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Goverment gives personal data to private companies

April 20, 2009

It has been revealed that the British government has been passing information gathered by the police on citizens to private companies. The Guardian todayshowed that data on climate change protestors found its way from the police to the ridiculously-renamed Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) to power company, E-ON.

Now, of course the government can argue that electricity supply is a matter of  ‘resilience’, ‘contingency planning’ and ‘national security’, but then how can they justify it being in private corporate hands in the first place? How exactly can companies whose primary aim is to provide ‘shareholder value’ at all costs, many of whom are transnationals that have no commitment to the UK, be treated as if they were state organisations, and be given data from state databases? The boundaries between public and private are being increasingly eroded, and once, again it is the relationship between citizen and state which suffers.

The government cannot just give data, especially data which was collected in very questionable ways for highly dubious reasons in the first place, to whoever it thinks might find it useful. This kind of action shows that the the state is now quite often simply the servant of private enterprise, and the police no better than an adjunct to private security. It makes a mockery of regulation of surveillance power and data protection, and does nothing for our already-weakened trust in the state’s ability to protect our rights or or information.

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