There have been a lot of data-related and freedom of speech stories this week. We had a laptop full of voter records go missing, the T-Mobile scam, the virtual defeat of the Government's attempt to make so called "homophobic" comments a thought/hate crime, and the PCC's attempt to debate whether bloggers should be subject to their rules.
They all have one thing in common: the way our personal opinion, our lives and our personal details are monitored and used and the way others are trying to regulate our basic rights to freedom and privacy.
The depressing thing is that we now have a war on two fronts. Firstly there is the war that the Government is waging on our privacy and our freedom of speech. And then there is the commercial war, exemplified this week by T-Mobile, whose employee apparently sold the details of its subscribers to cold callers. Of course, Tescos, Amazon, and a raft of other retailers know quite a lot about you already. Your phone, though, is an interesting one. It can nail you if you are breaking the law, but it can also be your alibi. Christine and Neil Hamilton produced phone records to exonerate them from an entirely made up accusation against them as long ago as 2001. I remember it well because I sent them a letter of support right at the outset of their ordeal and received, in due course, an A4, handwritten letter from Christine Hamilton, just to thank me.
Handwritten? Yes. When was the last time you hand wrote a letter? Handwriting is definitely dying as an art. I have written nothing longer than a shopping list for years, in my own hand. I digress here, because, ironically, the Royal Mail is still protected from interference and tampering, unless it is by the order of a Judge. Sending a letter by snail mail maybe time consuming and a pain, but if you want to live under the radar, I guess it is your best bet.
It is a stark fact that we are observed and recorded everywhere. It is still possible to have a conversation with a close friend I suppose, and expect it to stay private, but, speak out of turn at work, in public, in a shop or office and someone somewhere will report you.
Can we take any shred of comfort? I doubt there is any. Society will learn new codes, new mores. Nobody will say what they think in public, nobody will tell jokes, nobody will express criticism of others, and we will become obsessively protective of what little privacy we have.
I have already dropped off the grid to some extent: I no longer have supermarket loyalty cards, I don't have a TV, and consequently no TV licence, I don't work for anybody, I have a pay as you go phone, I don't use credit cards and I live in Scotland some distance from a bus route, which, believe it or not, tends to put people off pestering me for products and services. Until I pose a threat to an individual or part of the Establishment, I dare say I shall be left alone.