Watching what we search

20 January 2006

I try and watch what I eat (mainly so as not to miss my mouth). I look both ways before I cross the road. But I would rather not watch what I search. Should I? Would we all be just that little bit more safe with hoardes of secret agents scanning our kewords for subversiveness? 

The liberty for security trade-off rarely achieves its declared objective. I am pleased that this week Google have refused the San Jose State prosecutor's requests for search data. Child protection strikes a note with many who, understandably, would be willing to do what ever it takes -and lo behold anyone who falls short. But the giving over of search data opens up the field for government control and prosecution for political dissent, as several million Chinese might testify to if they could read this website.

Isabel Hilton and Becky Hogge's openDemocracy articles paint a less than rosy picture of Search Engine complicity in Chinese filtering of the Internet. I just hope Google stand their ground with this one. A test case for the scrutiny of search data, this is something civil libertarians will be keeping a close eye on.

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals

To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.

By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

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