Time for a National Privacy Card scheme

[Dave Birch] There was a bit of media attention around the recent report on government databases from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (the authors include Forum friends William Heath and Angela Sasse) but I’m not sure that the government was listening. The report was quite strong on the extent of the problem within government:

A quarter of all government databases are illegal and should be scrapped or redesigned, according to a report.

[From BBC NEWS | UK | Call to scrap ‘illegal databases’]

The way to protect personal data most effectively, particularly in large organisations such as the government, is not to store it in the first place. This may seem unworldly. After all, I want Tesco to provide me with a good service, so why shouldn’t I give up some of my personal data in order to get it? Setting aside the issue of whether what I bought in Tesco yesterday is “my” data or not, I am perfectly happy to have, and wield, my Tesco Clubcard. After all, it’s not in my real name and Tesco never ask me for data I don’t want to give them, so I’m more than happy for them to record what I buy. And, to their credit, I can say with hand on heart that I have never once received junk mail, spam or unsolicited phone calls for the imaginary alter-ego who shares my home, from which I deduce that Tesco have kept to their side of the bargain and not disclosed “my” data to a third party. So why am I concerned about the government having big databases of stuff about me?

Unscientific

[Dave Birch] The current issue of Scientific American has a special section about privacy (there’s a podcast with the editor here) and it made for a diverting read for me, because I tend to see privacy through the digital identity prism rather than from a wider (albeit still technological) perspective. So instead of thinking about privacy in “mechanical” terms — which digital identities are allowed to validate the credentials of which other digital identities and under what circumstances — I’ve been thinking about privacy in social terms and wondering if this different perspective leads to different conclusions about the way forward.


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