Property, Privacy, and Personal Data

74 Pages Posted: 17 May 2005

See all articles by Paul M. Schwartz

Paul M. Schwartz

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law


Modern computing technologies and the Internet have generated the capacity to gather, manipulate, and share massive quantities of data; this capacity, in turn, has spawned a booming trade in personal information. Even as it promises new avenues for the creation of wealth, this controversial new market also raises significant concerns for individual privacy-consumers and citizens are often unaware of, or unable to evaluate, the increasingly sophisticated methods devised to collect information about them. This Article develops a model of propertized personal information that responds to these serious concerns about privacy. It begins this task with a description and an analysis of several emerging technologies that illustrate both the promise and peril of the commodification of personal data. This Article also evaluates the arguments for and against a market in personal data, and concludes that while free alienability arguments are insufficient to justify unregulated trade in personal information, concerns about market failure and the public's interest in a protected privacy commons are equally insufficient to justify a ban on the trade. This Article develops the five critical elements of a model for propertized personal information that would help fashion a market that would respect individual privacy and help maintain a democratic order. These five elements are: limitations on an individual's right to alienate personal information; default rules that force disclosure of the terms of trade; a right of exit for participants in the market; the establishment of damages to deter market abuses; and institutions to police the personal information market and punish privacy violations. Finally, this Article returns to examples of technologies already employed in data trade and discusses how this proposed model would apply to them.

Suggested Citation

Schwartz, Paul M., Property, Privacy, and Personal Data. Available at SSRN:

Paul M. Schwartz (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

Boalt Hall #7200
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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