This year's Fine Balance conference was quite an exciting event, as representatives as different as Oracle, a computing company, and the NHS sought to figure out how they could protect people's privacy in such a connected society.
The even has been a staple for a long time. There have been years that it focused on overlarge government databases and breaches of those databases, but this year the debate was all on the private sector. There was discussion about the government, but mainly to say that it did not have enough power. Privacy advocates applauded the decision of the government earlier this year to get rid of the identity card scheme and the planned sharepoint database, cut also said that the new powers that the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has are not enough.
Especially after the fiasco earlier this year in which Google allegedly accidentally collected the public wifi signals of millions of people, and as more and more vulnerabilities are allowing malicious parties to steal information right off of private computers the impetus was on the technology companies to better protect their customers. Many at the conference called for a lawsuit against Google over the data theft and for the ICO to take a much tougher stand against companies that make this sort of egregious error.
Some also said that it should be consumers who learn how to protect their own data. Many consumers, for example, do not even know about the risks of identity theft online and fill out forms whenever it is asked of them. These people argued that the onus for data protection was on the people, and that it was the ICO's job to ensure that the people were properly educated about the risks of giving out information.
A final argument was that the UK just simply has not gotten into the privacy debate enough, and that there needs to be a call for more debate. The German constitution, for example, was framed with privacy in mind. In contrast, the UK has not even properly adopted article 22 of the Human Rights Act, declaring privacy to be a civil liberty. The current law in the UK says that financial damage must be proven before a privacy-related complaint can be heard in court. Experts say that it is this sort of attitude that makes privacy such a problem in the UK. A coordinated government response is needed to ensure that citizens can be protected as privacy becomes an ever-larger problem.