Page Impressions Ltd Blogcetera: Privacy fears grow - Are Government and Industry ignoring civil liberties

Monday, March 23, 2009

Privacy fears grow - Are Government and Industry ignoring civil liberties

Google’s Street View service has contributed massively to the concerns of privacy on the internet.  Not only content with publishing views of individuals going about their legitimate business on line, Google recent announcement to use our search activity on their search engine to target advertisements takes the privacy debate to a new level.

Search information is valuable, allowing firms neatly to target ads to a person’s interests to generate billions in additional advertising revenue. Google, the industry leader, stores personal information for 18 months, and they are not alone as Microsoft’s search engine, Yahoo and AOL all retain search requests for 13 months.

But they are not the only people retaining information.  Today’s revelations by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, that a quarter of all government databases are illegal and should be scrapped or redesigned, throws into sharp relief the amount of information that is now available for a whole range of purposes.

The Trust says that storing information leads to vulnerable people, such as young black men, single parents and children, being victimised.

It says the UK's "database state" wastes billions from the public purse and often breaches human rights laws.

But the government says the report contains "no substantive evidence" on which to base its conclusions. A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the government was "never losing sight" of its obligations under the data protection and human rights acts.

"It takes its responsibilities seriously and will consider any concerns carefully, adapting existing safeguards where necessary," he added.

The government spends £16bn a year on databases and plans to spend a further £105bn on projects over five years but does not know the precise number of the "thousands" of systems it operates, the trust claims.

In the wake of numerous data loss scandals, the cross-party trust - which campaigns for civil liberties and social justice - examined 46 public sector systems.

It said 11 were "almost certainly" illegal under human rights or data protection laws.

And what is the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, doing about this? Well apparently nothing.  Maybe it is time for the Commissioner to start to earn his salary and start a formal investigation as to exactly what is being stored and retained by both Government and Industry. 

The trouble with civil liberties is that you don’t miss them until they are gone!

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