Sunday 4 January 2015

The New Year’s Honours List: another snub to the data protection community

Official honours recognise the achievements and service of extraordinary people across the UK.

But if data protection professionals want an official honour to recognise their contribution to the nation, they’ve got more chance of receiving recognition if they retrain as a dinner lady, rather than remain in the DP field.

Or become a musician and join Status Quo.

As usual, the latest list pointed to the underlying problem – which is that the establishment simply doesn’t give a stuff about data protection.  Very, very, very few establishment figures have any practical DP knowledge or experience. It’s a craft (I’m hesitating to use the term a “profession”) practiced by a small number of individuals whose DNA (generally) prevents them from questioning authority, or from becoming a media figure. No-one usually bothers to fill in the official honour nomination forms, either for themselves or for their colleagues, as no-one has any friends on the nomination committee that would endorse them.

The “DP community,” in an honourable sense, simply doesn’t exist. It has no champions. It’s not like other parts of business community, or the sporting, education or arts world. It evidently contains no one that is considered extraordinary. But is it really the case that our community contains no one of any colour, passion, devotion or achievement?

Given the emphasis that the European Commission intends to devote to revising data protection standards during 2015 and 2016, it’s also quite telling how few British civil servants hold any formal DP qualifications. And, following John Bowman’s recent departure from the Ministry of Justice, I would be surprised to learn if any senior civil servants in Whitehall have yet developed close working relationships with senior DP bods in industry. The links aren’t there, so neither are the opportunities for official recognition. I really don’t know who the MoJ minister Simon Hughes phones when he has a data protection problem. Probably, no-one other than the ICO.

Ironically, the only person I saw on the on the recent list who earned their award for doing something somewhat related to privacy was a chum who has done amazing work over many years, ensuring that communications data was secure (and perhaps also readily available to our intelligence agencies, when the requirement met the tests set out by the Human Rights Act). For obvious reasons, I won’t say anything else which might identify them.

Their honour gives officialdom the opportunity to raise two fingers at the pro-Snowden community – but it doesn’t give anyone in the DP community any confidence that their efforts will ever be appreciated.

So, I do warmly congratulate my chum on a much-deserved award, but I simultaneously lament the fact that the DP trade remains, to all intents and purposes, invisible both to the nominations committee and also to the nation.    


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