Monday, 6 February 2012

The big freeze – it’s enough to make me stop learning about data protection

Temperatures are plummeting so fast that I feel very sorry for those who have tried so hard to organise data protection events over the next few days. How many souls will turn into “fair weather supporters”, and decline the invitation to learn more about the subjects of the day?

I’m facing that dilemma, today. If I travel into central London now, I fear that the journey won’t be the customary experience. It will be even worse – and I’m not sure I can stomach that.

This means that tonight I’ll be forgoing the pleasure of travelling to the Grand Committee Room of the House of Commons for a meeting held by the Parliamentary Internet Communications & Technology Forum to hear a panel discuss the concept of search neutrality on the internet. I just hope that the speakers Shivaun Raff (CEO, Foundem) Alec Muffett (Computer Security specialist, consultant and writer) and Mark Margaretten (University of Bedfordshire) make it. Panel Chairman Eric Joyce MP will certainly be there. Well he ought to be. After all, it’s his usual place of work.

Were I not to have attended that session, I expect that I would have been at the Demos bash, over at One Bird Cage Walk, Westminster. Why? Because the leading American commentator Michael Lind will be talking about the current trends in US politics and economics and his book, The Land of Promise, which discusses the 200 year tug of war between American economic philosophies.Penny Mordaunt MP, the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland and Director of Demos, David Goodhart will also be giving their views on the US in this election year. There’s potentially plenty of data protection meat to be had from that session, too.

And I so hope the weather won’t be too awful tomorrow, as Messrs Hunton & Williams will be hosting a morning session on the forthcoming General Data Protection Framework Regulation. And, in the afternoon, Messrs Bird & Bird will be hosting a session on ... yes you’ve guessed it ... the forthcoming General Data Protection Framework Regulation. And before that, there’s another special data protection breakfast that has been organised somewhere in Mayfair.

So, what am I to do? And how am I to get my day job done as well as keep up to speed with everything else? This is why I feel I’m living with information overload right now. There is just so much knowledge, so many useful things to know, and I find it so hard to say “Not now, thank you. I’ve over committed myself”. I hope I’m not alone – but I would love to hear what other people’s coping mechanisms are. Theirs must surely be better than mine. Come to think of it, I do hope that what's driving my thirst to attend these events really is a genuine thirst for the information I would otherwise have missed out on, rather than some egotistical effort to be seen to attend events everywhere and all the time.

This is why I feel for sorry for the European Commission. Does it really think that, in a revised new world, the great unwashed will take a closer interest in the privacy policies and the personal data breach notices that will be sent out? I think not. The more information that is sent, I fear the more people will rebel and just not bother reading it.

Until recently, a lot of us used to spend a lot of time caring about unwanted marketing messages. Soon, I fear we could be wanting to turn off the flow of unwanted service messages too– and quite where that leaves the notion of “notice and consent”, I really don’t know. We can’t allow a rule to be created which requires people to be bothered with stuff they don’t want to have, simply to tick a regulatory box. We have to find a clever way of not bothering those who don’t want to be bothered.

Enough of my rant. I’ve made my decision for today. I’ll forgo this evening’s data protection education, with the attendant risk of slipping on the icy hills around Crouch End as I return home. Instead, I will focus on attending some of tomorrow’s events (and I’ll even try to deal with some work emails, too...).

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