Is Privacy Dead?

Baroness Deech

I have just bought Tony Blair’s memoirs, tempted by the offer at half price, and glad to know that the British Legion will benefit, although presumably by that much less, given that the book seems to be selling for half price nearly everywhere!  I have not yet read them, but the controversy surrounding the memoirs has caused me to think about the limits of privacy.   I no longer know what they are.  Not long ago, there was a 30 year rule preventing the publication of cabinet minutes; now political memoirs (not necessarily including verbatim accounts of cabinet discussions) appear within weeks of the Minister leaving government.  There is to be a Commons inquiry into the News of the World  telephone hacking affair because it may be a criminal offence; but it is also the case that deleted emails, which the authors never thought would see the light of day, may be recovered and used in some legal proceedings, and confidential references, too, may be revealed to the subject, regardless of the wishes of the referee.  Some footballers manage to get injunctions from the court to prevent publication of alleged misdemeanours in the press, while other people find theirs published.  MPs’ expenses were revealed in part by use of the Freedom of Information provisions and in part, apparently, by an insider leak.  Taxpayers are entitled to know how MPs spend their money – but not to know how welfare recipients spend theirs. Spent convictions may be kept private, but we also have “Sarah’s Law” to protect children from abuse by offenders with relevant past convictions. And so on.  Finding the appropriate balance is more difficult than ever.  There is a good website on this by Liberty,

10 comments for “Is Privacy Dead?

  1. Croft
    10/09/2010 at 11:52 am

    “There is to be a Commons inquiry into the News of the World telephone hacking affair because it may be a criminal offence”

    We are having an enquiry because the Labour party want to attack Cameron via Coulson. If this was about investigating criminal offences then it would be left to the police this is about politics.

    As to the thrust of the article – privacy law is a mess. Secret hearings with super injunctions are a throwback to the star chamber and might well be declared unlawful if the judiciary wasn’t largely responsible for their existence – quis custodiet ipsos

    • ladytizzy
      10/09/2010 at 9:22 pm


      And see how they run.

  2. 10/09/2010 at 12:45 pm

    The big hidden ‘bogeyman’ and need about “Privacy” is to distinguish between what should be covered under terms such as “Public”, “Restricted”, “Limited-Access”, “Personal”, “Accountable”, “Transparent” (Leadership), and all other terms surrounding this topic’s central one “Privacy”.

    It is validly arguable that no human Matter whatsoever has any natural nor civilisational Right to be held Private; except insofaras “private” refers only to an individual’s compassionate-need ‘in extremis’ such as in the Terminal Ward.

    Because every penny represents a life, and belongs to Earth-Life and not exclusively to any individual, the more pennies any individual is drawing or being given from The Public Purse the more indebted they are to Earth-Life and the less a matter of ‘privacy’ is anything sub-sequent upon that penny, even such as a luxury en-suite.

    But certainly over-payments such as more than one human-living per week from the Common Purse (to any-body, but especially to Public-Servants such as Prime Ministers and the protected Peers and other vested-interest Governance & Professions people who read their memoirs and biographies for personal-gain) and capitalisations such as a five bedroom mansion as the dwelling of just one or two title-deed-holders are not, under the Purpose of Earth-Life and of Human-Civilisation therein, ‘Private property’; and similarly neither is any individual human-being’s workplace-time and consequent ‘off-duty’ lifestyle ‘private’.
    ((( No gags from the Army to that latter item, please ! )))


  3. 10/09/2010 at 2:16 pm

    Baroness Deech,
    I seem to ake a more cantankerous tone in all my comments lately than I almost ever used to do. However, here it goes: I think you are conflating seprate issues. Privacy has a long history and really relates to things that have been greatl eroded in importance in the modern world. It has to do with things like childbirth, marriage (wives not being compelled to testify against husbands), courtship clan membership, the rights of parliamentarians and courtiers not to have their families harmed or prosecuted for their offences and the rights of a King or Prince to keep an official mistress. The private is really domestic and we kepp detroying real domesticity the world over.

