Private problems

The thorny challenge of how privacy should be protected in the age of fast and constant information flow, and indeed what the very concept means today, is an enduring and ongoing one.

But a number of events took place here in the UK during June and July 2009 that brought the issue front-of-mind.

First, as discussed in ‘Would you trust Google with your health?’, a report from conservative think tank the Centre for Policy Studies mooted the possibility that computing companies such as Microsoft or Google might be entrusted with
the public’s healthcare data, instead of state-run bodies.

That prospect reportedly struck a chord with leading Conservative Party members, who question the right of the government to possess such critical data.

The suggestion that citizens’ most intimate details might fall into the hands of businesses raised some people’s concerns, while others noted that much of our private information has already found its way into commercial databases.

Shortly after, the Guardian newspaper alleged that journalists at rival publisher News International had routinely bugged the telephones, hacked into voicemail systems and perused private documents of politicians and

Whatever the truth behind those allegations, it is becoming clear that for people in the public eye at least, privacy is a concept that receives very little respect.

And, thanks to the incompetence or negligence of numerous government and corporate organisations, things are little better for ordinary people. As this month’s cover feature describes, a series of embarrassing data breaches has left the public’s confidence in data custodians at an all-time low.

Our society continues to debate whether privacy is an outmoded concept from a bygone age or an inalienable human right. But for organisations in both private and public sectors, the pressing concern is that this lack of confidence in data privacy impedes their ability to provide services over the Internet.

It therefore threatens the potential for technology to make business and government more cost effective, arguably the burning issue of the day.

Fortunately, the IT industry is gradually getting to grips with the issue of data privacy. As the cover story for Information Age‘s July 2009 issue reveals, two recently launched initiatives, BCS’ Principles of Good Data Governance and the BSI 10012: Data Protection standard, promise to help businesses to do the same.

And they would be well advised to do sooner rather later, before customer and citizen confidence is lost forever.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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