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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Race and Privacy in Europe
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An interesting essay on the downstream effects of keeping government from collecting data about race, ethnicity, or religion in France from the National Journal.

The European vision of privacy has always puzzled me. On the one hand, given the power of their welfare state, it makes sense to take some prophylactic measures to prevent a second holocaust. But why grant the powers to begin with, if one believes the risk of their abuse is so high that the government cannot be trusted with information to administer them?

Furthermore the powers granted (such as the restriction of the work week to 36 hours) require the presence of so many human enforcers and inspectors in the field, that it is likely that a good bit of information is being gathered informally--where there are no checks on it. And finally a powerful and malevolent state would not find the data protection rules much of an obstacle to oppression. The data protection rules largely exempt data collected for tax and criminal purposes--a huge loophole. Furthermore they must also exempt data collected by private organizations such as synagogues and trade unions--which of course must keep lists of their members and benefactors, otherwise they would cease to exist. In a crisis, this information could simply be seized. The upshot of the data protection is that the government knows exactly where to look for the information it needs.

On the other hand, the collection of data here in the States seems to invite well-meaning attempts at social engineering, which most often fail. But at least we can know that they have failed, and in what respect. A cheering prospect indeed.

posted by Solveig Singleton @ 11:56 AM | Privacy

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