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18 January, 2008

Strictly need to know

Characteristically, Cory Doctorow has produced a concise, easily-digested illustration of the the problems inherent in organisations' compulsive acquisition of personal data.

One doesn't need to be a conspiracy theorist to appreciate the potential for personal harm or, at the very least, embarrassment:

For example, you now must buy an Oyster Card if you wish to buy a monthly travelcard for London Underground, and you are required to complete a form giving your name, home address, phone number, email and so on in order to do so. This means that Transport for London is amassing a radioactive mountain of data plutonium, personal information whose limited value is far outstripped by the potential risks from retaining it.

Hidden in that toxic pile are a million seams waiting to burst: a woman secretly visits a fertility clinic, a man secretly visits an HIV support group, a boy passes through the turnstiles every day at the same time as a girl whom his parents have forbidden him to see; all that and more.

All these people could potentially be identified, located and contacted through the LU data. We may say we've nothing to hide, but all of us have private details we'd prefer not to see on the cover of tomorrow's paper.

Doctorow states the obvious: that data security needs to be taken far, far more seriously; it is indeed analogous to storing hazardous nuclear waste.
I'll state the even more obvious: don't collect the data in the first place.

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