The meaning and importance of privacy

In the UK the law is not only made up of Acts but by Regulations, which then drills down to quasi-legislative codes of practice.

The DPA Acts deal with data and privacy relevant to individuals in two main ways. I’m not in a mood to give a lecture on this today. Those interested can Google the stuff.

Data Protection legislation is meant to provide protection of ‘privacy’ – and those protections were driven to the UK by European Directives back in 1995.

There is a tendency in the UK for people to bawl “DATA PROTECTION! ..DATA PROTECTION” for anything they want to withhold or at some subjective feeling that their activities are being ‘discovered’. This reminds me about patients in health services, and prisoners, bawling “HUMAN RIGHTS…HUMAN RIGHTS..YOU BREACHING ME HUMAN RIGHTS”. In reality these pieces of law are very carefully worded and apply in very specific ways. I normally ask people “What part of the Data Protection Act…or which of your Human Rights have been breached?” – a confrontational approach you might think, instead of the anglocised emollient approach. Well, you should see how people begin to stutter when they realise that they don’t know WTF they’re talking about.

Contrast this ‘lurv and respect’ for privacy, with the tendency in the UK and probably other countries, for people to take your private email address and lump it with hundreds of others in the ‘To’ or ‘cc’ field – and blast it around the place! Actually, that is equivalent to taking my personal telephone number and putting it on a messageboard somewhere for the entire world to see. It’s fine if I want to do that, but it’s not fine if a ‘so-called’ friend of mine somewhere was to take it and do that without my prior approval.

How hard a line do I take on that. Well here’s a bit of email exchange that might interest you (between me and a trusted ‘friend’)

CW early on 27th Feb 2007 [In response to a ‘friend’ forwarding to me someone’s email without their consent, I said]:

Do keep in mind that none of my emails to you nor my email address should be copied to others accidentally or otherwise – without my express written approval. I treat my email address like my private telephone number.

[I don’t think I could have been more specific]

CW on 5th July 2007:

You said on 27 Feb 2007 10:36AM [quoting the person]And I will never share anyone phone numbers or any kind of address to anyone. Without the person knowledge. …….Please I will never give out your information, because I would NEVER like anyone to do that to me.(sic)’

If even one of the 11 people you have copied my email to decide to act ‘accidentally’ as you do then what happens to my email address? It is very easy to see what will happen. However your email actively tells others to forward on the email. Your letter sparks of a chain from which my email address could be all over the Internet within days.

Person responds
Please accept my apology; you may not believe this but I DID SCREWED UP. It was a mistake and I do apologize.

I know you trusted me I just don’t know what I can do to change that but I am very sorry ok.

And the point is exactly as the person states – there is nothing that can be done to change the irreversible. And..and..sorry does not help – irreversible acts. Why? Because when something is so important to you, when the act causes such a breach of trust – how do you ever trust again that ‘most trusted’ person. It is like a crack in a pane of glass that can never be mended. So that’s what happened. I avoided contact with the person ever since. Chance? No. I don’t give chances – especially after I was so specific and the breach occurred within a matter of months. Yes friendship severed by a serious breach of trust. In the grand scheme of things a ‘stupid’ email means little. But it wasn’t about an ’email’. It was about TRUST i.e. the ability to hold water!

No. Listen. There are some things in life you just do not do. You don’t shag your best friend’s wife. That’s an irreverisble breach of trust.

And similarly on the matter of privacy, I’d have to be afflicted by a serious mental disorder, to take a friend’s phone number and put it on a messageboard on the internet. The act of sending a friend’s email around to hundreds of unknown others without consent is the equivalent act and equally disrespectful of privacy. Yes, and I know that shagging your friend’s wife is not the same as spreading around an email address or telephone number.

Now to join the two issues, by way of contrast. On the one hand people in general are oooh so concerned and protective of their own privacy, but what they do to others shows a remarkable contempt of privacy – especially when it comes to personal contact details.

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