Back from holiday to find an authoritative Report into “Protecting Information Privacy” just published by the Human Rights and Equality Commission on my desk. It concludes with a stark warning: “The right to privacy is at risk of being eroded by the growing demand for information by government and the private sector. Unless we start to reform the law and build a regulatory system capable of protecting information privacy, we may soon find that it is a thing of the past”. (Links and references at end)
This Report is timely, especially in the context of the riots, which I think will ultimately enhance the pressure for more surveillance. I think that BigBrotherWatch’s arguments that the riots have shown the failure in the surveillance state will not be heeded. Every looter identified and prosecuted from CCTV footage or from the use of communications data will be seen as a “success story” and will ultimately increase the pressure for more surveillance not less.
You have to realise, politicians are on a “hook” and are looking for a silver bullet that looks “tough on riots” rather than the “causes of riots”. That is why we have had all these comments about water cannon, plastic bullets, removing benefits, denying housing to looters etc etc. The riots were on the Coalition Government watch and Government needs to be seen to do something firm and decisive – and nothing is arguably more “firm and decisive” then enhancing the powers of the surveillance state.
In other words, if the authorities want arguments to support more CCTV or wider police powers or whatever, the convictions following the riots will be used as evidence to show the need or value of increased surveillance.
That is why Reports like this are important. It cools the temperature and provides a basis for analysing any surveillance proposal. It makes four main recommendations:
(1) A clear set of ‘privacy principles’ should be developed and used as the basis for future legislation, and to guide the decisions of regulators and government agencies concerned with information privacy and data collection in different contexts.
(2) Existing legislation that touches on privacy should be reformed to ensure that it is consistent with the privacy principles recommended earlier, and that it enhances – rather than undermines – the existing provisions of the HRA. At minimum, such reform should consolidate and improve the existing RIPA and data protection regimes in relation to information privacy and surveillance.
(3) Greater regulatory coherence should be promoted. There should be an effort to rationalise and consolidate the current approach to the regulation of surveillance and data collection in the UK, with particular attention paid to the relationship between the various statutory Commissioners responsible for protecting information privacy.
(4) Improved technological, organisational, and other means of protection should play an integral part in information privacy protection. The development and use of technological and non-legal solutions to the problem of information privacy protection should be encouraged by government, and more resources devoted to public education and awareness around privacy.
Well worth a read.
The Human Rights Report Protecting Information Privacy can be downloaded here: Download Human Rights Privacy Report 2011
Big Brother Watch's argument re the failure of the surveillance state is on: http://www.mmtrack134.co.uk/15/display.php?M=57164&C=a7f43a3a07bab438f41287792b21907b&S=1659&L=5&N=721
Courses and Update
We have timetabled our Audit, Privacy Impact Assessment, and RIPA courses for September 12th, 13th and 14th in London. From September we have DP/FOI courses in London, Edinburgh (DP only), Manchester and Leeds. Next Update is October 17th 2011 in London.. . Rosemary Jay will be analysing the data protection fallout of the hacking affair at the Update session; I will mention the above report. Full details on the Amberhawk main site (www.amberhawk.com).