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Our Most Private Information for Sale in Chile: Eroding Trust, Rule of Law

By: Malgorzata Lange - @MalgoLange - May 19, 2014, 12:33 pm

EspañolRecently, a friend who has survived breast cancer told me that, given her medical history, no bank will give her a mortgage. To my confusion, she explained that the banking system knows the details of her private life and considers her a high risk customer: if the cancer were to return, she would be unable to repay the loan.

This is the current state of affairs with respect to financial institutions and the medical history of their clients. A diagnosis of hypertension may affect terms, including the ability to access certain financial products. The practice is completely illegal, yet it has been installed in various forms prevails as a frequent and unpunished policy.

This is the macabre reality in which many of us — potentially all of us — live every day. Our personal data, including the most sensitive and intimate, has been trafficked, marketed, sold, and shared without our explicit consent, and holds a dark and malevolent power over our lives.

Today we live at the height of the information society: our history, stored in electronic and virtual databases, is distributed among a host of public-service providers, financial institutions, health-care facilities, pension funds, insurance companies, department stores, pharmacies, and many others.

This data has become highly valuable in the perverse market where information, even the most sensitive, flows uncontrollably and without sanction.

So-called “personality rights” consist of a wide range of freedoms and attributes, but the core lies in the principle of a right to privacy. The right to identity, property, honor, and physical and intellectual integrity constitute rights that are absolute, extrapatrimonial (non-economic), and non-transferable under the rules of economic exchange, where privacy is considered sacred and inviolable.

In Chile, law 19,628 of 1999, addresses Protection of Personal Data and defines sensitive data as: “Personal data which refer to physical or moral characteristics of people, events, or circumstances of their private or intimate life, such as personal habits, racial origin, political opinions, ideologies, religious beliefs, physical or mental health, or sexuality.”

The processes and events of our lives are part of our privacy which no one should impose upon. In accordance with the observations of John Stuart Mill, when it comes to one’s self, body, and mind, the individual is sovereign.

However, this same law in Chile, in addition to not complying with international standards, contains many imperfections, omissions, and inaccuracies that leave room for abuse by those who have access to our personal data and have the formal, legal, and moral obligation to protect and manage the data with discretion.

The executive branch has not given any signal that it values the urgency of ensuring greater protection for privacy, and a greater respect for autonomy, freedom, and personal dignity. There is currently no institutional body exclusively dedicated to ensuring the proper and respectful use of personal information. The trafficking of personal data is also rarely punished, effectively giving license to a practice that, from all points of view, should be condemned.

This situation threatens individual liberty and harms the most basic foundations of a free society, granting certain institutional actors in the economy, politics, and society unlawful, arbitrary, and immoral power over individuals. It is a form of violence on personal autonomy that is practiced daily — a coercive action against the freedom to make decisions and individual sovereignty.

The attack on our privacy and personality rights also has harmful social effects. Combined with other social factors, such as inequality, it has the potential to permanently damage trust between individual actors.

Trust is one of the measures with which we can assess the state and projected development, and Chile has one of the highest levels of interpersonal distrust (87 percent) among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Translated by Guillermo Jimenez.

Malgorzata Lange Malgorzata Lange

Malgorzata Lange is a native of Poland who lives in Santiago de Chile. She holds degrees in political science and international Relations, and is a PhD candidate at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. She is also a radio panelist on international politics issues. Follow @MalgoLange.