Never before has contemporary data, personal, corporate or state, been so easily accessed.
Today, it is as unwise to hope that the Sugar Plum Fairy might resolve Ireland’s back-row problems at the coming Rugby World Cup as it is to imagine your online data is beyond the reach of prying, hacking eyes.
Facebook’s staff know more about those who voluntarily use their platform than their mothers ever imagined. The age of privacy has long been with O’Leary in the grave.
Any lingering doubts about surveillance being used as a tool to overwhelm our better instincts, about how we are understood and manipulated by unseen puppeteers, are exposed by the documentary, The Great Hack.
It deals with the connections between data “managers” Cambridge Analytica, the American presidential election, and Brexit. To imagine similar forces are not active in our public square is naive.
Yet, we cling to old ideas around privacy, enacting data-protection legislation that is more thumb-in-the-dyke tokenism than a reliable defence.
When so much is so open, when so much is so susceptible, those measures highlight how limited our options are.
The decision by the Office of Public Works to remove visitor books from heritage sites, because of concerns — unfounded — that they might breach data-protection regulations, underlines this.
Yesterday, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties highlighted another unintended — possibly — consequence of how we manage data.
The ICCL warned that the State is forcing disadvantaged people to surrender data to access State services to which they are entitled; universal services are being held to ransom and applicants’ personal data is the currency demanded.
This issue has been, once again, poorly handled.
Most people, as most democracies do, understand that a secure form of personal identity is needed to allow a modern state to function.
Our EU partners are working to integrate national ID systems to facilitate easier access to services for citizens from other member states.
Irish citizens are losing out on access to health, financial, and educational services in Europe, because we don’t have a recognised ID card system.
A national card should also help reduce the cost of services. The idea might be resisted, but the reality is accepted.
Yet, this objective has been made all the more remote by the Government’s silly and dishonest hair-splitting, epitomised by Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty’s bizarre bluff that “the public services card is not compulsory, but is mandatory to claim social welfare”.
This bullying was offered, though there is no legal requirement to hold such a card. The Government’s implausible denial that it is not making a selective identity card compulsory just deepens the farce.
If it requires a referendum to make a national ID card obligatory, then so be it. The alternative is the hit-or-miss, inequitable system we have today.
If the idea is endorsed, it has the weight of agreed policy; if it is not, it will be very interesting to see how the Government explains how something is “not compulsory, but is mandatory” — the kind of moralacrobatics that so undermine citizens’ political engagement.
The kind so frighteningly exposed by The Great Hack.