Headlines: December 11th, 2007

Public bodies and other organisations will be told today that they must consider the impact on individuals’ privacy before developing new IT systems or making changes to way they handle information. The Information Commissioner’s Office will tell a conference that the recent security breach at HM Revenue and Customs was a watershed.

The event in Manchester, which will debate the surveillance society, will see the launch of Britain’s first privacy impact assessment handbook designed to help organisations address risks to privacy before implementing new initiatives and technologies. David Smith, Deputy Commissioner at the ICO, will tell the conference that carrying out privacy impact assessments will also increase public confidence in data collection.

Mr. Smith will tell delegates that the collection and use of personal information is essential to modern life but many people do not realise that data collection is at the heart of surveillance. “It is essential that before introducing new systems and technologies, which could accelerate the growth of a surveillance society, full consideration is given to the impact on individuals and that safeguards are in place to minimise intrusion,” he said.

The ICO is also to encourage people to take more control over their personal information to guard against identity fraud. Research commissioned by the ICO shows that six out of ten individuals believe they have lost control over how information about them is handled. Mr. Smith said, “Before giving out any personal information we advise individuals to make sure they know who they are giving their details to, why these details are needed and how they will be used.”

Today’s conference will also highlight how privacy enhancing technologies can protect personal information and can help to minimise the amount of information being collected.