Do we have any privacy left?

Nearly eight years ago Sun’s Scott McNealy famously remarked “You already have no privacy. Get over it”.

Since then, in addition to the existing credit reference agencies like Experian that profile our buying habits, we have seen an increase in surveillance in the UK, the U.S. wiretapping telephone conversations, mobile phone tracking, sites like Plaxo, Jigsaw and Spoke that want to collect our contact lists, and the advent of Google which offers us convenience in exchange for access to our surfing habits and e-mail.

And now we have the debate about the Connecting for Health part of the NHS IT Programme, which proposes uploading of patient records in the UK to a central database, and covered today on Techdirt. The issues surrounding the programme, including confidentiality and reliability, are catalogued comprehensively on the NHS 23 site. One of the key points seems to be whether or not patients will be able to opt out of the database (see the Big Opt Out for a template letter if you do want to).

Going back to McNealy’s quote, he explained it In a later interview:

“The point I was making was someone already has your medical records. Someone has my dental records. Someone has my financial records. Someone knows just about everything about me.

Gang, do you want to refute my statement? Visa knows what you bought. You have no privacy. Get over it. That’s what I said.”

That may be true, but the data can be hard to reach, which is a useful safeguard. With centralised patient records, the NHS programme will no doubt benefit some patients but when a team of consultants from DET NORSKE VERITAS conducted a risk analysis on behalf of Connecting for Health, the consultants concluded that patient records would be safer stored locally.

I believe that we do still have an opportunity to exercise some control over what happens to our personal data, and retain some degree of privacy.

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