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.
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