Privacy In The UK
Privacy In The UK
Jago Russell (Policy Officer, Liberty) gives expert video advice on: What legal rights to privacy do UK citizens have?; What can an individual do to preserve their rights to privacy?; What power of redress do I have when my privacy has been invaded? and more...
What legal rights to privacy do UK citizens have?
UK citizens probably have fewer rights to privacy than many countries around the world. Saying that, we do have some established legal rights to privacy. The most importantly articulated at the European convention, now contained in that human rights act, protects the right and respects private and family life. It doesn't create an absolute right to privacy, but it's a very important protection nonetheless. In addition, there's the date protection act to regulate what people can do with your personal information.
What can an individual do to preserve their rights to privacy?
There are a number of things that individuals can do to preserve their rights to privacy. The first is taking very practical steps, like asking yourself questions about who you are willing to share information with and what kind of information you're going to share. It could be as simple as ticking the box to say that a particular supermarket can't share the information you've given them with a wide range of other people. More broadly, I think one of the major things people can do is to wake up to the value of privacy in modern democracies and to their personal lives. So get involved in campaigns around things like ID cards. Think about joining an organization like Liberty, perhaps, to campaign against unjustified infringements of personal privacy.
What power of redress do I have when my privacy has been invaded?
If your privacy has been invaded, the kind of redress you might be able to seek will vary depending on the way in which your privacy has been invaded. It's a sad reality that for the majority of people, actually taking a case to the House of Lords to protect that privacy is not a realistic option. Saying that, there are ways that you can try and protect your privacy. For example, I'd advise people to look at the Information Commissioner's Office's website to try and find out more information about protecting that privacy and about what to do if they think people hold incorrect information about them or information they shouldn't hold at all.
What is the biggest threat to personal privacy in the UK?
I'd say that perhaps the biggest threat to personal privacy in the UK is the lax attitude in some ways of the British public. A lot of people in the UK have brought into the government these ideas that if you have nothing to fear, you have nothing to hide. That is one of the bigger threats to privacy. People need to wake up, to realize that privacy plays an incredibly important part in society. For example, you could have no free and fair elections without the right to sign your ballot paper in private. Similarly, the fact is that most of us draw the curtains before we get changed for bed. Privacy really matters, and so we need to really value privacy.
Is there a danger that personal privacy will soon be a thing of the past?
There is a considerable danger that personal privacy will soon be a thing of the past. If you explained to people 50 years ago what sort of surveillance society we lived in today, I think few would be able to imagine it. And I'm sure that in another 50 years' time, things will have changed again significantly. There is a real danger. If you think, for example, about the number of CCTV cameras we now have on our streets and about the amount of personal information that is held about us by government bodies and private bodies, that would have been completely unimaginable to our grandparents. And if that trend continues, then it's quite possible that our grandchildren won't have any concept or any understanding of what personal privacy really means.
Who do you think are the main offenders of privacy invasion in this country?
There are a number of people, bodies, and organizations that are responsible for infringing, invading, or restricting personal privacy. I think the most obvious one is actually the ID fraudster, the criminal who takes your ID and uses it to get you into significant amounts of debt to buy goods that you never really wanted. You know all those kinds of things. Alongside the criminal, actually, private bodies. Tesco Club Card, they're also restricting personal freedoms. A lot of the time they'll try to justify that on the basis that people have given their consent, but quite often people don't really realize that they're giving consent. In addition, the government, of course. Creating new and unnecessary schemes like the National Identity Register, and the DNA Database. So there are a number of culprits.