back to article Politicos whining about folks' data rights ought to start closer to home

Political grandstanding about giving the UK's information commissioner more power rings hollow when parliamentarians tend to ignore her warnings about new data protection law and their parties continue to slurp up data for their own ends. It's been a whirlwind two weeks where privacy and data protection have surged to the top …

  1. WatAWorld

    Few of us have as much to lose via privacy violations as do politicians.

    Politicians would do well to remember that where data protection and privacy breaches are concerned, they live in glass houses.

    Few of us have as much to lose via privacy violations as do politicians.

    Politicians, political pundits, news readers, other public figures -- as the history of the past 10 years has shown, they've all got much more to lose from the publication of their communications than regular citizens.

    And even when the communications of regular citizens are violated, the injury that occurs tends to affect the public figures we support more than ourselves. Think Hillary Clinton, think Donald Trump.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Few of us have as much to lose via privacy violations as do politicians.

      Few of us have as much to lose via privacy violations as do politicians.

      I beg to differ, because that's veering dangerously towards the "nothing to hide" meme. Privacy is a right we have by default. We do not need to argue why we want it, it is a default right. The only statement of need that is due is from people who want our data, not the other way around.

      Secondly, you have plenty that does not brook leaking such as financial details (hello we-get-a-discount-fine-because-we-leaked-so-bloody-much Equifax) and health information (no, wait, we already shared a boatload of that with Google - again, without as much as a by-your-leave).

      Change your stance: you have rights. Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft - all of them want to breach those because it makes them money. If politicians want to do something they should support bigger fines - but also for their own use, because as PUBLIC servants they should be accountable. No exceptions, and no excuses.

      I would like to see, for instance, the data on the use of profiling to push the Brexit vote. I find it fascinating that it's so difficult to have that examined.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Few of us have as much to lose via privacy violations as do politicians.

        I would like to see, for instance, the data on the use of profiling to push the Brexit vote. I find it fascinating that it's so difficult to have that examined.

        The difficulty might be because there isn't any to see.

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "That's because the ICO has been, unsuccessfully, lobbying against a number of clauses the government has inserted into the Data Protection Bill (that's the one the government has been bragging about so much in recent days)."

    With any luck the UK will be refused an adequacy finding under GDPR as a result of all this and there'll have to be some emergency legislation passed to strip out all the exceptions. If that happens let's also hope that real legislation is required, not one of these Henry VIII manoeuvres.

  3. SVV Silver badge

    It's just data warehousing all over again

    Remember when collecting massive amounts of data and then analysing it was going to be the answer to every problem every company had? And bazillions got wasted to little effect on the company's bottom line because it turned out that the people in the business actually knew and understood the business better than the data warehouse analysis tools possibly could - because they could actually THINK as well....

    Well, this is what is now happening in politics as far as I can see, as the data analysis gets used on a huge numbr of people's online "interests" and "opinions" and then this is used to formulate policies that will appeal to the most frequently expressed opinions. That might be somewhat democratic, in a very narrow and incomplete way, but it's a bloody stupid way to have sensible practical policies that have been given serious thought and analysed by people. Because it just results in the now notorious "have cake and eat it" promises that are the most attractive to voters because it turns out the majority of people want high quality public services and low taxation. And I worry that people will keep voting for that, even though it will nevr deliver what they want, and they'll have to keep looking for new scapegoats every time it doesn't.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: It's just data warehousing all over again

      For some reason I read that as "whore housing"

    2. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: It's just data warehousing all over again

      The overwhelming majority, at least in the US, are largely ignorant of nearly everything to do with the Constitution or laws; the authority and operation of federal, state, and local government; the relations among these different layers of government; the formation and execution of public policy; even the names of their elected officials at all levels. Accordingly, their "public opinion" is shaped largely by stereotypes and prejudices and easily molded by the wording of questions into the answer the poll sponsor wants and the polling organization, for business reasons, wants to produce.

      Cambridge Analytica, and their critics as well, claim they can use unsolicited information scraped from the likes of FaceBook or Google, together with other publicly available information, to arrive at a better understanding of voter behavior than other available methods. They claim as well that they can use the results of such analysis to design precisely tailored advertising that will be more effective than ads produced using other available methods; and further, that they and similar businesses can use FaceBook and maybe Google and other facilities to deliver the ads precisely to those who will be most responsive and thereby change voting behavior as their clients are paying them to do.

      Cambridge Analytica's apparent touting to a potential client of centuries old practices like negative rumor spreading suggests they do not really believe the claims, and neither should the rest of us without far more evidence than the hand waving that so far is offered in its place.

      1. Alphebatical

        Re: It's just data warehousing all over again

        Mother Jones ran a rather lengthy article on this whole imbroglio. It turns out the leaked data wasn't very effective in affecting the campaign: Cambridge Analytica pretty much conned everyone who worked with them and produced little or no usable information for the campaigns.

