in Human rights / Surveillance state

Privacy: a personal view

It’s not important to most people that my paper 3 MRCPsych results came out on Monday last, alongside the snow. Unremarkably, the pass list was first published on the internet before individual letters were sent in the post; despite passing, my name wasn’t on that list. When I’ve explained to people that I opted for my results to remain private, most of them have wondered why.  It seems to me that as individuals we’re expecting to have less and less control over what information is available about us.

Technology has changed a lot even in my lifetime. I’m old enough to remember the days before the world wide web and mobile phones, although it’s becoming harder and harder to believe that that time ever existed. I can actually recall the first time I tried to access a website; it didn’t load properly and I thought it was rather dull (I’m not a visionary). You don’t need me to tell you the opportunities that the world wide web has brought. But we’re still weighing up one of the major disadvantages of the new information technologies: the increasing ability of government and private organisations to capture and share enormous amounts of data concerning private citizens or ‘us’.

Most of us don’t seem to care too much, but I object to these invasions of my privacy. I don’t see why anyone should know my exam results apart from me and those people I might wish to tell. Equally plans which will require me to possess an identity card, not just a piece of plastic but backed up by a personal information database, to enable me to walk the streets are sinister and odious. Furthermore, the UK population is watched by four million CCTV cameras and 7.9% of the population is on the national DNA database despite an EU ruling that holding the genetic data of those never having been charged with a crime was unlawful. There are also proposals for a ‘superdatabase’ of citizens’ emails and mobile phone calls.  Clause 152 of the current Coroners and Justice Bill will allow government departments very broad powers to share personal information.  The plans for NHS records could mean that your notes could be read by over one million people (see below)

Of course I can’t say that this datasharing is without benefits. We must all give up a reasonable amount of our privacy to enable to fight against crime and to allow us to move smoothly through the days in a complex society. What I say is that the balance is wrong and that our data is being collected to deal with vague and insubstantial threats and/or ruthlessly mined by poorly regulated commercial organisations whose intentions are unclear. Either way we are being carelessly treated and the UK is sleepwalking into a surveillance nightmare where privacy is seriously compromised.

There are signs of a return of sense.  Publishing last week the high profile authors of a report published by the House of Lords today agree that privacy is under treat. The committee chairman Lord Goddard said:

“The huge rise in surveillance and data collection by the state and other organisations risks undermining the long-standing traditions of privacy and individual freedom which are vital for democracy.

If the public are to trust that information about them is not being improperly used there should be much more openness about what data is collected, by whom and how it is used.”

Privacy is a precondition to a life of quality and also at the root of freedom. I think it’s important to fight back where one can. The Government has a plan to make all NHS patient records part of a nation wide ‘spine’, where potentially every NHS employee, of which there are over a million, could access your records. The Big Opt Out website tells you how to remove yourself.

At the end of this month The Convention on Modern Liberty is being held. No2id are an organisation campaigning against ID cards. Here they tell you why ID cards should concern everyone who lives in the UK.

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