(Ex)terminated by (un)ethical review - or Death by Data Protection revisited

I recently relayed some of the discussions at the ETICA conference (to which I referred to in my recent blog ) to a senior medical consultant. At the conference we had been given an example of where a “medical ethics” committee had delayed a research project by 18 month as it pondered whether a file of anonymised medical data could be used to test a ground-breaking “proof of concept” modelling exercise to improve mass diagnosis.

Over dinner he commented bitterly about ethics committees dominated by those who had never had to exercise clinical judgement. Then the phone rang and he left the table (stone sober because he had been on call) to face one such situation.

The best contribution to the ETICA conference came from Dr Alma Whitten (privacy engineering lead for Google). Do read her evidence to the US Senate on Consumer Online Privacy.     

She succinctly summarised the need to rationalise the slew of conflcting EU legislation that forbids or mandates data retention and sharing and referred to the socail changes taking place as the biggest cultural challenge since literacy lost its status when everyone could read. I was seriously premature when I made similar comments thirty years ago in “Learning for Change” (refered to in my recent blog on the student demonstrations in the UK).

The success of operations like Google and Wikipaedia mean that Alma was not. I used to talk of the need to reform our hierachy of educational filtering systems, culminating in the PhD rat race. That need is now urgent.

Can academia survive an age of public funding cuts unless if it finds new ways of recognising, encouraging and rewarding that mix of plagiarism and creativity that is the driver of economic growth – and can thus tap new sources of funding, from successful research and innovation?

Can the medieval scholisticism of ethicists, (preserving problems for study rather than finding solutions that work), survive as our knowledge based industries fall behind those of the older and more pragmatic civilisations of India and China? 

The main reason for my visit to Brussels was not to speak at ETICA but a series of meetings to test support for a major policy study (leading to an action plan) to reform Information and Identity Governance regimes to attract, rather than repel, reputable business and give consumers confidence in their safety, security and privacy in an on-line world where they have genuine freedom to choose.

The current muddle is giving so little genuine protection and costing so much, both directly and indirectly (e.g. encouraging customer service hubs to move out of the UK/EU) that reputable business may indeed be ready to confront the data protection industry. If that is what happens, then both sides will lose. 

We need them to work hand in hand, listening to what customers and consumers and customers actually want and will pay for – not just the voices of the enthusiasts and the naysayers. 

The stakes may now be high enough for them to do so.

My colleagues in EURIM are looking at the material we already have on file to assemble the “prospectus” for a phased study, driven by a leadership team of those who wish to see more customers, doing higher value business, more-confidently, at lower cost, on-line. That mans funded from marketing not just security budgets.