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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.
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    Wednesday, July 11, 2007

    It's data about you! But is it safe?

    One of the repeated themes in this blog has been abuses of personal information, lapses of security, and incorrectly held data: to put it bluntly, contraventions of the Data Protection Act. The last post on the topic followed the debacle over UK doctors' personal records being made public. ORG reports - in a clearly-headed blog post, Information Commissioner Horrified - that the Information Commissioner’s Annual Report is launched today. And what is he horrified by? The amount of "serious security lapses" involving personal data.

    However, in an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme (audio file), Richard Thomas appeared to disagree with the idea that members of the public should retain ownership of their own data. He wants more power for his office which is "all about protecting people and their privacy" in an age where our footprints are spread all over the Internet. He is aware that more and more people are aware of the Act and that people "really do demand strong controls over how information is being used" but feels that "ownership is not quite the issue... it's how [data] is used... for its intended purpose" that matters. Companies should not be able to sell it on.

    But surely ownership is the issue? It's not just about selling data on, it's about the accuracy of the data in the first place - particularly when the data is to be legitimately shared. Way back in May 2006, I last blogged about this in A new angle on national identity registers and ID cards. Government agencies can share data about you. I won't repeat the whole story of the consultancy exercise where most people could see the sense of such sharing, providing that there were checks in place. And the check they wanted was the ability to monitor and correct their own personal data. I have family experience of a failed credit check (for a mobile phone) simply because the address on the credit report had the post code from one house and the address of another - which did not match the address given to the phone company. Unsurprisingly!

    Data accuracy is important. And getting these silly errors corrected at the moment is surprisingly difficult. I think the Information Commissioner should have the powers he wants, but I also think that he should be working to give us control over our own data.

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