THE BLOG

Is Privacy Dead?

11/08/2015 16:49 BST | Updated 11/08/2016 10:59 BST

It's a fair but not an original question. As long ago as 1890, academics writing in The Harvard Law Review expressed concerns that:

"Instantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise have invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life".
Back then new-fangled cameras were the issue. Now it seems like every other day we hear stories about data breaches and people over-sharing online.

For me the most recent cause of concern was when I was out shopping and noticed the number of beauty treatments people are willing to have openly on the shop floor. People now think nothing of having their feet scrubbed and their unwanted body hair removed in full view of passers-by. It left me wondering whether in a generation's time we'll value privacy at all.

But then I noticed two things. First, all the customers shielded their pin numbers when paying for their beauty treatments. Second, a teenager took great care to ensure her phone screen couldn't be seen by her mother while she was waiting for her nails to be done.

These steps to protect personal information allayed my concerns that I might need to re-think my career as a privacy lawyer. While what information we deem personal over the years is likely to change, we won't lose the idea that it's an individual's right to set those parameters. Privacy can sometimes be thought of as synonymous with secrecy but that's too narrow a definition. Privacy is about the right to control what personal information one let's others know and what information we don't want to share. Underlining it are the notions of dignity and autonomy which will never date.

Although it's sometimes claimed the law cannot keep up with technology, English law is very well placed to protect privacy. My firm recently undertook research for iRights - a civil society initiative that seeks to ensure all children are able to access the internet fearlessly, creatively and knowledgeably. We wanted to see whether the five iRights, including the right to remove personal information and the right to know what information others hold about us, were already supported by law or whether new legislation was needed to plug the gaps. Happily we found all of the iRights were underpinned by different pieces of legislation.

The problem is that people don't necessarily know the laws exist. Indeed, it took us a while to pull all the different strands together. And even if they do, knowing how to enforce them can be a different question. There is currently no standardised child-friendly mechanism by which children can quickly flag issues of concern. This is essential in order to protect their privacy, particularly given the speed at which information spreads online.

I'm optimistic that as initiatives like iRights gain momentum, those providing platforms for children to share personal information ‎will make empowerment and protection key product features; thus ensuring that privacy remains alive and well for generations to come.

To download Schillings' report; iRights - The Legal Framework, visit https://www.schillings.co.uk/news#/documents/irights-the-legal-framework-47702

For more information on the iRights framework, please visit http://irights.uk