At the end of 2011, I made 12 ‘wishes’ for privacy in 2012 – see my blog post here. So how did we do on my 12 wishes? Let’s have a look…
1. That I don’t hear the ‘if you’ve got nothing to hide…’ argument against privacy ever again…
A resounding failure here. It was always going to be a pretty forlorn hope, but the number of times it was trotted out over the year, particularly by Theresa May when advocating for the Communications Data Bill (the Snoopers’ Charter) was a bit depressing.Verdict – Failure Score – 0 out of 1
2. That governments worldwide begin to listen more to individuals and to advocacy groups and less to the industry lobby groups, particularly those of the copyright and security industries
Not quite so clear here. In the big debate over the Snoopers’ Charter, for example, the UK government was forced to listen to individuals and advocacy groups, and seemed to do so pretty well, in the end. There were fewer signs of this elsewhere in the world, and 2012 ended with the US government passing FISA, their warrantless wiretapping act, without seeming to pay any attention to advocacy groups at all. Still, the work on the Snoopers Charter was pretty good, so I’ll give us half a mark.Verdict – neutral Score – 1/2 out of 2
3. That privacy problems continue to grab the headlines – so that privacy starts to be something of a selling point, and companies compete to become the most ‘privacy-friendly’ rather than just paying lip service to privacy
Overall, I’d say this was a success. Privacy problems have made headlines throughout the year, with the Leveson Inquiry and the Snoopers Charter consultation getting a lot of attention in the UK, and General Petraeus’ email shenanigans getting both laughs and real reaction in the US. What’s more, almost all companies have been falling over themselves to claim their privacy credentials… though that part still means little more than lip service. Still, overall, a success.
Verdict – success Score – 1 1/2 out of 3
4. That the small signs I’ve been seeing that Google might be ‘getting’ privacy do not turn out to be illusions.
A bit of a damp squib on this one – whilst Google might not have been quite as bad as they have been in the past, there haven’t been many changes in policy that have really made much difference. Google + still has a real names policy, and Google have been lobbying hard against the positive changes in the proposed new Data Protection Regulation. Failure, overall.Verdict – failure Score – 1 1/2 out of 4
5. That my ‘gut feeling’ that 2012 could be the peak year for Facebook turns out to be true.
Unproven, overall. Facebook passed the billion user mark in 2012 – but its IPO was fairly disastrous, and the headlines made by Facebook have been far from good. Only time will tell how this one pans out.Verdict – neutral Score – 2 out of 5
6. That the ICO grows some cojones, and starts understanding that it’s supposed to represent us, not just find ways for businesses to get around data protection regulations…
Kudos to the ICO on this one, I’d say. First of all, they stood up firmly against the Government over the Snoopers’ Charter, which is much to their credit. Secondly, they’ve started fining businesses decent amounts, not just governmental bodies. I’ve been a strong critic of the ICO in the past, but I think they’ve done well her.Verdict – success Score – 3 out of 6
7. That the media, whenever they get told about a new technical innovation, don’t just talk about how wonderful and exciting it is, but think a little more critically, and particularly about privacy
Again, this is hard to be sure of – I’d say the media has been improving on this front, but not in a huge way. Coverage of the Snoopers’ Charter, for example, was highly variable, some very good things and some very bad things. Overall, I think this has to be a no-result.Verdict – neutral Score – 3 1/2 out of 7
8. That the revision to the Data Protection Directive (or perhaps Regulation) turns into something that is both helpful and workable – and not by compromising privacy to the wishes of business interests.
I suspect many people will disagree with me on this, but I think the new Data Protection Regulation is looking pretty good at the moment – and the Commission has done well to stick to its guns in the main. Of course the main battle has yet to be fought, and only time will tell, but I’m going to call this a success for the moment.Verdict – success Score 4 1/2 out of 8
9. That neither SOPA nor PIPA get passed in the US…
Resounding success here! All those involved in the fight against SOPA and PIPA (and indeed ACTA) should be proud – but remain vigilant!Verdict – success Score 5 1/2 out of 9
10. That the right to be forgotten is discussed for what it is, not what people assume it must be based solely on the misleading name.
Failure here – it’s still being talked about as in conflict with freedom of expression, and as something that will be a big threat to the internet. I still don’t believe that this is what it is at all (and I’ll be writing much more about that later in the month), but that’s the way the media, particularly in the US, is still portraying it.Verdict – failure Score 5 1/2 out of 10
11. That the Labour Party begins to put together a progressive digital policy, and says sorry for ever having listened to the copyright lobby in introducing the Digital Economy Act!
Again, a resounding failure here – though I wrote about it at some length (in my blog here), and a number of Labour people seemed very supportive, the front bench seems to still be pretty much entirely in the hands of the copyright lobby – and perhaps the security lobby too. They didn’t ever say anything clear about the Snoopers’ Charter, for example.Verdict – failure Score 5 1/2 out of 11
12. That we start thinking more about the ordinary privacy of ordinary people, not just that of celebrities and politicians…
This one is hard to call. The defeat (for now) of the Snoopers Charter was the highlight of the privacy year for me, and it was based largely on the understanding that ordinary people had a right to privacy, and that the Snoopers Charter was infringing that right. Still, the biggest individual stories were the old fashioned ones that made the headlines over the Leveson Inquiry, together with the paparazzi photos of a topless Duchess of Cambridge, and the emails of General Petraeus. Overall, then, a tough call – but a neutral result.Verdict – neutral Score 6 out of 12
Six out of Twelve isn’t actually that bad – it’s better than I expected, and in some ways a reasonable reflection of the year. There have been good things and bad things, and whether the trend is positive or negative is hard to tell. I’d like to think we’re turning a corner, and heading in a ‘privacy-friendly’ direction, but that would be being far too optimistic at this stage. The reverse, however, would be too pessimistic – defeating SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and the Snoopers’ Charter shows that privacy is not quite dead yet. Here’s hoping we can keep it alive!
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