Data Retention and the Panopticon Society: The Social Benefits of Forgetfulness
Posted: 22 Nov 1998
Modern information systems not only capture a seemingly endless amount of transactional data, but also tend to retain it for indefinite periods of time. We argue that privacy regimes must address not only collection and access to transactional information, but also its timely disposal. One reason for this is that a unintended side-effect of data retention might be the dissapearance of social forgetfulness, that is, allowing individuals a second chance, the opportunity of a fresh start in life. We examine three arenas where society has explicitly recognized the importance of such a principle: bankruptcy, juvenile crime records, and credit reports. In each case, we frame the issue not solely in terms of individual privacy, but rather, in terms of the social benefits of forgetfulness. We underline features of transaction-generated information which seem to go against the principle of social forgetfulness, and examine how three privacy regime address the retention of such information. We conclude by arguing that we need to address data retention and disposal, not in piecemeal fashion, or as an afterthought, but as a fundamental characteristic of informational privacy.
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