        Presumably that article was written by the Russians.

  4. davenewman

    Voting is a public duty

    Because of that, candidates have the right to communicate with voters as a matter of public policy. To do that they need data on all voters, so they get the full electoral register, not the edited version used in commercial marketing. Voting isn't compulsory, but voters have a duty to read, consider and decide whether to vote (and who for), so they cannot opt out of getting political leaflets.

    That is what makes it different from commercial marketing.

    The problem isn't collecting the data, but using it to spread different lies to different people. We need a law to make professional lying an imprisonable offence.

    1. Blofeld's Cat
      Devil

      Re: Voting is a public duty

      "... We need a law to make professional lying an imprisonable offence ... "

      I doubt any court would have sufficient lawyers* or judges available to deal with the workload.

      * For recursion see recursion.

      1. Dave 15

        Re: Voting is a public duty

        Might just be easier to lock up all politicians (all parties) at all levels (town council to PM and the Lords), the police, the judges, the lawyers and all civil servants because they are just liars.

    2. Dave 15

      Re: Voting is a public duty

      If people somehow have a duty to read the bull in political leaflets isn't it time we ensured the bull had at least some resemblance to truth? What about making a promise made in a manifesto legally binding. As in 'we wont raise taxation' stopping them raising tax (and include such bull as national insurance isnt a tax ... it smells like one, walks like one, sounds like one and tastes like one... it is one), or forcing them to obey 'we will have a referendum on the EU constitution' instead of giving it a slightly different cover.

      But thenn we can't even manage to bring a former PM to justice for lies told to parliament and the British people, the lives lost by soldiers and even innocent men women and children in a war to satisfy a vengeful American president with no morals.

    3. scrubber

      Re: Voting is a public duty

      The fuck it is, it's a right. And a way for those in real power to give the little people the appearance of having a say in their lives. It's a sham.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Voting is a public duty

        Most certainly voting is NOT a duty.

        Why should I be duty bound to vote, faced with a handful of lacklustre, dislikeable candidates not even local people, whose intentions are outlined in long, boring manifestos written by central office political creeps with no real life experience?

        And when the manifesto contains all manner of hidden-away shit that people can't selectively support or challenge, and that in any event history proves politicians will treat as the most flexible of guidelines?

        And that's before considering the paucity of choice in the UK or US systems where years of more (UK) or less (US) subtle gerrymandering plus mob-appeal politics have created a near unassailable two party system.

        If you identify enough with the bulk of a manifesto, can live with all the commitments you may not identify with, and trust the politician and trust their party, then you should vote for them. Anybody who can't tick all four of those boxes really shouldn't be voting for the party concerned. Even tactical voting is merely giving legitimacy to a process - so voting X to try and keep out Y isn't the most sensible approach.

        My vote is mine, and with the current shower of piss I'm offered at the ballot bx, withholding it is the clearest signal I can give. A "public duty" my arse.

        1. SloppyJesse

          Re: Voting is a public duty

          "withholding it is the clearest signal I can give"

          So having taken the time to carefully consider your options you decide to lump yourself in with those that cannot be arsed? Hardly a 'clear' signal.

          Better to turn up and write your opinion on the ballot paper - at least then you get included in the turnout figure.

          1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

            Re: Voting is a public duty

            "at least then you get included in the turnout figure."

            They should use the turnout figure (as a percentage) to weight the votes in the legislature. That would make it worth voting whether you were voting for a certai winner, a certain loser, or merely a spoiled ballot.

  5. Scott Broukell

    Human behaviour

    Does it not all come down to human behavioral psychology. Your average punter sees the promise of globally shared cat photos and family news very much through rose tinted glasses, blinding themselves to any potential negatives with regard to privacy etc. Whilst, on the other hand, some folk just can't resist a tinker with all that lovely jubbley totally volunteered data. The first group feels it has won an achievement by following the trend and adopting the promise of the new digital life style, the second group is on to a winner so long as it's all done on the quiet. So it's a case of exploitation all round. More importantly we humans are perhaps not really mature enough to cope with the very digital age that puts us all into such a spin all the time. Or, at the very least, we require further significant education regarding the implications of such a digital age!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Human behaviour

      Some portion of the legally adult population will always lack maturity but I think a big part of the problem is declining education standards. This is largely due to a lack of resources in the education system which is caused by a decrease in the taxation on Corporations and the wealthy. If your in the economic middle-class you can feel the money being sucked out and almost hear it.

      1. The Nazz Silver badge

        Re: Human behaviour

        re a lack of resources.

        You are joking, surely?

        Ever since my kids first went to primary school i cannot believe, literally gobsmacked, how well resourced the schools have been.

        A local secondary school around here had an open day just before it was closed and demolished. A ridiculous amount of resources in there, unbelievably so, (for a much reduced head count from it's heyday too). Several magnitudes more resources than we ever had at the same stage.

