Privacy in an open world

The RSA has been hosting debate in London for over 250 years last week they hosted a lecture/discussion on the subject “Privacy in an Open World” (you can listen to the debate here if you want)

Who wants to know? Why should they know it? Who cares?

In a Web 2.0 world where mobile operators, government, ISPs, e-commerce sites are all accumulating information about us, our preferences, our purchases, our telephone conversations, our mail, where we are and who knows what else concerns are growing.

The Information Commissioner pointed to a dramatic change in attitudes within government after 25 million social security records had been lost – apparently senior officials were surprised that 25 million records could be stored on 2 CDs!!! For a moment let’s accept that it is possible to ensure the security of records held by both private and public sector and that it is purely incompetence that data is mislaid on this scale.

Several speakers spoke about Privacy being a fundamental right and expressed their almost instinctive reluctance to accept any organisation storing personal information. I wonder whether that is a realistic position to adopt in a modern information society. Joined up government relies upon connecting personal information stored in multiple systems to provide a holistic view of a citizen, that is the vision of the NLPG which few working in local government would contest. Many of us have given up trying to access e-commerce sites without allowing them to store cookies on our PCs because the convenience of receiving a personalised service seems to outweigh the loss of privacy (and after all you aren’t forced to use the sites). My view is that it is inevitable that my personal data will be held by numerous organisations, what we should be focussing on is what they do with that information, whether they pass it to others in any form and of course that they keep it secure.

It was a bit disappointing that no one speaking at the event talked about the benefits of personal data being stored and everyone focussed on the invasion of their privacy. personally i like the fact that when I browse to Amazon to purchase a book, they recommend some new titles based on their knowledge of my past purchases (some have turned out to be great reads) and 1 click purchasing is also a pleasure. Should I be worried about the security of all this, maybe but I’ll live a little dangerously.

Here are some notes that I grabbed while listening (until the lady in front of me glared at me because of the staccato click of my blackberry keys)

e commerce e govt surveillance

ISP using surfing behaviour to target advertising and mail

Info commissioner – practical and pragmatic not theological
Focus on harm not rights
Societal harm – invasion of privacy
Profiling – how far do we go?
Nothing to hide argument does not hold up now
Cheaper to store info than to delete it!
Code of practice for data sharing and for cctv

Mobile is leapfrog technology in developing world
How do you create user centric services while protecting privacy?
Mobile operators are obliged to assist Law enforcement
Privacy is a business and ethical issue