Rank hypocrisy and smoking guns

Thanks to David Moss, by way of James Baker, for prompting me to re-read ‘What Price Privacy?’ [1.3 MB PDF] and its follow-up, ‘What Price Privacy Now?’ [988 KB PDF] – two reports on the illegal trade in personal information, published by the Information Commissioner back in 2006.

Once again, in responding to James on Facebook I fell foul of the character limit. So I post my response here:

Point well made / remembered.

I was thinking about the ‘What Price Privacy?’ report just last night, mulling over a conversation I’d had with a couple of ICO folk last Tuesday, but was roasting marshmallows in a field next door to a rave with only phone access to the internet. Even just a cursory scan of it tonight – and the follow-up report ‘What Price Privacy Now?’ [1], published 6 months later – makes pretty devastating reading.

For all that Richard Thomas could be appalling – Clause 152, the Thomas/Walport report – at least the man did have a brain, and the balls and inclination to occasionally speak out. (The last government leaving us Christopher Graham as ICO is like Byrne’s sick joke at the Treasury, ‘We spent all the money’…)

The problem is, what to do with this? By itself, it’s pretty thin…

From its absence on the table on p9 of ‘What Price Privacy Now?’, the Grauniad would superficially seem to be the obvious place to go. But I don’t believe for one minute that its journalists never used these methods – you’ll note the Observer had almost double the number of ‘confirmed transactions’ of the Sunday Times in this one investigation, itself just a snapshot.

As I think I said before, while the media eats itself and the establishment wriggles and writhes on this one, it’s going to be very hard to be heard. Much less get any coherent points across. Maybe it’s worth putting effort into the (decent) commentators? Or having a word with the smarter / more on-side political editors… or politicians (beware!)? A bit of calm discussion, whether it makes it into print or not right now, could be money in the bank.

Suzanne Moore was excellent on privacy and freedom a couple of weeks back in her Guardian column, and Brendan at Spiked seems to have his finger on the pulse. I’m sure you and Guy can think of a few others, not necessarily the usual suspects. If you need the numbers of a couple of others who may be worth talking to, drop me a line.

If all else fails, the blogosphere doesn’t appear to have disappeared entirely… though I have to say the character limits on Twitter and FB feel more and more designed to fragment thought, ‘dumb down’ conversation and convert citizen journalism into a low-content, cocainesque gabble of citizen tabloidism. Who the fuck cares who’s ‘trending’? Get the ideas down as coherently and comprehensively as you can, with references. (And don’t forget to save a copy of every source document – it’s been a nightmare trying to re-post my blogs of just 7 years ago, including working links: t’web is really not all it’s cracked up to be. “The universal library of all human knowledge”… pah!)

Forget the headlines. And press releases [2] – this is the same sort of education job we faced in 2004. The dynamics may be a bit ‘Fear and Loathing’, even high-risk, but there’s momentum to be had here…

1) Especially the table on p9 of ‘What Price Privacy Now?’ – perhaps unsurprisingly, it is the Chair of the PCC’s flagship paper (the Daily Mail) that comes out top of that particular list of shame. NOTW – as you rightly point out – comes in a rather weak 5th!

2) Actually a ‘shot across the bows’ press release might not be such a bad idea. So long as releases are still published on the NO2ID website, it’d at least be a stake in the ground. Just watch out for ‘side effects’.

UPDATED 11/7/11: It appears that Philip Virgo may already have had a go – ‘You read it here first’, 9/7/11:

All that is new is that the last Information Commissioner made a determined effort to use his powers, with full police co-operation, in a million pound investigation (Operation Motorman). He was then let down by the Crown Prosecution Service, the Judiciary and the Government of day – none of whom was willing to take on the National Press.

Now some of the material from that investigation is being selectively used to try to block the attempt to buy out the minority shareholders in Sky and transform it into a globally competitive 21st Century communications and broadcasting utility.

As ever, I’m not half as interested in the scoop as in the effect. But if Philip can stand up the allegation in the second paragraph quoted above, then this could run and run…

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One Response to Rank hypocrisy and smoking guns

  1. James Baker says:

    Phil, I don’t think I have a contact number for you now. Drop me an email though, it would be nice to catch-up sometime.

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