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We are all being followed. As one academic notes, “there is little question that the major data brokers know more about each of us than, say, for example, the National Security Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration, or any other government institution.” One data broker, for example, holds over 5,000 pieces of information on over 500 million consumers. At the same time, the internet of things has grown by orders of magnitude, creating yet another stream of unregulated data. Granular and seemingly mundane, the data exhaust harvested by the internet of things is perhaps innocuous in isolation. Combined with 5,000 other data points, however, the information generates a strikingly specific composite of an individual’s life.

The data broker industry is largely unregulated, allowing sale of sensitive and granular personal information without accountability. Many commenters have offered solutions. From government officials, to free-market proponents, to academics, the proposals characterize privacy harms as individual harms. This Article, by contrast, identifies universal exposure as a societal risk, not unlike widespread environmental risks. Viewed in this way, ubiquitous privacy exposure merits societal protection. The Article articulates what societal protection entails, including creation of government agency infrastructure as well as congressional guidance for agency regulation based on risk of harm. The Article calls for proactive societal protection in light of the pervasive exposure to privacy harms in the age of information.

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Oct 31 2019