Jamie Grace wrote this article.

Sunday Times journalist David Leppard has given an important pointer to an upcoming political tug-of-war in the UK. The Jospeh Rowntree Foundation (an important ‘liberty & democracy’ campaigning funder) has produced a report – published on Monday the 23rd of March – that slams the myriad of Government-sponsored ‘giant databases’ that exist or are planned for implementation in the UK.

Leppard notes that “10 of the giant government databases built or
planned by ministers unlawfully breach privacy, according to a report.
The computer registers — including the DNA database, the national
identity register, the Contactpoint child protection database and the
health service patients’ register – all breach human rights and data
protection laws…”

As a clarion call in the face of planned, systemic surveillance this Rowntree-sponsored report will indeed be damning:

Claims by the government that the databases make the provision of
public services such as health easier are dismissed as “illusory”. In
fact, the giant repositories of personal data can expose people to
greater risk, particularly the most vulnerable, the research says. More
than half the nearly 50 state databases have “significant problems” in
protecting privacy, it adds. Only one in seven of the databases
assessed by the study was “effective, proportionate or necessary”. The
report is the most comprehensive and damning study of the creeping
culture of state surveillance.

The Rowntree-sponsored report cannot have been the most taxing to
research or write, even if it needed some stomach to systematically
document all the concerning and troubling wastes of public expenditure
on huge-scale ‘e-governance’ projects; not to mention listing all the
numerous possible contraventions of what amounts to UK privacy and
data-protection law in the UK.

The report, for example, emphasizes what
those already concerned with transgressions of the law in this area have
written about and been much troubled by.

Leppard notes of course that there is a political undercurrent that
may actually undo much of the planned surveillance and e-governance:

One of the planned databases condemned by the report is a Home
Office system to store information on every telephone call, e-mail and
internet visit made in Britain. Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, had
been planning to announce the database in a bill last October. She
backtracked after officials in her department reportedly expressed
concerns about the legality of the plan. Ministers had been planning to
release a consultation paper on their plans in January. This has now
been delayed amid speculation at Westminster that Gordon Brown has
ordered ministers to ditch all controversial and potentially unpopular
legislation in the run-up to the general election, expected in 2010.

The only thing that could be better than a General Election to
squash grand surveillance ideas would be a high-profile catastrophic
loss of personal data, with damaging consequences – but I for one
wouldn’t wish that on any poor victim, however valuable it could be as
a rallying point for liberty in the face of these faceless databases.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for this prescient update, Jamie!
    Do individuals in the UK have the right to sue their government for privacy violations? Or are they just forced to enforce their wishes through the ballot box?

  2. Individuals in the UK can indeed sue our government for violations of their right to privacy – in December 2008 there was a landmark ruling by the European Court of Human Rights known as S & Marper v United Kingdom – the decision allowed the authors of the Rowntree report to suggest that certain ‘red light’ databases are illegal. Typically though, because of the legislative power a government with a clear majority in the House of Commons enjoys, the UK public will only eradicate these style of databases in the longest term.

  3. There is a Europe-wide ‘data-protection principle’ that ensures private and public sector organisations cannot maintain databases longer than is strictly necessary or legitimate. Take away the legitimacy of these style of databases using litigation in the courts, and unless Government steps in with some form of legislative intervention; these databases will be depopulated and deconstructed.