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Privacy violators named and shamed

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Privacy invasers were honoured this week in the fourth annual Big Brother Awards.

Watchdog organisation Privacy International bestows the awards to the government and private sector organisations judged to have done the most to invade personal privacy in Britain.

Privacy International's Director, Simon Davies, said that through the judging it became clear that "government agencies and companies have stooped to an all time low in the wilful violation of our privacy"

He said the outlook for the future was grim in large part because "September 11 has given organisations the opportunity to promote bad policy on the basis of fears about terrorism".

Villains

Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary, was judged the Worst Public Servant "for his long standing commitment to opposing freedom of information, data protection and ministerial accountability".

Sir Richard was also up for a "Lifetime Menace award", but was beaten in that category by the national Identification and data sharing scheme, which is involved in promoting the concept of a national ID.

The Department of Education and Skills, for creating a student tracking system, beat the Home Office and the Internet Watch Foundation for the Most Heinous Government Organisation award.

The Most Appalling Project trophy went to the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), for its proposal to archive and warehouse all email, Internet and telephone call traffic records.

Controversy

The most controversial category turned out to be the Most Invasive Company award, which went to Norwich Union, "following last year's controversy over the use of unapproved genetic tests to assess eligibility for life insurance. Norwich has also won the award because of its 'Pay as you Drive' satellite vehicle tracking project". It came ahead of the other contenders The Countryside Alliance and the Internet Watch Foundation.

Norwich Union says the allegations against it are incorrect. James Evans, a spokesman for Norwich Union, said that it abides by the Association of British Insurers code of practice on genetic testing. The company has never asked anyone for a genetic test, he added.

Evans said the 'Pay as you Drive' satellite vehicle tracking project was "innovative technology" and suggested that its use would be voluntary, although since the scheme is at a very early stage of development it would seem difficult to draw firm conclusions on it.

Heroes

It wasn't all bad news though. A number of people were presented with "Winston" awards for outstanding contribution to privacy protection. They were: Maurice Frankel, Campaign for Freedom of Information, Lord Andrew Phillips, The Daily Telegraph, ex-spy David Shaylor and Ilka Schroeder, MEP.

Explanatory note

[To explain some aspects to the awards. Named after Big Brother from George Orwell's 1984 novel, Winston Smith was the protagonist whose rebelled against the status quo.

The trophy to privacy violating organisations takes its form from a quote in the book: "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever."] ®

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