Information Commissioner warns of increasing threat to privacy

By Stuart Sumner
30 Mar 2011 View Comments
ICO's Christopher Graham

The amount of personal information that is collected by and shared between public bodies is a threat to individual privacy, according to Information Commissioner Christopher Graham.

Graham made the statement ahead of a seminar being hosted today by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) on anonymisation at the Wellcome Trust in London.

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"Just by going about our everyday lives, our movements, browsing habits and personal information are constantly being captured. The information that can identify someone is no longer simply their name and address. It's their number plate scanned by a traffic camera, or the digital fingerprint that they leave behind when they file their tax return or renew their local authority parking permit online," said Graham.

"The government's transparency agenda is driving the publication of large volumes of data. What is up for debate is how best we can assess the privacy risks. When can a statistic lead to someone being identified? And should we withhold publishing data where there is a small risk that privacy could be threatened?

These statements arrived hot on the heels of this weekend's deadline for the government census 2011, which will collect a huge amount of personal data.

An ICO spokesperson said: "The bodies responsible need to comply with the principles of the Data Protection Act in relation to the census information they collect and the ICO will investigate any complaints that are received."

Privacy issues will be addressed today at the ICO seminar on anonymisation. The ICO will publish a report on the seminar in April.

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