Data and governance
UK enquiry into data collection practices of government agencies
March 10, 2015

A couple of years ago, my blog featured an article in the wake of the emerging crisis relating to the Snowden revelations. This topic is not cored to my typical work, but it is still highly relevant, as it relates to digital public engagement.

Many pressing questions remain to be resolved as to what the governance of the data and the public infrastructures. In the digital economy, building infrastructures that are satisfying, useful, and appropriate to the needs of a diverse range of stakeholders across multiple levels continue to be an extremely delicate matter. This can be seen in particular in the security debate.

Also this week, a UK government enquiry into data collection practices of security agencies found that vast databases of personal information are generated without sufficient oversight. Nevertheless, the panel concluded, that bulk interception of communication on the Internet is not mass surveillance as no more than a tiny fraction of communications data is used and inspected by a human being after a filtering process [see here]. The exact number was not disclosed.

Mr. Hammond, UK foreign minister, had this to say [see here]:

“I am quite clear that the ability to intercept bulk communications data, to subject that metadata to electronic analysis and seek to extract the tiny, tiny percentage of communications that may be of any direct security interest does not represent an enhancement of the agencies’ powers. Rather it represents an adaptation of those powers to the realities of the 21st century.”

I foresee that this debate will remain a slippery slope for quite some time. Unlike to physical communication, IT provides a step change in the level of state and commercial monitoring — for what ever purpose it may be. Without sufficient oversight, it could still leave the door open to manipulation.

Partly in response to the report, Mr Cameron announced that within the next cabinet the existing out-dated data legislations will have to be revamped. While the dilemma is in urgent need to be resolved, given the current geo-political context, I remain sceptical as to what influence non-expert citizens will have on these significant decisions.