18 Jul 2009

Is "Identity Theft" Really Theft?

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I am 95% persuaded by Stephan Kinsella’s classic article “Against Intellectual Property” [.pdf]. However, I think if we take Kinsella’s views seriously, it means that “identity theft” isn’t really theft. Let’s say someone fills out a credit card application claiming to be Robert Murphy, and has my date of birth, my address, my (anti)Social (in)Security number, etc. He runs up a huge tab, which ruins my credit score and prevents me from being able to charge anything again.

So long as I’m not forced to actually pay the bill for his charges, but merely have my credit score ruined, I don’t think this counts as a violation of my property rights. After all, I don’t have a right to borrow money from people; they are always free to refrain from lending to me. And it is standard in Rothbardian libertarian theory that blackmail defamation isn’t a crime, because you don’t have a right to your reputation. (How can you have a property right in what other people think of you?)

At best, I think you could only claim that the “identity thief” violated the property rights of the creditor, by extracting a loan from him/her under fraudulent pretenses. But the “thief” didn’t steal anything from you.

Is that right? If so, does it pose a problem for Kinsella’s approach to IP?

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