Publicity a personal choice

DAVID CANTON - For the London Free Press - June 18, 2005 Read this on Canoe

The availability of our private information on the Internet has increased the debate over the right to publicity. Search engines providing personal information have caused people to become worried, and somewhat paranoid, about disclosing personal information.

Privacy principles say that if someone discloses personal information, the receiver of that information should keep that information private.

On the other side of the debate is the argument that there should be no obligation on receivers of personal information to keep that information private. Instead, we should simply punish those who misuse the information.

The argument is that we should not have the right to control the use of our personal information once it's been disclosed. The receiver of personal information should have the right to further publicize it.

The basis of this argument is that we disclose personal information about ourselves every day, in countless ways -- through credit cards, debit cards, application forms, public records and so on.

Fraudsters who misuse information should certainly be punished --- but to suggest there should be no duty of care on organizations that have your personal information is not very comforting.

Some who argue there should be no obligation to keep information private mention the right to publicity. In other words, they say some people desire publicity, which is inconsistent with the right to privacy.

The right to publicity (if indeed there is such a legal right) is not inconsistent with the right to privacy.

The right of privacy is not an absolute requirement to keep information private. The core concept of privacy is that it is the individual's choice to decide whether to disclose certain personal information. If one wants to allow others to make use of certain personal details for various things, or indeed to broadcast their personal details to the world, that is their choice.

The key here is that it is the individual's choice -- not someone else's.

That choice is often made when disclosing information. Privacy laws generally say if you give personal information to someone, they can't use it for reasons other than the intended purpose without your permission.

Although the right to publicity has not become a legal concept, its recognition can be found as the counterpart to the right to privacy in many Canadian statutes. Various public- and private-sector privacy acts protect personal information collected used or disclosed by governments or private organizations.

Such legislation recognizes one's right to keep personal information private and to control the use of that personal information once disclosed.

These laws allow us to feel more comfortable when giving our personal information by regulating its use -- assuming, of course, that the holders of the information don't abuse or lose it.

The bottom line is that each of us should be in control of our own information. We have the right to choose to keep our information private -- and the right to publicize whatever information we choose.

The choice is yours -- so make it wisely