The great and the good when it comes to privacy invasion were honoured last night at the London School of Economics in the third annual Big Brother Awards.
The awards are set up to highlight and publicise organisations that are invading the UK population's privacy, offering unconventional categories like Most Invasive Company, Most Heinous Government Organisation, Worst Public Servant and so on and so forth. They were compered by organiser Simon Davies (best known for an excellent TV programme on privacy invasion earlier this year) and MI5 spook-turned-whistleblower David Shayler, both dressed as Men in Black.
So, what occurred? Well Home Secretary Jack Straw featured heavily, but didn't make the shortlist for worst public servant by dint of the fact that he'd won it the previous two years. He was honoured with the Lifetime Menace award in recompense, although video footage of David Shayler trying to present him with the award (a gold-painted trophy featuring a boot crushing a head) proved that he was tricky to pin down.
The Home Office was beaten by the NHS Executive for most heinous government organisation award, thanks mostly to its patient database, compiled without consent and allowing gross invasion of personal, highly confidential details. The RIP Act was surprisingly beaten by the National DNA Database for Most Appalling Project and the TV licensing enforcers Envision Licensing won the hotly contested Most Invasive Company award.
It wasn't all bad news though. A number of people were presented with "Winston" awards for outstanding contribution to privacy protection. They were: Ben Rooney (editor of the Telegraph's Connected section), Jason Ditton (for his criminology research into CCTV cameras), Lord Cope (for his work in getting amendments made to the RIP Bill), Peter Scully (for raising awareness of employee monitoring through his trade union MSF) and our old friend Caspar Bowden (for building an anti-RIP movement).
Anyway, after the fun and games were over, the assorted luminaries and hangers-on went for more fun and games in the pub round the corner, where people drunk too much Guinness, discussed the state of Middlesbrough football club with David Shayler, got into arguments about ICANN with important industry figures and were accused of being government plants by hosts, suspicious of difficult questions (or maybe that was just this reporter). Needless to say, the head hurts this morning.
[Add-on. We feel we should explain an aspect 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 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."]
The awards ran as follows (winners in bold): ®
MOST INVASIVE COMPANY
- i-CD Publishing (for UK InfoDisc)
- Envision Licensing Ltd (for TV licensing)
- Visionics (for Automated Face Recognition)
- LATE ENTRY Amazon.co.uk (for breaking Data Protection laws)
MOST APPALLING PROJECT
- The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act
- The National DNA Database
- The LandlordsData.com tenants blacklist
MOST HEINOUS GOVERNMENT ORGANISATION
- The Home Office
- The Department of Trade and Industry
- The NHS Executive
WORST PUBLIC SERVANT
- Lord Bassam
- Ann Widdecombe MP
- Xavier Solana, Sec-Gen of council of European Union
- Jack Straw
- British Telecom