NEWS20 June 2019

Human rights committee publishes evidence on data privacy rights

News Privacy UK

UK – People's privacy is threatened by the current digital landscape, the parliament’s human rights committee has been told.


The joint committee has published evidence as part of its new inquiry into the rights of privacy in the digital environment.

Written submissions by bodies including the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and Privacy International highlighted issues around how freely consent can be given to share personal data in today’s digital environment.

Privacy International said in its submission: “Private companies create unduly lengthy privacy policies worded with confusing language. As a result, individuals often cannot provide meaningful, freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous consent to, or effectively control or limit, the ways companies are using their information.”

The organisation pointed to Carnegie Mellon research published in 2012 that found the average internet user would have to spend 76 working days annually to read the privacy policies they come across.

The ICO highlighted the privacy risk for consumers when they have to choose between giving their consent and having their access to the product or service denied. The ICO said in its submission: “Where the service is very important to the individual or the company in question acts as a de facto monopoly, a question arises over how willingly consent can be given.”

Liberty also pointed to this conundrum, saying that many users will feel “trapped” by either having to accept terms and conditions or being unable to access a service “which may form an integral part of their lives”.

Both Liberty and Privacy International highlighted research published by the Norwegian Consumer Council in 2018, which highlighted the default settings and techniques used by companies to encourage users to share more of their personal data.  

Ensuring digital rights are protected requires more than “one-off legislation”, said Dot Everyone, which recommended the establishment of an oversight body called the Office for Responsible Technology: “The entire regulatory ecosystem must be strengthened to ensure it can respond to the digital technologies in an agile and ongoing manner.”

International co-operation on enforcement of existing data protection legislation will become increasingly important, the Law Society of Scotland said in its submission. The organisation wrote: “The digital environment renders traditional physical borders increasingly irrelevant and businesses can operate in and from multiple jurisdictions. Regulators and law enforcement agencies will therefore need to work collaboratively to provide global solutions to global compliance issues if data protection and privacy rights are to be properly protected.”