Thought for the day: The death of privacy

Personal privacy is dead and no amount of EU legislation can revive it, says Simon Moores. Your only hope is to keep off the web.

New Asset  

Personal privacy is dead and no amount of EU legislation can revive it, says Simon Moores. Your only hope is to keep off the web.




“Corporate security is an illusion," writes Kevin Mitnick, probably the world’s most notorious ûber-hacker and so, he comments, “is personal financial privacy”.


Online privacy has been a myth for more than three years now since Sun boss Scott McNealy pronounced it "dead on arrival". "If you're online, you have zero privacy," he said. I have to agree with him.


I wasn’t planning to write about security or privacy today, but one of the inevitable pieces of morning spam has just arrived, this time from “Clic2Cars”, who believe I’m a new Porsche prospect.


We all suffer from spam, but what’s doubly annoying is having one’s e-mail details bartered around without permission. In Europe, we have data protection laws that are supposed to prevent this happening, and Clic2Cars have the appropriate legal text clearly displayed at the end of their "message". It reads:


“This message is sent to you from our client's lists and is in compliance with the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002. This is a commercial communication which includes an automatic unsubscribe which will immediately remove your e-mail from their mailing list for any future transmissions”.


But as I am extremely careful to opt out of any direct mail service and have had my fax number registered in the same manner, I have to wonder why my own e-mail address is, apparently, up for sale?


The problem can be much worse. Last week, IBM in Canada "lost" a hard drive containing the records of 180,000 clients of an insurance company. As you might expect, this had all the information that you would expect to give to your insurers - mother’s maiden name, social security number, bank details, medical history, inside leg measurement and so on.


Most of us have now conceded that the privacy battle is lost and there’s a sinister glimpse of what the future holds for us in the film Minority Report, where Tom Cruise is stripped of all privacy wherever he may be. Today, however, it becomes increasingly obvious that if you have bought anything online since your first uncertain steps on the internet, then your personal information -  including your home address and credit card number - is probably accessible via the internet, and available to anyone who might wish to harvest the details for commercial purposes.


The arrival of a more joined-up internet in the shape of web services will probably remove any last vestiges of privacy left to us. As company systems become more connected through their .net-like supply chain, there’s likely to be even more sharing of information, including customer data among companies, and I doubt that even the best-intentioned mountain of legislation from Brussels will make a jot of difference.


After all, if you only risk five years in jail from the Hague court for war crimes, there’s not a great deal of deterrence where data protection and privacy laws are concerned, is there?


What do you think?

Is online privacy a myth?  Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.


Read more on IT risk management