Feeds

Data protection used as smokescreen

Pestered by nosy do-gooders? Use the privacy defence

Security for virtualized datacentres

Privacy laws have become a convenient excuse for authorities who want to keep secrets, say medical researchers.

They are "hidebound by bureaucracy" in their efforts to develop medical breakthroughs from patient data, said the Academy of Medical Sciences in a report this week.

The academy's representatives complained that authorities are using privacy laws to justify conservative, restrictive and unhelpful attitudes toward the public good.

It has also become a convenient stance for secretive corporations. Yet often when authorities claim the privacy defence, it would not stand up to scrutiny. This is especially true when the data being sought is demographic.

Privacy is cited as the reason for not sharing data that can be disclosed without offending the law. A recent example is an excuse Microsoft gave to equality researchers from the Open University for not sharing information about women engineers.

The software giant claimed privacy laws prevented it from saying how many Microsoft-certified engineers were women. The OU got a note from the Information Commissioner to show the defence was nonsense - the researchers were asking for statistics, not names and addresses. Microsoft went silent.

It is an unfortunate irony that in a society that has adopted the principle of freedom of information in law, people who want to use information for the public good must have a thorough understanding of privacy laws if they want authorities to open up.

However, the the Academy of Medical Sciences has gone one step further - so much so that what at first appears to be an appeal against obstructive bureaucracy is, under the surface, a request for special treatment.

It has suggested that medical researchers have unique powers under the Data Protection Act. They have a right to use "identifiable" information in their research. Further, authorities, including the Information Commissioner (IC), "should accept this interpretation in their guidance and approval decisions".

Some sour grapes, perhaps? The IC - which has shown a fair eye in the use of its powers to date - will not give up your name and address so readily. It supports patient confidentiality and the protection of people's patient records, it said in a statement today.

"The Data Protection Act does not prohibit medical research but does put people in control of what happens to their most sensitive personal details, and this should only be overridden in exceptional cases," it added. ®

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
JINGS! Microsoft Bing called Scots indyref RIGHT!
Redmond sporran metrics get one in the ten ring
Driving with an Apple Watch could land you with a £100 FINE
Bad news for tech-addicted fanbois behind the wheel
Murdoch to Europe: Inflict MORE PAIN on Google, please
'Platform for piracy' must be punished, or it'll kill us in FIVE YEARS
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
Sony says year's losses will be FOUR TIMES DEEPER than thought
Losses of more than $2 BILLION loom over troubled Japanese corp
Show us your Five-Eyes SECRETS says Privacy International
Refusal to disclose GCHQ canteen menus and prices triggers Euro Human Rights Court action
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.