Editor-At-Large: Plans to invade our privacy make Street View look discreet

Share
Related Topics

I thought the point of an Information Commissioner was to protect the rights of the individual, but the current incumbent, Christopher Graham, doesn't inspire much confidence. Last May, Google admitted it had "inadvertently" amassed a staggering amount of personal information about our Wi-Fi networks, collected by its Street View cameras from 2006 until earlier this year. That seems to be a very long time to collect stuff without noticing how contentious it might be. The company said it was profoundly sorry, and had no intention of passing this information on to third parties or exploiting it for commercial gain. Nevertheless, it has not said how it is going to destroy the data or how securely it is currently stored. In an interview last week, Google said it was still deciding what to do with it.

The whole notion of Street View stinks. Cameras mounted on cars toured 30 countries, recording images in extraordinary detail about where unsuspecting citizens live. Talk about invasion of privacy. As we complained, we were told you could ask to be removed from the database – but we were never consulted about whether we wanted to be on it in the first place. Doesn't that just sum up the arrogance of Google, acting as if it is offering a wonderful service? The Information Commissioner visited Google in July and concluded that the information it had gained (without our permission) wasn't "significant".

Since then Google has admitted how sensitive it is, including entire emails and details of how to access our computers. As the Government dithered, other countries took more positive action: regulators in France, Germany, Italy and Spain investigated whether Street View's data collection constituted an invasion of privacy. Greece and the Czech Republic have banned it. The privacy watchdog in Canada says it has violated citizens' rights and asked that Google impose stricter privacy controls by February. In August, Google offices in South Korea were raided. After the US authorities' investigation, Google appointed a director of privacy for engineering and product management, and training on privacy for key employees.

After Google admitted the sensitivity of the UK data, the Information Commissioner said he would "re-examine it". A new law, passed in April, gives him the power to fine companies up to £500,000 for serious breaches of the Data Protection Act. But don't hold your breath. MPs are rightly concerned, and held the first debate on internet privacy last week. Robert Halfon MP wants a commission of experts to draw up an internet "bill of rights" and create a code of practice to protect the individual. I fear it's all a bit late for that. And is there any will at the heart of government to restrict access to our personal data? On the contrary.

The Home Office has just reactivated a plan to force main communication providers such as Vodafone to collect the internet use and phone calls of every citizen, and make it available to the security services, claiming it will combat crime and terrorism. Not surprisingly, this invasion of privacy is supported by the police, MI5 and GCHQ – the same bunch who wanted ID cards, a national DNA database, and who loved the useless stop-and-search laws. I thought we'd got rid of ID cards and the unnecessary storage of DNA. But now our personal lives could be monitored far more intrusively than by Street View.

Tracey, Damien, and other genuine originals

Tracey Emin might not be everyone's cup of tea, but there's no denying her art is instantly recognisable. The appeal lies in its poignant simplicity and the direct way she connects with the viewer. A Tracey drawing may seem childlike, but it's really sophisticated. What I find admirable is that she's made her work as accessible as possible; she's produced prints, cheap sun hats, tea towels, hankies, canvas bags and even a teapot – all of which I've collected, over the years. Even so, she's never been short of people who want to cash in on her fame. A couple of years ago, a bloke sent me a text from Tracey he'd printed up and framed and was considering selling – until she warned him off. Last week, Jonathan Rayfern received a 16-month prison sentence for forging at least 11 of her works and selling them for £26,000 on eBay.

What clearly upset Tracey was the fact that Mr Rayfern had got a job working in her studio so that he could study her methods at close hand. Creepy. In court it was said he was "beguiled by art, beauty and celebrity". I disagree. He was just a con man, pure and simple. You can see Tracey (and Damien Hirst, Gilbert and George and Grayson Perry) discussing their work with me tonight on Channel 4 at 7pm, in The Genius of British Art, which follows my love affair with British contemporary art over the past 50 years.

The White House goes walkabout

Michelle Obama was criticised for the number of staff who went with her on an "informal" beach trip to Spain in the summer. Now the Obamas have planned an even more ostentatious jaunt to Mumbai. As part of a tour of Asia next month, the President will spend four days in India, and has chosen to make a political point by staying at the Taj Hotel, bombed in the terror attack that killed 166 people two years ago. The President's retinue will occupy at least 800 hotel rooms, including all 560 at the hotel, now entirely rebuilt. And because the Taj is sited on the ocean, American warships will be moored offshore. Michelle has been invited to the red light district to meet the local prostitutes. She might find a seafood lunch at the Krishna Hotel down the road a bit more fun.

Chris Moyles, voice of reason

You wouldn't normally associate loudmouth BBC Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles with "privacy and peace", but those are the words he uses in a letter to his local council – Haringey, in north London – to protest at plans to fell two sycamores and build two new houses near his £1.8m home in Highgate. Funny how even the most aggressive of us adopt a simpering tone when trying to persuade authorities to do what we want. Chris claims that local residents are worried about "the loss of this natural landscape and wildlife habitat, which is greatly appreciated in such an inner-city setting". Swanky Highgate, with its £1m-plus homes, is hardly an inner-city slum, but he may have a point. This emollient tone hardly seems typical of the chap who ranted for 30 minutes early one morning, whingeing about not getting paid for two months.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past