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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The bIg brother/big data state

If information is power then how we store and use data becomes a key indicator as to the position of the state on individual liberty and rights to privacy.

There is a balance to be struck between the efficient use of data to secure cost-effective services and the cross-referencing of information so as to open up the possibilities of state intrusion into our lives and the potential abuse of individual data profiling for more sinister purposes.

That is why the Data Protection Act was passed in the first place, the fact that it does not reach into some of the more secretive recesses of government has always given rise to concern.

It is for these reasons that I am quite cautious about proposals referred to in today's Guardian in which the Policy Exchange think tank suggest that up to £33bn a year could be saved from public spending without cutting services, by making better use of data about citizens from applications for passports and driving licences, to tax returns and social media.

It all sounds very plausible but I suspect that the reality might not be so pretty. Firstly, their assumptions seem at times over-optimistic and other-worldly, especially the idea that social media sites, such as Twitter, could be used to anticipate bottlenecks at UK airports. Secondly, this sort of profiling has inherent risks for civil liberties.

Even with a code of conduct there is a very slippery slope awaiting any government that adopts this idea.
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