Databases brim with our personal details

Thinktank reveals risks people are taking for financial incentives

Andrea-Marie Vassou

The average British adult unknowingly has their personal details recorded on around 700 databases with many different organisations, according to one thinktank.

In its report, Demos said people are losing control of how many organisations hold their personal data because they “are willing to give away information in exchange for the conveniences and benefits they get in return”.

As well as Government databases such as the Home Office’s National DNA database, the report, FYI: The New Politics of Personal Information, said other organisations gather people’s personal data, such as supermarkets who offer loyalty cards to customers.

The report said handing over information needed to get these cards seems like a good idea to people at the time, as they offer benefits and discounts. But Demos warned it was just another way of gathering information and tracking people’s movements and lifestyles.

“There is a disconnect between people’s standard concerns about privacy and Big Brother on the one hand and, on the other, their willingness to be part of a world to which surveillance of some form is fundamental,” Demos said.

The thinktank said although people had an individual responsibility to take care of personal data, the Government had a big part to play. Demos called for it to develop a more coherent strategy on data gathering and protection and give more powers to the Information Commissioner. It also says organisations in the private sector should also be more open about the personal information they collect and why they do this.

Demos also raised concerns about ID cards saying the Government should either launch a “serious renewed debate” with meaningful engagement with the public about how the technology should work, or scrap the scheme completely.