    What you are mostly discussing is not privacy but secrecy. Screcy was applied to kings and queens and their councils through their sacred character really and not from privacy. It comes from all sorts of clerics and religions. Secrets like one’s inner conscience, human sacrifice, secret royal bodyguards, religious sacred magic and illusion as well as Catholic Christian practice of individual Penance and Confession. It is to this tradition that the secrets acts of the UK trace their ancestry. Clearly these are related but not the same.
    THe level of privacy in the true sense will fluctuate over time in any civilization and is very complex in its relations to sex, economics and community. Secrecy however has something essentially artificial about it. Presumably laws can made and as long as someone will enforce them secrecy can be largely preserved.

    • 14/09/2010 at 11:57 pm

      In general, ‘privacy’ applies to an individual person’s life-zone;

      whereas ‘secrecy’ is more collectively objective, like ‘state-secrets’ and battlefield ‘top-secrecy’ ?

      They are each by definition ‘artificial’ in contrast to the natural-environmental or ‘wild-life’ state ?

      In between them comes ‘confidentiality’.

      By the time it has become governmental closed-ranks policy of “need to know” (such as governments worldwide prevalently ruling that the citizen has neither a need nor a right to know how calculate his/her essential lifesupportive-needs nor to be able to monitor whether s/he is being overpaid or underpaid any welfare-benefit)
      the matter has become a malfeasantly esoteric abuse of governance-power and an insidious disruption and erosion of all basic human needs.

      My perception and consequent thinking tells me that
      (1) one civilised human being needs no more than £200 per week income to stay alive, healthy, happy and citizen-like (in Britain today);
      (2) inversely and, I argue, perversely, Britain subscribes the general an civilisational-tenet that the more property, power and monetary-wealth an individual-citizen accumulates the more ‘privacy’ becomes enforceably attached to both the wealth and its ‘owner’;
      which real-life criminality crazier than ever was the Queen of Hearts in Alice’s ‘Wonderland’, don’t you think ?


  4. 10/09/2010 at 4:25 pm

    Taxpayers are entitled to know how MPs spend their money – but not to know how welfare recipients spend theirs.

    Taxpayers are entitled to know how the money is spent. “On an MP’s wage” is fine. “To supplement an MP’s wage by paying for a non-existent mortgage” is not so much.

    I didn’t think this was so hard.

    Do I take it from your comments that you think we should either allow politicians in charge of running the country to spend money however they wish without accountability, or that you’d be in favour of policing those on benefits to make sure that they didn’t spend “our money” on anything that we might disapprove of, such as fish and chips, or porn?

  5. Bedd Gelert
    10/09/2010 at 10:47 pm

    Before you get too panic-stricken about the lack of privacy, and indeed the breaking of confidences due to lack of discretion, you may wish to read this..

    In fact, you don’t even need to click the link – the address tells you everything you need to know…

  6. Gareth Howell
    11/09/2010 at 9:15 am

    They say that to do any real hacking in the first place you have to to get at the pc in the first place to insert information from a dongle for example(in a matter of seconds).

    That done there is no privacy at all, down to the last smallest byte that has recently been invented.

    Literary researchers in future years, doing work about somebody who has mainly used computer and keyboard for his/her work, will have to be capable at hard disk programming to extract all that info, from the bowels of the machine, owned by the “somebody”,in question.

    • Carl.H
      12/09/2010 at 6:05 pm

      “They say that to do any real hacking in the first place you have to to get at the pc in the first place”

      Not entirely true, anywhere along a long line your information on the internet can be hacked. One of the reasons for hiding your IP address. Your router can be hacked and ISP servers contain logs of your every internet move and data.

      Your own PC of course would make things easier but there is no need for physical access. Fooling someone into installing a keylogger or indeed spying software is not as difficult as it may seem. The Russians, Chinese and indeed some African nations are all very adept at this.

      Encryption gives you some protection and I would hope all Government departments encrypt all email, though Government seems pretty inept when it comes to technology.

      • Senex
        15/09/2010 at 2:53 pm

        Welcome back! We missed you, believe me I’m a politician? My dear friend Chastity, says the best security is to have no security. She is however undecided whether she should lock her drawers or remove them before leaving the premises?

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