During this week, I sat and watched a House of Commons debate in Westminster Hall about Internet and Privacy.
Let’s face it, if you are reading this, then it probably concerns you…
The debate was called by Robert Halfon (Harlow, Conservative) and chaired by Mr Mike Weir. It would be futile of me to write a transcript or précis of contributions made by everyone who participated as these can be found at TheyWorkForYou.com, or in video on www.parliamentlive.tv.
The main debate focussed around Google Street and information that may have been collected, whether inadvertently, or not, how much information was collected and what would happen to that information. Also whether the Information Commissioner’s Office handled the investigation thoroughly enough (I make no judgement on that).
It was disappointing to see that the majority of Members at the debate were Coalition and that only a couple of Labour MP’s attended. One would assume that this subject is cross-party and an interest to all.
The points that I noted and questions from the debate, although there will be many points I haven’t mentioned, in my mind are:
- A suggestion that Google should have either avoided collecting the information, or given people the option, before starting the Google Street programme.
- The suggestion that every website visited should have a kite mark to validate authenticity and a code of practise.
- Should sites that gather data carry a warning that this may be the case?
- Existing Laws may be used for piracy and theft rather than making new draconian policies to tackle the internet.
- There is a fine balance between keeping information of sites visited etc. for terrorism purposes and infringement of civil liberties. In fact there is nowhere safe for such information to be held, bearing in mind the personal nature of the information.
- Not many people know what a ‘cookie’ is and what it can be used for. Isn’t this a case of education?
- It is commonplace, and legal, for companies to obtain trends and information of sites you visit etc. for marketing purposes, this includes words entered on Facebook and Twitter. It is however illegal to obtain passwords and personal data. Let’s face it most of us have a Tesco Points Card, is that just for our benefit?
- Defamation of character etc. written on sites such as Twitter or Facebook is subject to UK Law and can be treated as such.
- Is Robert Halfon correct that we need an ‘Internet Bill of Rights”? I quote: “Perhaps the best means would be an internet bill of rights, which would give the citizen some notion of his rights. At first, such an internet bill of rights might be a semi-voluntary code, as currently proposed in Europe. The system would be self-regulating, in the same way as the British Medical Association can mediate over doctors’ behaviour, or the Law Society can judge legal practice. If an inquiry finds cases in which a company has infringed upon people’s privacy without their permission, perhaps there could be some sort of fine.”
These are just a few of the points made. If you are interested or in any way worried, I suggest you read or watch the debate.
Julian Huppert MP is chairing a Liberal Democrat policy working group that is writing a new policy on IT and IP matters, and as Julian said during the debate “would welcome submissions from Members and from people across the country. We shall also be dealing with the party’s proposals on privacy. Indeed, members of the working group could have given a rather more detailed take on many of these matters. We clearly need to avoid the kind of lazy thinking that gives blanket solutions but ignores the need for privacy and liberty, and suggests draconian solutions that cause more problems than they solve.”
As stated I make no comment, or suggestion at this point, but have a keen interest as a user of the Internet.