Under existing law, ownership of data – the right to access, use, or sell data – is tied to the ownership of the computer used to access, create, or manipulate data. If you access your email at work – even if you are using a personal email account online – your employer has the right to read it. That is, your employer has the right to read your love letters and personal correspondence. If your data is stored even temporarily on someone else’s machine – whether at work, at school, or at a friend’s house – they have a right to read your data; and legal rights to the data may be a subject of some debate. Ownership of data is, as a general rule, linked with the computer used to access or manipulate the data.

The cell-phone model, in contrast, may be used to ensure legal control over personal data. Provided that you own your cell-phone and pay for your service, and that your data and applications are stored on your PC, there is no question about the ownership of your data. Your cell-phone, your data.

Yet, what about data that is stored online? For example, if you still have your old college email account? Interestingly enough, a school may retain the right to read your email. If your data is stored off on the internet somewhere – in the cloud – service providers may be able to access your data, depending on the terms of your contract. In these cases, your privacy is defined by contract, not by Federal Law.

Even if your privacy is “protected” under the terms of your service contract, it may be somewhat of a mood point. Companies are accountable for your privacy in theory, but not in deed. Companies are only truly accountable for their bottom line.

Companies track our behavior. And we are under nearly constant surveillance from service providers, software vendors, marketers, government agencies, and white collar criminals. Foolishly enough, we allow others to track our online browsing behaviors, use unencrypted email and install all kinds of garbage on our machines. In many ways this is analogous to letting people look in your window, yelling in to a crowded room, and putting absolute trust in a stranger. It is difficult to prevent other people from looking at your data if you do not have it in your possession, if it transmitted openly, or if other people may use various forms of legal and illegal spyware to observe it.

The cell-phone model, in contract, gives each of us greater control over our data, and does not require a third party to protect our basic rights. If the cell-phone is an extension of our eyes and our ears, our hands and feet, and of our nervous system and our brain; if it is an extension of us; then we are not merely talking about issues of privacy and control of data, we are talking about our basic rights as a human being – the inviolability of the human body, freedom of choice and action, and freedom from harm or interference. In this way, not only does the cell-phone model help ensure control of our data, it helps guarantee our very personhood.

In conclusion, the cell-phone model helps resolve a number of legal questions over privacy and ownership of data; and ensures physical and legal control over our data. In addition, it minimizes security risks, and enhances performance, reducing data errors and delay.

msc 10/08