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Welcome to the Privacy Surgeon

 

 

 

By Simon Davies

On a leap of faith I’ll assume you didn’t mistakenly land here while on a quest for surgical resources. Hopefully you’re here to extract a few insights into the world of information mismanagement. If so, this inaugural post will set the context for stuff that lurks along the pipe.

Before I kick off it’s entirely fitting to ask: “who are you, and why are you masquerading as a surgeon?”

Well, in a nutshell, I’m an over-seasoned survivor in this field and have been immersed in all its aspects for over a quarter of a century. You can read more here.

Populating this site will be an exciting challenge. For the past decade I’ve ferociously resisted the temptation to start a blog site. I probably spent more time fighting it than I would ever have spent writing one, but such is life. Here I am, for better or worse, unfashionably late.

But this isn’t just a blog site; it’s an activity hub – or it will be soon. Over the coming year it will also be the online centre for a number of public events hosted by the Information Systems and Innovation Group of the London School of Economics. The “Under the scalpel” series are investigative roundtables that drill deep into aspects of failed accountability that ignited the most notorious controversies of recent times. More on that in coming weeks.

There is so much fertile ground to cultivate. Privacy has transmogrified over the span of a generation from an arcane interest of a few mavericks to a thriving issue near the top of the political agenda.

Privacy has transmogrified over the span of a generation from an arcane interest of a few mavericks to a thriving issue near the top of the political agenda.

Now the subject is central to corporate governance and public policy. Hardly a day goes by without some privacy issue or another breaking into headlines.

The Internet is replete with tales of David and Goliath battles that helped propel privacy into the public domain – often ferocious, prolonged combat steeped in military strategy. Those emotion-charged conflicts over online privacy, identity cards, encryption controls, national census collection, communications interception, data retention and other key activities serve as testimony to the passion that for centuries has characterised the fight against intrusion.

However the recent narrative of privacy – and that of its less charismatic regulatory sibling Data Protection – is not all about conflict. That might be the most sensational aspect, but it overshadows a far more important dynamic that has shifted privacy awareness to its current status on the world stage: the test of evidence.

Overall, governments and corporations don’t do well at providing evidence to justify their invasions of privacy. Many are still stuck in a 1950’s paradigm when slogans ruled supreme.

Overall, governments and corporations don’t do well at providing evidence to justify their invasions of privacy. Many are still stuck in a 1950’s paradigm when slogans ruled supreme.

Glib assertions lubricated by patriotism or fear are often shrouded by the cloak of national security or commercial secrecy and we the public are often left with little more than blind faith – or blind scepticism. Neither condition is healthy.

That’s not to say that privacy is never a competition of differing perceptions, because it still is. The difference however between now and 25 years ago is that increasingly large organisations conducting surveillance attract routine scrutiny. Privacy is an Open Source issue, and countless experts, engineers and analysts pool their knowledge to stake an evidence-based counter-claim against the often bland assertions of the invaders.

These pages are devoted to promoting such tests of evidence and contrasting that body of knowledge against the hypocrisy, doublespeak, secrecy, unfairness, deception and betrayal  that time and time again emerge globally as lightning rods to provoke deep anger: