Secret Information? or Private Information?

Saturday February 1, 2014 — Leave a comment


I remember going to a workshop – an induction workshop for all new employees – on the perils of email, the internet and social media. “You should treat all emails as postcards.” Clearly it was an effective workshop as I still remember the phrase and on the whole I have adhered to this view. Emails are so easy to forward. Whatever you say in private to one person can so easily be distributed – by mistake or malice.

If you want to know if what you are saying in an email is okay, all you have to do is think of a tabloid journalist, hungry to fill his pages with a sensational headline, and think how he could misconstrue your communication. How would the average man on the street react?

These are two very simple rules to guide use of the internet and if adhered to, I doubt your notes will be being read by the NSA or GCHQ – too boring by far.

However we all give information away about ourselves; loyalty cards at the supermarket profile our shopping habits, as do credit card companies. Both could assume I never buy fruit and vegetables at all. Instead I prefer to pay cash at the local farm shop for such produce, but I am sure that anyone doing a profile would assume a diet lacking balance.

I drive a car and my number plate is read at every major junction. My privacy is being eroded and unless I leave the car at home, difficult in a rural area, I accept the intrusion because I have no choice in the matter. When I park my car I accept there will be CCTV to provide security and I probably would aim to park my car in clear sight of such a camera.

In the UK the average person is ‘caught’ (pejorative term!) on a CCTV camera six times a day.

Snowden may have shocked some with his revelations, but we are gradually eroding our privacy under the guise of getting better protection from terrorists by implied or explicit consent. There will be those who argue that if you have nothing to hide… However what if my views become unpopular? Perhaps the fact that someone goes to church will be a problem to a future regime, (as a political change in the communist countries found). Perhaps eating meat will brand one as a murderer, or given the progress with gene therapy, excluded one from medical treatment.

In the UK we were sold the benefit of a central database for medical records for the National Health Service, now we find that data is being sold on to insurance companies. The names are removed, but it wouldn’t be difficult to match age and postcode to a specific rare illness for an insurance company to have access to all your medical records. Not the confidentiality we were assured would be given to this information.

There will be a balance to be struck and a dialogue to be had and the sooner the better.

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