Knowledge is power. In our digital society, whoever has access to your personal information has power over you. They can influence you to do things you might not have done without that subtle push (like voting for someone), or they can coerce you into doing things that you would definitely not have done otherwise (like handing out large amounts of money).

After thinking about these ideas for months, I wanted to get my power back! I wanted to exercise what I thought was my right to control my personal information. But I quickly learned that, as long as I live in Maine, this will only be possible if Maine’s legislation changes. As things stand, I do not currently have the right to my own information.

Philosopher Carissa Veliz has captured these ideas with the slogan “Privacy is power.” Big data companies have tons of my personal information (like my age, gender, geolocation and how fast I drive), and until recently, they could do with it whatever they liked – including selling it cheaply to data brokers, who can then sell one’s information to anyone!

But things have been changing since both the General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act were enacted. These two laws, the former in the European Union and the latter in California, have set the ground for companies to return power over their personal information to consumers who live in those places.

There is a way to regain privacy that is, at least on the surface, not too difficult: You just have to email companies and ask them to erase your personal information. So, in my quest to recover my privacy, I needed to figure out which companies had some of my data.

There are a couple of services that can help you discover your data footprint. With the help of one, called Mine, I discovered that more than 200 companies hold my personal information. So, to start, I emailed 62 companies, 40 of which said they would honor my request and delete my personal information.


But 22 companies responded differently. Some of them sent me automatic error messages, and some refused to erase my personal information until I proved that I was a current resident of California or the European Union – I am neither – either by sending them a copy of my current driver’s license or passport.

Let me make this clear: Some companies would not honor my request to delete my personal information unless I give them even more sensitive information!

The truth is that unless you are a resident of a couple of specific places besides California or the European Union, you do not have rights over your personal information. I don’t know about you, but this sounds completely counterintuitive. It’s my information – I should have a say on whether it’s for sale and for what purposes.

I am not saying that companies should not have access to one’s personal information under any circumstances. For instance, they need to know who you are and where you live to be able to send you a package! However, companies collect a lot more information about you than is required to provide you with their services. Even if they were only getting the minimum data from you – which they are not – they should not hold on to that information for longer than is necessary.

Unfortunately for Mainers, and for those in most states, their state’s laws do not guarantee that they can get back the power over their data. Maine legislators have made attempts to protect Mainers’ most sensitive personal information (biometric identifiers) in the past. Unfortunately, thus far, their attempts have been unsuccessful.

Let’s renew these efforts. Without federal regulation, Mainers need their state legislators to give support to strong privacy bills that will guarantee that their personal information is protected by the law.

Maine legislators, please, give us our power back.

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