        What we did have, however, was a much higher standard of teaching and teachers.

        ( FTR in a local authority deemed to be in a highly deprived area )

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: Human behaviour

          "What we did have, however, was a much higher standard of teaching and teachers."

          You can't say that. You weren't there, you still aren't, and it wouldn't help anyway.

          *) You *think* you were there, but in fact you had the mind of a child at the time and were totally incapable of determining whether the teacher was doing a good job, either for you or for others. Misty-eye recollections don't count and the statistics would suggest that when you were young about a quarter of all pupils emerged from a decade of full-time education with no qualifications to speak of.

          *) Most parents *still* don't have the relevant skills (in any given subject) or experience (of what happens in the classroom) to judge whether teachers are doing a good job now. If you are good at something, you've usually no idea how to teach it to someone who isn't. If you were bad at something (and presumably don't do it anymore) you never even knew what it is you would be trying to teach. Your ignorance is stupendous and if you are half as smart as you think you are then you should accept this with good grace.

          *) You are just you and (probably for the best) the system is also trying to reach people it didn't bother with 50 years ago, such as dyslexics.

          *) The system is different to the extent that no scientist worth of the title would accept that exam performances can be meaningfully compared. Exams now aren't covering the same material and aren't trying to measure the same outcomes. You are free to argue that they are covering the wrong material and/or rewarding the wrong things, but you must surely accept that this makes them incomparable.

          *) Exam performances are not the only (or, perhaps, even the most important) measure of whether a school has educated anyone. I don't think I would respect the intelligence of anyone who seriously argued that they were, but I can't be certain because I also don't think I've ever met one.

          Basically, we haven't a flipping clue and probably won't ever get one. Education is Hard.

          I do know, however, that a lot of research has been done by psychologists, trying out different teaching methods on groups of children using controls as best one can given the ridiculous variability of children and environmental factors, and that this research *is* used to inform teaching methods. It's one reason why teaching methods change with the seasons. As one with a scientific background, I find it hard to argue against trying to do such research and trying to incorporate the findings into classroom practice. (The great pity is that the politicians interfere with the process so much, regularly demanding that the new methods are abandoned in favour of whatever happened when they were kids.)

          1. Dave 15

            Re: Human behaviour

            And today most kids come out with A*s in all their exams in case they feel like failures - even those unable to colour within the lines.

            Most of them then proceed to do various ridiculous degrees leading to a life of nothing.

            1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

              Re: Human behaviour

              Dave15: facts would be nice. Is there one sentence, even one clause, in your post that is based on evidence?

        2. Dave 15

          Re: Human behaviour

          The original poster reads to many left wing stories on the BBC and social media because you are correct schools today are very very well resourced.

          Most of the resources are either not used or plain wrong but thats a sad different story.

          When I did my science PGCE there were stacks of kit in the store room, a couple of people employed just to get the stuff ready for the teachers (when I was a kid the teachers did that themselves). In the corner of this treasure trove were many many old articles unloved, dusty and unused - including 2 mamod engines for showing energy conversions and loss. I made them work again (new washers, lubrication and a polish for good measure).

          Since then the BBC has published (including today) many many stories of how short of teachers schools are - especially science teachers. Despite my science teaching qualification, my decent science degree, the many years of IT experience and even my sports coaching certificates I have only ever had one interview (and wasn't even turned down - just never told) despite the hundreds of applications I made (I stopped a few years back when it became clear it was a total waste of effort - a friend of mine from the rugby club got the science teaching job at the local school despite not having a science O level because he was the sports teacher).

          Schools are another institution in the UK that need a radical overhaul - starting with an assessment of whether any of the teachers are worth keeping.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "in some – but crucially not all – cases, you'll get some very small print saying that by signing up to one issue you're giving blanket consent for them to contact you about anything in future. "

    The local Labour councillor asked for comments about road safety on the local Labour via the local Labour website. My comment was about a recently installed set of speed bumps which i practice caused cars to become more dangerous outside a school.

    The next thing I knew was that they had submitted an edited version of my comment to the county council - with whom they had a long-standing political feud. Moreover they had filled in the online form using my name, address, and email address as if I had sent that report.

    Furthermore they then added me to their Labour "supporters" mailing list. After many attempts to get it removed I had to threaten the area Labour party with Data Protection laws.

    On another occasion I emailed my Labour MP about a RIPA bill. Not only was the stock ministerial answer irrelevant - it was a photocopy of a letter sent to another constituent. Their name and address had been redacted with a black marker pen - but at a particular angle to light the underlying text was perfectly readable.

