A new book from the UK's National Consumer Council (NCC) examines and assesses the "personal information economy" in the UK and reveals that four out of five consumers think that they have lost control of their personal information.
Not surprisingly, the same proportion think that they have less privacy than they had ten years ago. The book, The Glass Consumer - Life in a Surveillance Society, warns consumers that if they don't wake up to the risks of the surveillance society they will pay the price in lost personal privacy and a collapse in trust between individuals and organisations.
According to the NCC: "Every time we surf the net or use a credit card, store card or mobile phone, we give away information about ourselves � often more than we realise. From CCTV cameras to ID cards, face recognition systems and electronic tagging, new ways of tracking our lives emerge as fast as the technology allows."
Auditing and inspection powers
Ed Mayo, NCC chief executive, adds: "New plans for road pricing using satellite tracking are just the latest example of the rapid advance of the information economy. We are living in a surveillance society but our data protection laws aren't up to the job. Research consistently shows that many companies fail to comply with data protection legislation - often unaware of their legal responsibilities. Giving the UK's personal information regulator auditing and inspection powers would help enforce new, tougher laws better."
According to Mayo, "While there are some practical steps consumers can take to check for ID pollution � where the information held on them is incorrect or out-of-date - our own research suggests most of us aren't doing this. Only around one in ten has contacted a credit reference agency to check their credit report, or to ask to see their medical records. It's what we call ID neglect."
The book argues that ID neglect and ID pollution can lead to injustice - being unjustifiably denied a job, insurance or credit, for instance. In the US, one in four credit records had errors serious enough to do just that.
And if information security isn't robust, people run the risk of ID theft � becoming a victim of fraud and getting involved in a nightmare battle to clear their names. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing UK crimes � up seven-fold over the past five years.
The NCC is now calling for tougher and better-policed information laws and for all organisations to take their guardianship of personal information seriously � giving everyone real choices about how their information is used and shared. A government-sponsored survey found that 44% of UK businesses had suffered at least one malicious security breach in 2001. They also found that nearly three quarters of companies did not have a written policy on information security.
The book can be ordered by email from Marston Book Serices for 12.99.