Brand owners’ exploitation of consumers’ personal data is a much bigger threat to civil liberties than any snooping undertaken by the authorities, according to the former head of GCHQ.
Sir David Omand made his claims in a speech at this week’s London Conference on globalisation, which discussed the role government intelligence services have in preventing the Internet developing in ways “we really don’t like”.
He claimed: “The hard fact is most of the Internet wouldn’t operate at all today were it not for the huge value of our personal data, which is hoovered up and sold up for marketing purposes. Without that you wouldn’t have Google free to use.”
His claims seem to chime with the views of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who recently claimed the likes of Google and Facebook for not doing enough to protect users’ privacy because their business models are based on gathering data to sell advertising to brand owners.
Omand, who served as director of GCHQ from 1996 to 1997 and was a key figure Tony Blair’s Labour Government, said strong mechanisms overseeing the Internet were essential in order to legitimise every kind of online law enforcement activity.
“The intelligence and security committee has new powers, they can demand information,” he said. “They’re on trial and if they do a good job of the current inquiries, good. If not, they will have to be beefed up.”
But in light of the Snowden Prismgate scandal, Vodafone external affairs director Matthew Kirk told the conference that there should be a new era of transparency from the Government.
He added: “The lesson I’ve drawn out of the Snowden allegations is that governments need to be much clearer about the purpose for which they infringe on citizens’ privacy; about the agencies that have the legal power to do so; about the authority about which it’s done; and, critically, about transparency and accountability systems.”
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