Access denied: retrieving personal data is often hopeless as Google refuses point-blank to provide online information

Public bodies and private corporations including Internet giant Google are flouting the public’s right to access personal data being held on them

Public bodies and private corporations including Internet giant Google are flouting the public’s right to access personal data being held on them, according to a major new international study.

Researchers found that nearly half of data holders either failed to disclose the private information they stored on citizens or did not give a legitimate reason for not doing so when asked.

Among the organisations contacted in the pan-European study carried out by Sheffield University were banks, healthcare providers, supermarkets, universities, security firms as well as the US search engine company.

Attempts to find information were routinely met with serial malpractice as well as obfuscation and ignorance of obligations under the law, it was claimed.

Campaigners described the findings as “shocking” and accused regulators and legislators of failing to safeguard citizens’ rights.

Professor Clive Norris, who led the study – part of the EU-funded Increasing Resilience in Surveillance Societies project - said individuals handed over private data on a daily basis, creating “vast and invisible reservoirs of personal information”. 

“We are selectively marketed to, our locations are tracked by CCTV and automated licence plate recognition systems and our online behaviour is monitored, analysed, stored and used. The challenge for all of us is that our information is often kept from us, despite the law and despite our best efforts to access it,” he said

“In our view, there is an urgent requirement for policymakers to address the failure of law at the European level and its implementation into national law. Organisations must ensure that they conform to the law,” he added.

Under the EU Data Protection Directive which has been enshrined in domestic laws in Europe since 1998, and which is set to be updated in the new Parliament, individuals have a right to be told what data is held on them – such as criminal and health records, consumer loyalty card information and even CCTV images.

As well as the 43 per cent that did not respond adequately to inquiries, a further 56 per cent of sites contacted failed to provide a legally compliant answer to reveal who that information was shared with.

Even when a successful outcome was achieved the process was described as fraught and time-consuming, with researchers greeted with scepticism and suspicion. Responses were delayed or incomplete in some cases.

In seven out 10 cases, the question of whether private details were being passed automatically between company computers was not adequately addressed.

The authors of the study, who made approaches to 184 public and private sector organisations across 10 countries, found that in a fifth of cases it was impossible to locate an individual controller responsible for dealing with an organisation’s data responsibilities.

Researchers made seven requests to Google during which they were confronted with a “number of difficulties”, the study found.

In one instance two letters were returned from the company’s national headquarters with a notice saying the recipient had not taken delivery. When requests could be made to national offices the company refused to process the application arguing that Google’s data controller was based at the company’s headquarters in California. No offer was made to forward the requests.

Once the applications were sent to Google HQ, only one received a response.

Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International said: “The results of this international study are shocking, and point to a disappointing failure on the part of those who handle our personal information and those who are supposed to enforce our rights."

He added: “Companies are putting profit ahead of our rights, regulators are asleep, and Parliaments incapable of responding to the expansion of the voracious data industry.”

Google declined to comment on the research which is being presented at a conference in Sheffield this week.

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner’s Office, which is responsible for upholding data rights in the UK, said the Data Protection Act required a response to requests within 40 days.

“Failure to do so is not only a breach of the Act, but will quickly result in the loss of consumer trust and business,” the spokesman added.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Infrastructure Architect

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Infrastructure Architect is ...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

    Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Support - Helpdesk Analyst

    £18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a customer focu...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Development Executiv...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn