Privacy debate is not simple or settled

May 5, 2016

Ron Iphofen claims to broadly favour protecting safety or security over protecting privacy (or at least the concept of privacy that he is confident is becoming fast outdated) (“Safety is more important than privacy”, Features, 28 April).

A few things spring to mind: first, this is a debate that will never be settled, and should never be settled – something that Iphofen prefers not to discuss, even though the continuation of the debate demonstrates a healthy tension between liberty and security. Second, Iphofen does not fully acknowledge the value that clearer, more detailed laws that keep pace with technological and social change would add to the debate. Third, however, the law on privacy in the UK and Europe is in a state of change and shift, and not all of it towards privacy protection.

The most extreme or unlawful activities of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad and successor undercover units are not merely a “fixation” to the victims of their “surveillance”, and Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers face serious consequences for enlightening us all, to put it mildly. It must be remembered that in the UK, undercover policing is subject to the ongoing Pitchford inquiry, because the facts around the extent of extreme or unlawful undercover police surveillance are far from certain, and that we are in the midst of parliamentary wrangling over an investigatory powers bill that will somehow manage to both be more transparent and accountable on the issue of surveillance powers, but also afford the home secretary and her allies some newer, more controversial surveillance powers, than ever before.

Jamie Grace
Senior lecturer in law
Sheffield Hallam University

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