90s, before I had a blog to preserve these essays I wrote many essays that I no longer have copies of.  One of them was about information in the 21st century.

My premise was this.  All through recorded history, objects and property have been the tokens of wealth.  Gold is the symbolic icon for all physical goods and money.   

In the 21st century, information is going to become king.  By 2100, I predict that 99% of the world's wealth will be in the form of Information, control of information flow, information processing, and information mining.   It has aleady begun big.  Think of the value of the Amazon.com company.  Think how little of that value is in the form of offices, warehouses and computer servers.  Ditto for Google and Facebook.  Their physical assets are almost nothing.

Modernization is good. But here's the problem.  Those laws are totally inadequate for something so valuable.  Only property law is rich enough and refined enough from centuries of experience to cover great wealth.   But property rights have never been applied to information other than patent, copyright, and trademarks.   

Medical records in your doctor's office are the doctor's property.  The information in those records has no legal status.  You have no rights.  If the doctor doesn't pay his rent, the landlord can seize the doctor's property including medical records.  Then the landlord is free do to anything he wants with them.  HIPPA and other laws don't touch the landlord because he is not a health care provider.

If I give you an apple, then I don't have the apple any more.  But if I share information with you, now we both have it.  Who owns it?  The law does not permit the concept of ownership of information.
 
When a Hollywood movie executive shares information about how he abuses women, all the world's journalists are free to make money publishing that information.  The executive retains no proprietary interest or property rights to that info.  Sadly, the same applies to audio recordings of what Amazon's Alexa might have recorded in the bedroom.   The homeowner has no ownership rights in that information.

Information is not like physical property so it would be very difficult to treat it as property under the law.  That difficult task is precisely what I belive every country must do.

So way back in the 90s, I predicted that in the 21st century, we would be  forced to redefine information as property that can be owned and sold and that has value. 

That brings us to today,  I just listened to the oral arguments in the US Supreme Court Case of Carpenter v. United States.   The issue was government access to our cell phone locatoin records without a warrant and without probable cause.  

Most of the arguments centered on the reasonable expectation of privacy, which is the traditional and only way it seems to protect privacy.   But then I heard the justices say something that made me jump out of my seat.  They said (my paraphrase) "Suppose it was not an issue of privacy.  Suppose we treated a customers cell phone history information as property that belongs to the customer, not to the phone company."   The lawyer for the government was stunned almost speechless.  He said, (my paraphrase) "But but but.  That would be revolutionary in law."

Aha! The moment I predicted has arrived during my lifetime.  Don't get me wrong, there are long hard battles to fight.  This is merely the opening shot in the war.


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