It is possible, given the right connections, to check you out. Anybody can find out where I live. You know my name, look up the number. For a fee of two or three quid, you can go to the register of electors and do a search on anybody who is on it. There are many more search streams, legal and shady, available to those who wish, such as journalists, double-glazing call centres and anybody who wants a piece of you. I did this recently, in order to check if my entry was correct and up to date.
I am subjected to regular calls from sales people, despite being on the TPS and despite having my number as ex-directory. This is not unusual. It happens to everybody. But why do we accept it?
Bear with me for a bit.
25 years ago, I was in regular contact with senior police officers. It gave me a lifelong insight into the mindset of the Police, and in particular, the Met. If you understand that police officers do not do discretion (they are not allowed to have any), that they obey orders to the letter and that recruitment and progression through the ranks is most certainly not predicated on a fine intellect and a working knowledge of French Wine classification, then you go some way to understanding why they do what they do. Many cops are cynical, of course they are, wouldn't you be if you had to deal with the daily saga of life in the Naked City? Some are on the take; I well remember my late Stepfather telling me (he was a bookmaker) how the local plod took bribes from bookies in the days when off-track betting was illegal. One regular recipient of the wages of sin rose to become a Chief Constable. Some cops are plain sadistic. One of my school chums, who delighted in seeing others suffer as a child, did very well at the Met. Some cops are kind and dedicated and brave capable of thinking for themselves. Sadly, this latter class of cop does not do very well professionally. Please correct me if you think I am adrift here.
Anyway, I had a friend in the Met who gave me details on somone in our circle who I suspected of being a fraud. It turned out, this woman, from Jamaica, had a string of convictions for fraud and theft, had been imprisoned and had worked as a nanny. After finding out where her previous employers lived (she came to us asking for help because the man of the house had "raped" her) her entire story collapsed. She had been sacked as nanny due to the kids being traumatised by some unspecified behaviour while in her care. She had stolen items from those who tried to help her - she had a convincing sob story - and had been briefly taken into our home as she claimed to be homeless. This woman had managed to convince 20 or 30 people who we knew that she was a victim of all sorts of terrible things. None of them were true.
In the above case, the rules were bent in order to put a stop to someone who was not only dishonest, but possibly dangerous to children too.
Yes, we live in a surveillance society, and official reports put the UK alongside China and Russia in the invasion of privacy stakes, right at the top of the naughty list.
But sometimes, privacy is a front for deception and worse. A Fleet Street journalist recently said that public figures who complain most loudly about invasion of privacy, have, in his decades of experience, always had something to hide without exception.
So the question is, do the benefits of surveillance in the UK outweigh the disadvantages? Should it be more controlled? Should there be less?
Is our security predicated on the free flow of data?
I don't know the answer to that, but what I do think is that we are going through an evolutionary period, where data handling is as new to us as the Spinning Jenny was to cottage weavers. I believe we must learn to live with it and work out ways to deliver a society that respects freedom and upholds the rights of privacy. So far, the new government shows no signs of giving that one to the people.