Privacy Limits

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Privacy is about limiting the distribution of information on an individual. This is typically a person, but could also be an organisation. Responsible individuals control the distribution of their information, otherwise there are systems which must act on their behalf. These systems are organisations which include the individual, so the organisation takes the responsibility.

All information, both data and meta data, is considered to have an owner that is responsible for it. Where there are multiple owners these form a logical organisation, which must have agreements about joint responsibility for the information that they collaborated to be responsible for. As organisations change over time there must be agreements about how this affects their responsibility for information.

An individual is defined by 'continuity of identity'. This implies consistent and predictable behaviour, and often has legal implications. Individuals have beginning and ends, and may vary in the responsibilities they can manage during their existence.

As a basic principle, access to information is not withdrawn, for a number of reasons. These include the issue that once information is distributed it is not possible to un-distribute it. And, once information has been distributed it becomes part of the personal experiences of other individuals, so attempts to remove it makes other information which depends on it inconsistent. This is sometimes referred to as 'non-repudiation'; there are parallels with the rules of accountancy where no entry once made can be deleted.

Initially Immature Individuals

Children are the most obvious example of these, in that there is hope that they will mature into individually responsible individuals. Children must not be given more responsibilities than they can manage, and they are part of a logical organisation with those who act on their behalf. Once they become mature enough they can take-over any further responsibility for their information.

The logical organisation does not cease to exist when they take-over responsibilities. Though the previous child will no longer be using its services for further information, it must continue to exist to allow access to existing information.

Always Immature Individuals

Humans with a problem that means they were never, and are not likely to ever become, capable of taking responsibilities would be most obvious example. Animals might also be considered. These individuals are part of a logical organisation that handles responsibilities on their behalf. If they ever changed then they could be treated as 'Initially Immature Individuals'.

Previously Mature Individuals

This would include any that have been responsible for long enough in their existence as individuals. The insane, the otherwise incapable, and the dead would be examples of these; what happens when individuals are asleep or unconscious, or who change, for example by permanently loosing memories, so they are arguably no longer the same individual needs to be carefully considered. These will be part of a logical organisation that handles responsibilities on their behalf.

If they regain responsibility then this follows the same logic as 'Initially Immature Individuals', except that, unlike these, they had a previous period of responsibility. If they change so that they are no longer the same individual, but are capable of taking responsibilities, this individual will become a member of the logical organisation which includes their previous self. This 'new' individual will have access to existing information as permitted by that previous self, but can take personal responsibility for any new personal information.


There are limits on the privacy of individuals which are based on how much responsibility they can take for their information. Where individuals cannot take responsibility they will be a member of an organisation that takes that responsibility on their behalf. As individuals change over time they can take new responsibilities or become part of an organisation that handles responsibilities that they'd previous managed themselves.

(c) ROMsys Ltd, June 2013, permission given to use for non-profit making purposes

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