Saturday, December 01, 2007

Lords Constitution Committee publishes privacy inquiry evidence

The House of Lords Constitution Committee is conducting an inquiry into surveillance and data collection. They have now published evidence submitted to the inquiry, including the response I co-authored in June with colleagues from the Foundation for Information Policy Research. I recommend reading the entire submission, but here is a brief taste:

13. At the level of philosophy, human rights are most commonly founded on the principle of human dignity. Pervasive surveillance will undermine personal dignity, and ultimately support for human rights.

14. There are other theories. A communitarian view is that many public goods depend on social capital — the networks of mutual obligation, reciprocity and trust that exist in society. Diminished social capital increases crime; damages child development; and particularly harms the poor, who have less human or financial capital as a backstop. Social capital is generally built by local action and diminished by central action: involving parents in running a school is vastly preferable to using a government computer as their surrogate.

15. A third view is that privacy is an internalised version of territoriality and serves to order society. This comes from the substantial research literature on the economics of privacy, in which central problems are why privacy remains more of a luxury good than a fundamental right, and why people do not complain more about privacy erosion. We tend to the view that they are starting to, as awareness spreads from the policy and technical elite to the masses.

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