Saturday, June 21, 2008

There Is No Such Thing As Privacy

On Thursday night I took part in a Moral Maze type panel at the Royal Society of Arts in a session looking at privacy. Claire Fox, Matthew Taylor, Stephen Whittle and I were the judges and we heard submissions from five witnesses including a serial twitterer called Dominic Campbell, Professor Jean Seaton, Dr Tanya Byron, Popbitch's Camilla Wright and Tom Ilube from Garlik. I

t was a spiky debate and I came out genuinely believing that within a few short years any form of privacy will be virtually impossible in this country. Tom Ilube (who used to be CIO for Egg) gave a graphic account of how it is possible to find out anything about anyone if you really want to. He proved it by showing a series of slides about Claire Fox, including a picture of her house. Tanya Byron concentrated on the effect of all this on children and taked about the role of parents in educating their children about the online world.

Increasingly we choose to live our lives online and give out loads of personal information on blogs and social networking sites. But how many of us understand the consequences?

It is not just the well known and celebrities who live their lives in the glare of public scrutiny. Increasingly, you and I do too.

There is now no such thing as privacy. Discuss.

UPDATE: A full report of the RSA event HERE.


Anonymous said...

This is actually a response to your latest Twitter update, rather than this post.

I just wanted to say that I love the website. Very pleasing on the eye (esp some of the staff photos!), lots of nice bitesize content, and the political speeches database is excellent.

Well done, and thank you for this. I wish the new venture all the success in the world. Good luck!

Guido Fawkes said...

I was originally invited to that, but I wanted to maintain my privacy.

Unsworth said...


There's been no such thing for decades. What gets me though is the unwarranted prurient investigations into our daily lives. I now make a point of challenging any organisation which demands personal detail from me. I expect them to:

a) tell me precisely who will have access to that information,
b) tell me exactly how it will be used,
c) guarantee that it will not be used in any other manner, and
d) guarantee its security and indemnify me for any loss or unauthorised use.

Takes quite a time to get through the supermarket queue these days....

But it's a serious issue. How do organisations vet and monitor those who have access which we have given freely? And what happens when these people move on elsewhere?

Anonymous said...

The fear of social networks is overblown in my view. They are optional, if you want to maintain privacy then you can choose not to use them. That means privacy exists, for those willing to maintain it.

The real issue is the intruding government and careless data protection, you can not choose whether the Gov take this data and can't stop the useless pen pushers losing it either. That is where privacy is underthreat from.

Anonymous said...

anon 12:52 true, especially with crap organisations like the DWP in charge.

CherryPie said...

If you choose not to post anonymously, I should think it would be fairly easy to track down all sorts of personal details. Just think of all the different places you have to register personal details.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago, a friend of mine was pursued by the press for a while.

What was amazing, was that the jornalists not only found out the address of my friend but also her parents address.

How did they do that? Surely, loss of privavcy ended many years before Facebook was invented.

I guess, if you wanted you could find out my IP address, find my name, my address, and who my friend is if you were so minded.

Anonymous said...

Iain, is that why you felt you had to publish a footballers payslip on this blog??


neil craig said...

I'm afraid you are pretty much right Iain. Like the Atom Bomb the CCTV camera cannot be uninvented. Civil libertarians must learn to harness it rather than oppose it. For example I would have CCTV evidence collected 7 overseenn by a body not part of the police force. CCTV & the rest can have a libertarian role since, unlike conventional crimefighting they are engaged in information use to physical enforcement & can empower the individual as easily as harm him.

For example it would have enhanced liberty if the videos of the Menendez shooting had been collected by a body other than the police.

Anonymous said...

It's certainly intriguing when major events occur and we are told that CCTV was not working at the time, or that the video records have been lost, damaged or discarded.

Coincidence of course, but always a surprising one when in Britain we now apparently have 1 CCTV camera for every 14 people.


Anonymous said...

The queen seems to be able to do anything and no one seems to mind her affairs.

Improbulus said...

Thanks for your interesting contributions to the excellent discussion at the RSA session (which I've now reported on in some detail myself).

I was hoping though that when you blogged the session you would set out your top 10 points, as I didn't manage to get them all! Hopefully I will when the recording is available for download.

Anonymous said...

Let's look at this with the benefit of fictional hindsight - having traveled 100 years into the future...

In 2108 your precise personal position on the globe will be monitored.

If necessary a satellite will provide a visual image of your location, a spatial vector imaging device will describe your activity and this will be available either with your consent or without it.

Your biometrics will also be constantly monitored and your medical needs attended to via readily available personal drug synthesizers. What you understand to be physically "you" will no longer be a matter of speculation since your physical presence is your credit card, passport and ID. Computers will have solved the issue of mind-reading, so to some extent, your thoughts, your emotions and perhaps even aspirations yet unformed will be monitored and stored..somewhere.

When you consider voting in the next election (if voting still exists) you will get customised election literature that addresses your personal issues. Your financial worries and tax concerns (there will always be tax) will be customised by the powers that be according to some arcane calculation based upon not only your personal wealth, but your psychological predilection to pay.

Should you gain some sort of notoriety and put your head above the parapet, everything about you will be knowable and known. Should you have hidden vices (virtually impossible) they will be published. Your only guarantee of anonymity is to keep quiet and remain unremarkable. Your details will be accessible, but frankly nobody will want to know or care or be able to find them in a sea of information.

By 2108 we will largely have lost our powers of discernment. Character analysis, sizing someone up, will be done by mechanical indexing based upon past form and present physical and mental behaviour. We will expect to know about someone before we meet them. To some extent all reality will be mediated by machines and so will not be reality at all. Our experience of the world will not be mediated by words but by impressions, some visual, some aural, but above all they will be mimetic and copies of copies of ideas we once had. You will be a simulacrum (in a societal sense) of the type Nietzsche and others wrote about.

Your identity, as you know it today, will cease to be. You will instead be an agglomeration of machine produced data, which will be the lingua franca of societal interaction.

Not participating in this dystopia will mean one thing and one thing only - you would not function on any but the most basic level.

Anonymous said...

max. see Channel 4 Factcheck re CCTV cameras. It's a bit long winded but the conclusion's clear enough. Perhaps you'll want to explain it more clearly on your blog?

Anonymous said...

Remeber CCVTV cameras were needed to beat the IRA.

Jeremy Jacobs said...

I'm not certain whether Twittering or Facebooking gives away that much. One has to be a bit economical with the truth sometimes.

Anonymous said...

No such thing as privacy ? Nothing new there but one does what one can, not using a Nectar card and paying in cash wherever possible for starters.
The Criminal Records Bureau continue to demand information ( mothers maiden name, bank account details etc.) to which it is not entitled and which can be refused.

There is so much information being collected ( acurately or otherwise ) about us all that it cannot possibly be monitored properly , this is called information overload and "only" those specifically targetted should have much to worry about.

Anonymous said...


You might as well write "there is no such thing as liberty" because it, too, is hard to protect and there is less of it about than there used to be. You wouldn't though.

Anonymous said...

Having had a dig around, I'm wondering what the point of Dominic Campbell is?