Monday, September 25, 2006

The end of privacy as we know it

The end of privacy as we know it
By Philip Johnston
(Filed: 18/09/2006)

What will Tony Blair be remembered for? The post-war debacle in Iraq? Billions largely wasted on unreformed public services? Half-baked constitutional reforms that have threatened the integrity of the United Kingdom?

How about the erosion of privacy and the transformation of Britain into the most snooped-on country in the world this side of Pyongyang? We have more CCTV cameras than the rest of Europe put together. We have thousands of speed cameras linked to numberplate recognition databases. We await with trepidation the arrival of the national identity database from 2008, entry on to which will make it an offence, for the first time, not to inform the "authorities" when we move home.

Again, for the first time, our medical records, perhaps our most intimate personal information, will be available on a national data "spine", rather than kept within the confines of our GP's files. Details of children will be placed on another database, with no obvious limit to how long this information will be kept. Will a classroom transgression pop out of the system 20 years hence to scupper some job application, with the victim unaware why?

Last week, in a significant announcement issued under the guise of an innocuous-sounding "information-sharing vision statement", the Government proposed to reverse the presumptions of confidentiality under which Whitehall has, until now, conducted its relationships with businesses and individuals. Departments will be able to share personal information obtained for one purpose with other departments that might want it for an entirely different reason. In effect, they will be able to gather all this data in one place, something we were always assured would not happen...

...Once you accept that the government has the right to know where you are at all times, to demand that you tell its agents when you move home or to render up your private musings at its behest, then you have changed the nature of the individual's relationship to the state in a way that is totally alien to this country's historic, though ill-defined, covenant between the rulers and the ruled. If enough people say "so what?" to that, as well, then Mr Blair really has left a legacy, and it is a pernicious one.