Who is the biggest threat to your privacy? Government, Google or the Gossip next door?

We have a very muddled and muddied set of debates over privacy, security and data sharing. It can be summarised as  “I want more efficient joined up services from government but I don’t want my information used by bureaucratic snoopers”. Meanwhile the latest jobsworth excuse for poor or non-existent service is “Sorry can’t do that because of Data Protection”.

I recently blogged on the children in the young Internet Governance Forum who wanted open access to the Internet, to talk to who they wanted, but also to be safe. Last week I talked to a nearly a hundred or so .uk domain name registrars in the Lord’s (as in Cricket not Westminster) conference suite and reminded them that they, not government, regulated the Internet – and they should try to keep it that way. (i.e. ensure that HMG has no serious temptation to exercise the planned reserve powers in Digital Britain Bill that would allow it to “nationalise” Nominet).

I really do believe, as I told them, that good Internet governance depends on registrars and other Internet service providers making more money from helping look after the safety and security of all of us than from cutting cost to the bone. Ideally Government should confine itself to giving them the legitimate authority (within a democratically accountable partnership policing structure) to do what is necessary to help protect us, their customers, from abuse and to ensuring that we have the knowledge and ability to boycott those who do not.

Publicity for data losses has led to a collapse of confidence that government can keep our personal information secure. In parallel we have similar headlines, from Victoria Climbie, through Ian Huntley (where the records that would have indicated his track record were deleted in murky circumstances) to Baby P, on the suffering and death that results from the failure to share information when needed. Neither millions on information assurance nor billions on centralised bases will address the cultural attitudes and amateurism regarding information management and governance that lie behind such scandals.

Meanwhile we have little or no publicity for what is done differently by those organisations that have quietly and efficiently looked after the information of millions of us for decades, without a leak. Some of them providing reliable response times and resilience that are the envy of the world.

Getting the messages of good information governance across to politicians is not easy. It will be even harder to persuade them to do nothing more than remove the well-intentioned but counter-productive regulatory barriers they have erected in the way of good practice.

How can we educate the next generation of MPs on their role in ensuring our information is available to those who need to know, when and where they need it, but is protected from abuse by those who need not or should not know your details?

How can we educate the ICT industry that trust in them and their products and services is, at best, very fragile?

They have to demonstrate that the database products and services they wish to sell to both public and private sector are fit for purpose. But even if they are indeed fit for purpose they then have to be ensure that they are used and managed by staff and officials who treat our information, and that on our families, as they do that on themselves, and theirs.

That usage and management task is an even bigger cultural shift for an industry that has ceased to regard customer education as its responsibility – while bleating that it was not their fault when the customer … 

But if the ICT industry does not once again accept that responsibility (as it did in the days of the mainframe) then, their dreams of globally networked data centres (alias cloud computing) will collapse, leaving a devolved world of used-controlled, micro-centres, with local power generation capable of surviving the periodic regional and national blackouts which any rational business is now factoring into its forward plans.

I doubt, however,  that the micro-centres will be any more private – because the gossip next door (eavesdropping over your insecure domestic wireless network, as they used to do through the wall or over the fence in pre-computer days) is nearly always a bigger threat to your privacy than either Government or Google.

Hence the potential importance of the Information Society Alliance Competition: “EDUCATING YOUR MP – Everything they need to know about Information Governance but were afraid to ask“. The competition working group tried to capture the basic principles of Information Governance in an animated power point presentation with speaking notes and a one page summary, plus links to the most authoritative sources. The result might have been adequate for ICT professionals who should already understand the issues, but not for human beings who do not.


The objective of the competition is to harness the presentation skills of the brightest of the current generation of multi-media students to encapsulate the complex balance that is good information governance, in three minutes of material, capable of being accessed over any mainstream browser. The judges already lined up include film and media professionals, as well as representatives from the worlds of ICT, Information Governance and politics.


The organising group is still welcoming additional sponsors who will support entries or help with publicity, prizes and judges. It also welcomes entries from “students” of all ages and backgrounds. E-mail eurim@eurim.org if you would like to join in.   

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