deCODE: Genomics, anonymity, and informatic control
Slammon, Robert M.
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In 1998, an American biotech firm, Decode Genetics, attempted to secure an exclusive license from the Icelandic government to create and commercially exploit a comprehensive database containing the health records, genealogical data, and genotype of each and every citizen of the Republic. The present study takes the questions of privacy raised in this case as a starting point to examine what have become standard tenets of information privacy. These include, first and foremost, anonymization, the practice of rendering data non-identifiable. Anonymization has become in the information age the principal mechanism for safeguarding privacy. But, as I attempt to show, it serves less as a break on than as an accelerator of the disclosure and circulation of personal information. Anonymity, I contend, correlates with the movement of personal information and might be said to be a property of this very movement. I also make the case that anonymity corresponds to a form of control that I call "informatic control," which operates immanently, establishing a direct relation between a machine and a subject by relating the movements of one with the movements of the other. I present "tracking" as its exemplary form.