Monday 12 July 2010

The band plays on

Yesterday reminded me why it’s dangerous to allow people the opportunity to claim a right to remain completely anonymous. Should people have the unfettered right to control “their” personal information to the extent that they can demand that it be deleted from all systems?

I don’t think so.

I was reminded why it was wrong to give people the right to remain anonymous when I attended a concert given by the Royal Marines at the Deal Memorial Bandstand yesterday afternoon. It was a concert to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the murder of 11 Royal Marines musicians in the town by the IRA. A 15 lb bomb, activated by a timer switch, detonated at 8.27am on 22 September 1989.

No one has ever been arrested or convicted for this offence.

This year’s memorial concert brought together some 10,000 people, including the relatives of some of those who had been murdered, and others whose physical and emotional scars are still evident. To see the strength of character of many of the survivors is a truly humbling experience.

When you are involved in an incident like that, you really appreciate that concepts of data protection have to include an element of protection for people – to prevent their lives from being ruined by criminals who try to operate under a cloak of anonymity. If we are to live in a civil society, we really do need to ensure that, when appropriate, those whose job it is to keep us safe do have the tools to do that job.

Where and just how to draw the line between investigation and mass surveillance is an extremely difficult job. But it has to be done. I’m all for libertarianism, and self expression, but I’m also for an element of protection. The internet ought not be like the wild west. We do need to equip some trusted sheriffs with the tools to go after the bad guys.

Not to investigate dog fowling, but certainly to investigate people whose values are such that they set out to cause serious harm to people whose lives and lifestyles don’t accord with theirs.

As I examine the changes the European Commission proposes to make to the current EU data protection landscape, I will do what I can to ensure that there remains an element of protection for the many, as well as a healthy respect for the legitimate rights of the individual.