    The now Tory MP basically answers emails on such issues with a shrug of his party conformist shoulders that the minister knows best.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Politicians, for the most part, are little more than Communist era party apparatchik. I think that the farther up the political ladder they go the more strongly they are selected for this characteristic. This, of course, makes it much more easy for the those at the top to have those below them do what they're told instead of doing what is right. It is way past time to stop thinking of Politicians as working for the public good. They basically all work for a variety of Corporate/Feudal masters.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Flame

      Back in about 1986 I rang 999[1] to report a fire. It looked to be growing out of control on creosoted fences and the like, as well as vegetation. Houses and cars could have followed.

      A couple of months later, that fire, and specifically the response by the fire brigade that put it out, featured in party political material coming from Labour. They were taking the credit! I suspect they inferred my support (entirely wrongly, never having asked) from my then-postcode in one of the poorest areas of Bristol.

      What's changed since then is that they're no longer the worst. And the amount of political skulduggery that's been outsourced to groups with less accountability and more deniability.

      [1] Think 112 or 911, according to where you live.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Mushroom

    Politicians, a wretched hive of villainy. (With the possible exception of the Troll in Chief.)

    1. Dave 15

      No exception

      You were right, apart from your gesture that the villain in chief is somehow not as bad as the rest - if anything she is worse

  8. Chris G Silver badge

    I like this:

    "The scandal over Cambridge Analytica's et al's use of Facebook data to microtarget potential voters in recent campaigns is perfect for a bit of political outrage, tapping into concerns about public manipulation and rigged elections."

    Political outrage now and later when coming up to election time; 'How do I do this?'

  9. MrT

    "When it suits them, they don't give a rat's arse about your privacy."

    I'd say that statement is eight letters and one space character too long...

  10. fidodogbreath Silver badge

    BREAKING NEWS ALERT

    Politicians consider themselves to be above the law.

    We now return to our regular programming.

  11. JakeMS
    WTF?

    Hmm

    I say, it seems most odd that they proclaim to care about privacy given the fact that they actively support and encourage various laws within this kingdom which are designed with the sole purpose of invading privacy and spying on our citizens.

    I do wonder how one can say they care about an individuals privacy while one removes that very same individuals privacy by implementing CCTV systems on every corner and implementing various laws which would allow oneself to read and analyse said individuals private personal messages on a computer system.

    It should be said that the forms on the political parties websites are of little worry compared to various laws those political parties implement.

    If one was to care about privacy then oneself would not support any of these invasive laws for you see that would go against the very idea of ensuring an individual has their privacy.

    Thus one can certainly proclaim to care about privacy, but having oneself truly caring is certainly different and it is with this for which I believe they do not care.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hmm

      I think it could be more that they think that everyone should have privacy from everyone but them.

      They believe they should have privacy from us. Look at the exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act for government decision making processes. It seems that their belief is that the running of the country as they see fit should entitle them to know everything about the people as they think they need to. They think they should be exempt from the laws that allow the security services to conduct surveillance on the population like no elected politician could ever be a criminal or a threat to the country. Now if only I could think of an example of a politician breaking the law...

      If and when evidence of gross misconduct does make it to the public to an extent it can't just be ignored, think the Westminster child abuse inquiry, strangely all those found who might have questions to answer seem to be not from the ruling party/long out of office/too old and infirm to be tried/dead. *delete as appropriate

      Where is the Judge Dred "I am the law!" icon when you need it?

  12. MrHorizontal

    Loving it

    I have to say I absolutely love the farce this whole Cambridge Analytica 'scandal' has created.

    The biggest issue is that the only breach was by Dr Kogan when he resold data mined from Facebook to CA. But that's just a breach of contract in the license usage restriction from the data from Facebook - nothing criminal. And nothing anyone can really do anything about it.

    Of course Facebook has a whole heap of other data breaches, particularly in the use of customer lists that they make their advertisers upload (and break the law in doing so), but that's beside the point. Of course, there'll be plenty more popcorn on Facebook's front once GDPR is in full force...

    Basically, CA provided 'Machine Learning' to campaigning. Therefore is campaigning bad, or is the fact someone provided more intelligent campaigning bad?

  13. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Keep 'em in the dark

    Let them pass really strong data privacy laws whilst they have the bit in their teeth. Let them channel the public anger and feel good about themselves whilst they're doing it. Let them attach their own names (and reputations) to those laws and tell us at every opportunity how wise they were to have passed them.

    Then use those laws to nail the bastards for their own misbehaviour.

  14. Dave 15

    Privacy...

    Is this what they give us when forcing the web companies to track every website we visit, every search we do, every email we send, every phone call we make or even the location of our phone?

    TBH the sooner the lazy idiots get off their backsides and revolt the better, perhaps we can have fun deciding which politician is first against the wall ... the lying but got away with it as expected Blair, or the brexit means brexit but I am never going to do it May, or perhaps the civil servant that thought it clever to let the French make our passports without thinking of the British workers that would make redundant and the extra that is going to cost the tax payer

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

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