Daithi Mac Stithigh points out that today is European Data Protection day (see Lex Ferenda » Going on a data? Use protection). He also suggests that this is a good time to make a contribution to Digital Rights Ireland. It has to be said, data protection is a strange sort of law. But it is really important to understand it and enforce it, even when it doesn’t seem important.
Why do I say that? Well, the reason is that for the most part, breaches of your data protection rights don’t effect you that much. If someone gets access to your personal data and uses it to send you direct mail (say), well it doesn’t really matter. You get some extra junk mail about something you’re not interested in, which is a bit annoying, but nothing to get too upset about really. It takes you a few seconds to throw this stuff away, and costs you a bit to dispose of it, but no big deal, right?
Well, the individual instance is no big deal, it’s true. It’s not as if someone had showed up at your house and rifled through all of your private files. It’s just a small breach. If you make a complaint, there will be some shuffling of papers, but there’ll be no compensation. It is extremely unlikely that there’ll be a prosecution. You’ll feel like a bit of a wally for making a fuss at all.
But these small breaches are the thin end of a wedge. If we don’t value the privacy of the personal data we provide and protect it in small ways, we risk losing more and more of our privacy.
So protect you data. For a start, read all the small print and ‘gotchas’ to avoid your data being abused. Secondly, if you have a concern, bring it up with the person who appears to have gotten hold of your data illegitimately. Finally, don’t be hesitant to use your right of access to your records to check what’s on file.
One area I am concerned about is the workings of supermarket loyalty cards, and the amount of information connected with them. It would be great if anyone would be interested in working with Digital Rights Ireland to help research this.