Normal humans - aka "non-celebrities" - are telling Big Brother to go stick his head in a sack

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Privacy

Big brother. Image courtesy of Shutterstock Sweet and Maxwell, a legal publisher in the UK, says that privacy actions against police, hospitals and security services in the UK are up 22% over last year.

That represents a shift, The Independent reports.

A few years back, it was mostly celebs who were trying to elbow the media out of their private lives, but nowadays, blatantly normal human beings are using privacy laws to try to claw back their data.

Sweet and Maxwell's recent data shows that rich, famous people filed 47% of privacy actions in the year prior - a number that shrank to 11% over the past 12 months.

This isn't just run-of-the-mill data we're talking about, such as name, tax number or date of birth.

In the UK, even without the need to file a criminal charge against the surveillance target, data collectors get and hold onto people's fingerprints, DNA and photographs.

And as The Telegraph reported earlier in July, police can and do seize mobile phones from passengers crossing the UK border via air, sea or international rail.

The Telegraph reported that police download and scour the data. Then, they tuck it away to hang onto for "as long as necessary" (translation: abandon all hope, ye data who enter) - all done under protection of counter-terrorism laws that don't require a shred of suspicion.

The Independent quoted Jonathan Cooper, a barrister who specializes in privacy matters, who said that non-rich, non-famous people using the courts to delete data is a natural outgrowth of how common it's getting for employers, law enforcement, and any manner of other data-collecting machines to demand our info and to hang onto it for dear life.

He said:

"Criminal record checks are being used much more frequently by employers, so people are going to greater lengths than ever before to make sure irrelevant information is being removed from their records.

"In some cases, people have to bring an action through the courts to force the body to delete the information."

The Independent further reports that some 4 million criminal record checks are made in Britain per year.

Not much of that demanded data ever disappears, but it's sure to pop up again when checks against the data are made, even without charges having been filed.

Privacy shred. Image courtesy of ShutterstockExamples from The Independent:

  • John Catt, an 83-year-old campaigner with no criminal record, won his case to have records deleted from a database of suspected extremists. Police kept a covert record of his presence at more than 55 protests over a four-year period.
  • A nurse who alleged that police had acted unlawfully by disclosing allegations against her of neglect and ill-treatment of care-home residents in an enhanced criminal records certificate.

I love the idea of Brits overwhelming the courts with demands that the authorities get their mitts off their personal data.

It would be nice if employers, law enforcement, hospitals et al. didn't ask for so much data in the first place, with so little (or no) cause.

But here's a silver lining about post-PRISM angst: backlash from the public may, in time, prod the courts in the UK and elsewhere to do something about the laws that prodded the now-panicky, over-surveilled, normal human beings to get litigious about what's literally bugging them.

Sounds sweet!

Image of big brother and privacy shredded paper courtesy of Shutterstock.

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7 Responses to Normal humans - aka "non-celebrities" - are telling Big Brother to go stick his head in a sack

  1. Techno_M · 767 days ago

    This is really useful information. I have suspected recently that my Facebook account is being watched. I haven't been on any demonstrations or anything, but I was a member of a political party for a short time a few years ago and I accidently upset some powerful people during that time.

    I had a couple of Facebook posts disappear a few weeks ago, and information in one of them turned up somewhere else. This may be a coincidence, but recent revelations about Facebook et al. cooperating secretly with the government would suggest that it is not beyond the realms of possibility.

  2. Richard · 767 days ago

    Call me paranoid, but I suspect the only thing the UK courts will do to address this issue is to change the DPA to make it harder for people to get their information removed. The traditional mantra of "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" will be used to portray anyone who asks for their data to be expunged as a potential terrorist.

  3. MikeP_UK · 767 days ago

    A correction, the UK Courts do not make the laws. They just interpret and apply existing laws in cases presented before them.
    Parliament creates the laws with due process through the various stages involving MPs in the House of Commons, Peers in the House of Lords and finally Royal Assent. Judges can comment on existing laws and even comment on changes they see as being needed, but they don't create laws. They may, in some circumstances, create precedents by their interpretation of laws as written, especially if that law was badly drafted and left open aspects so that Judges have to determine what Parliament intended.

    • Lisa Vaas · 766 days ago

      Right, thank you for the correction. Courts don't make laws in the US either, but it often feels that way, given their power to deem particular laws unconstitutional, for example, or to find various laws unenforceable. They have the power to rule against the NSA's legal basis for its surveillance program, right? At least in theory. In practice, well, perhaps things may change. And ponies and rainbows and glitter. <--ARGH! Cynical nowadays!!!-->

  4. Andrew · 767 days ago

    It seems to me that government has taken liberties with the peoples it is supposed to represent, by spying on us as individuals. My only concern with this is that eventually our civil liberties will be removed entirely, when in fact in the UK the Crown gave us our freedoms not the Government. So by what right does the government have to do these things to us? It is time the Crown opened it's mouth and spoke up for it's people and told the Government where to get off.

    As for Facebook who say they are not allowing the NSA to search their servers I can assure you it is a lie. I have since closed my FB account since locating US government files in my computers operating system.

  5. Jack · 767 days ago

    In the US, our legislature does not seem to even be aware of other countries and what they deem appropriate. Personal rights as far as data does not seem to concern them, yet. I have written my legislature many times about the need to refrain data collection and interpretation to a minimum. As is length of persistence existence in any given area.

    Seems our lawmakers, like with Marijuana, being voted and approved for Medical use (by the people) is not seeing daylight because of government laws, not state rights to do what the voters wish. Why they can't seem to realize that our neighbor (Canada) has marijuana for people with discomfort.

    The point is that, I believe, we have lead the world a long time (in our perception) and they won't open their eyes. I say they need limited terms, but that won't solve all of them either. I'm hoping they will realize people think e-mail is secure as is texting. Protection rights have to evolve like any other legal system. I also don't like the courts advising it's ok to have it if you got it accidentally. Ha, needs to be immediately deleted.


  6. Meximum · 766 days ago

    I am sure my email a/c was hacked into for a while, (it was doing stuff on its own)! after receiving some possibly activist links on facebook sent to me by a friend.

    I am not techie enough to be able to prove that this was anything other than my own paranoia!

    I changed my login & password which seemed to stop it from happening or maybe the boring content of my inbox was what stopped it?

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.