Picture this: you’re about take a much needed break in the Gran Canarian sun. How would you feel if a huge amount of your personal data, including your bank account details, all forms of payment information, your contact telephone numbers, frequent flyer information, your meal preferences, “general remarks”, whether you’ve purchased a one-way ticket, and “received from” information, were all automatically collected and stored on the Passenger Name Record (PNR)?
That’s what the Conservative Party appears to want for every passenger travelling through European skies, vastly upping the quantity of data that’s currently collected and stored in airline reservations and departure control databases. At present the data collected is limited. Messrs Cameron and May want to include an additional 42 items in their pre-election campaign to talk tough on terrorism.
It’s ironic that their plans to dramatically increase data collection emerged on international Data Protection Day on 28th January – the day Europe highlights the importance of data protection and security in the digital age.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled last year that the European Data Retention Directive was insufficiently circumscribed in its wide-ranging scope and was not capable of limiting interference to what was strictly necessary. But despite this, Mr Cameron and Ms May appear intent on introducing additional clauses to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill currently making its way through parliament. If included, they will authorise sweeping new powers of mass data collection.
The trail of personal data that people leave behind as digital footprints while they seek out entertaining or informative digital content has grown exponentially over the last few years. The average amount of time adults spend online has grown by 75 per cent over the last four years, according to eMarketer, and as faster internet speeds make it easier to access far more sites than ever before in any given hour, the data trail is now massive.
The really ironic thing is that, in seeking to look tough on terror, the Cameron-May plan to invade the privacy of ordinary citizens will almost certainly do little to make us safer from terrorists – who will use the dark web to hatch their nefarious plan? Not Google.
Benjamin Franklin once said: “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”