Friday, 21 November 2008

Government and Data Protection - Security, schmecurity?

Last year’s membership list of the British National Party has leaked into the public domain and there will be many politicos who will take great pleasure in leafing through the names to embarrass certain individuals. At the same time there is a great deal of schadenfreude amongst senior politicians. In political terms this is understandable, and few reading this (and the writer) will have any sympathy for the views of the BNP, though in some ways their political ideas seem anachronistic as well as unpleasant.

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, succombed to political temptation on air in saying that members of the Labour Party would not mind having their names published. I doubt she had polled them all in advance and membership of any political party is often considered a private matter by the individual concerned. Ms. Smith finally conceded “everyone had the right to protection under data protection laws but it was up to Dyfed-Powys Police whether to take the matter further.”

The Home Secretary’s relaxed attitude is in a context where so many businesses in the professions and otherwise have to hold a licence to keep private data on pain of heavy fines for any leak. I myself was at a presentation on this very subject a couple of weeks ago, yet even in the wake of the loss of the entire Child Tax Credit database, information about prisoners, details of military personnel, their families and new applicants to the forces still the Government and its staff do not seem to take the matter seriously. We know that important data has been lost, even though there is no need to carry it round on a laptop. If you “found” my laptop you would find there would be no data about my clients whatever, though you could possibly read my “raw” blogs if you were that patient.

Anyway, data protection is not that hard as long as everyone knows there is a policy and is careful with their memory sticks. However, Jacqui Smith’s off the cuff remarks were unhelpful and do not inspire confidence in the Government’s turning over a new leaf in its approach to data security. Security, schmecurity?

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