You might think that privacy and data protection law doesn’t make for a gripping drama, and in most instances you might be right. However, somehow the team behind the new documentary Erasing David not only demonstrated how much personal information most of us are leaking in Britain on a daily basis but made an entertaining drama.
The basic premise behind Thursday night’s exclusive screening for datonomy guests (the UK broadcast premiere is in May) is that David Bond decided to determine whether it is possible to disappear given the amount of information that was already available about him and his family in the public domain. In order to determine whether or not this was possible, he hired a team of private investigators to track him down within a month using all means at their disposal. We won’t give the game away for those of you waiting for the broadcast, but the investigators’ methods included a mixture of high and low technology and ultimately the most success came from the personal touches (including dumpster diving) – a reminder that it’s not just in the online environment that we need to be careful.
The level of paranoia that this chase process induced in David was quite remarkable to see and the uncertainty as to what information they might be able to access raised doubts in this datonomite’s mind as to which organisations she has permitted to access her information. The private investigators didn’t have access to any databases on David, they were not able to obtain information using special police powers and yet, using only a name, they were able to find out where he lived, where his parents lived and a whole raft of other personal information.
The chase was interspersed with various interviews with the great and the good such as David Davis, Timothy Garton-Ash and Helena Kennedy. Even David Blunkett, arguably the source of some of the problems, voiced concerns over the loss of privacy in Britain today. Other interviews included two victims of identity theft and mistake whose careers had been blighted by inaccurate data held or obtained by the Government. These stories are not unfamiliar yet they tend to be met with apathy and the unwarrantedly optimistic “it wouldn’t happen to me”. What the film highlighted is that it could happen to any of us and there is not very much that we can do to prevent it.
At the end of the film, David is confronted with the investigators’ office whose walls were covered with all the information the investigators have gleaned on him via various means. Without spoiling the surprise too much, it is a very full room. As both David and the investigators acknowledged, no single piece of information was that damaging in its own right and all were available with relatively little difficulty, however, taken in total it was possible to reconstruct David’s life to such an extent that they could predict where he would be and when.
If Erasing David doesn’t give fresh impetus to Privacy by Design and to policy making in a new Government after the general election, we don’t know what will. What is quite incredible, and was compellingly dramatized in the film, is how much information we freely allow others access to on a daily basis. The amount of information various companies have on all of us was highlighted by the subject access requests that David made the results of which suggested a very loose interpretation of the fifth data protection principle on the part of the relevant companies.
If you missed the screening last night, do not despair. Erasing David is going to be screened at the Brixton Ritzy cinema on 29 April followed by a Q&A with, amongst other people, Shami Chakrabarti (the Director of Liberty), Ashley Jones (the Producer) and David Bond (the Director and fugitive). Datonomy advises you to put the date in your diary now.
Top tips to help you on the run…
Don’t travel by the same means to leave a place as to return, always shred your rubbish and be careful what information you choose to share with others. You can find out more information and other tips at: http://erasingdavid.com/