The Independent View: The bigger picture on privacy

Amongst the frenzy of the phone hacking scandal Philip Virgo has recalled operation Motorman. This investigation by the Information Commissioner and follow-up report What Price Privacy Now studies and provides details of the illegal trade in personal private information. Rather than being limited to the phone hacking scandal, the report suggests this trade was widespread between newspapers, private investigators and corrupt officials.

This report was presented to the previous government that failed to act upon it and halt the illegal trade in personal information. It is with unfortunate irony that members of that previous government including Lord Prescott and Gordon Brown themselves became victims of these practices.

Amazingly the Information Commissioners Office stated that they knew 305 journalists who had used private investigators 3,757 times to obtain personal information illegally. Page 9 of the report has a table of all the papers found to be involved in the illegal data trade in personal information. The News of the World is only 5th on this list. The Daily Mail, Sunday People, Daily Mirror, and Mail on Sunday all ‘beat’ the News of the World in this shameful league table of illegal activity.

Once the furore has died down we need to have a serious think about what we can do to protect privacy. This shouldn’t be reactively driven by the media attention generated by phone hacking, or celebrity super injunctions. Privacy is something that everyone is entitled to, whether they are rich or poor, but as this report and phone hacking scandal demonstrate privacy is under threat.

NO2ID has always tried to focus on the bigger picture. We found ID cards problematic not as unique phenomena but because they formed part of a wider trend we coined the database state. David Leigh & Nick Davies remind us that illegal data checks on Gordon Brown were being carried out by a corrupt policeman who was accessing data on the police national computer (PNC) and selling it onto the press via private investigators. I hate to say ‘we told you so’ but we have been warning that such problems will get worse as a result of the database state’s growth.

As the database state collects more and more personal information and shares it with increasing numbers of people it’s not surprising that it some of it finds its way into the papers. Sadly corrupt officials selling on personal data is something that can be found whenever a large number of officials have access to a database system containing valuable personal information. When you live in a society that engages in mass retention of communications data, the electronic sharing of our medical records and the tracking of our car journeys, it’s no wonder the culture of privacy abuse has spread from the state to the press.

NO2ID is continuing its campaign to protect personal privacy & freedom. We believe everyone’s privacy should be protected in law, and that we should all be entitled to compensation from anyone who misuses our personal information in an unauthorised way. In addition to halting the database state our new petition calls on the government to provide the legal powers for individuals to protect their own privacy. This empowerment of the individual will help hold the power of institutions in check. A new right to compensation would not leave us reliant on the protection of watchdogs, politicians or the police. All of which let down the victims of phone hacking when they failed to halt the illegal trade in personal data.

James Baker is the campaigns manager for NO2ID.

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This entry was posted in The Independent View.
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