Goverment gives personal data to private companies

It has been revealed that the British government has been passing information gathered by the police on citizens to private companies. The Guardian todayshowed that data on climate change protestors found its way from the police to the ridiculously-renamed Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) to power company, E-ON.

Now, of course the government can argue that electricity supply is a matter of  ‘resilience’, ‘contingency planning’ and ‘national security’, but then how can they justify it being in private corporate hands in the first place? How exactly can companies whose primary aim is to provide ‘shareholder value’ at all costs, many of whom are transnationals that have no commitment to the UK, be treated as if they were state organisations, and be given data from state databases? The boundaries between public and private are being increasingly eroded, and once, again it is the relationship between citizen and state which suffers.

The government cannot just give data, especially data which was collected in very questionable ways for highly dubious reasons in the first place, to whoever it thinks might find it useful. This kind of action shows that the the state is now quite often simply the servant of private enterprise, and the police no better than an adjunct to private security. It makes a mockery of regulation of surveillance power and data protection, and does nothing for our already-weakened trust in the state’s ability to protect our rights or or information.

Major new report on surveillance out next week

House of Lords
House of Lords

I hear on the grapevine that the British House of Lords’ Constitution Committee Report on Surveillance and Data Sharing will be out next Friday 6th February. The inquiry conducted by the committee has been one of the most thorough of any so far conducted, and certainly promises to be more considered than the rather rushed House of Commons Home Affairs Committee report, A Surveillance Society? from last year. Both reports were ordered largely in response to the Report on the Surveillance Society that Surveillance Studies Network wrote for the UK Information Commissioner in late 2006, and which is still getting coverage around the world (see CCTV in Canada for example). Check the Committee’s website for the report itself and, of course, back here for a review, on Friday.