HomeInsightsHouse of Lords and House of Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights publishes Report on The Right to Privacy (Article 8) and the Digital Revolution

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The Report, published on 3 November 2019, finds that:

  • individuals are giving away “vast amounts of data” and are expected to be risk-aware when using web based services;
  • “The consent model is broken” and calls for robust regulation to govern how personal data is used and stringent enforcement of the rules; and
  • there is “[d]eeply troubling” evidence that data is being used to discriminate in job and housing ads online.

The Report finds serious grounds for concern about the nature of the “consent” people provide when giving over “an extraordinary range of information about themselves”, for use by private companies for commercial gain:

  • privacy policies are too complicated for the vast majority of people to understand: while individuals may understand they are consenting to data collection from a given site in exchange for “free” access to content, they may not understand that information is being compiled, without their knowledge, across sites to create a profile. The Committee heard “alarming evidence” about eye tracking software being used to make assumptions about people’s sexual orientation, whether they have a mental illness, are drunk or have taken drugs, all of which data are then added to their profile;
  • too often the use of a service or website is conditional on consent being give, raising questions about whether it is freely given;
  • people cannot find out what they have consented to: it is difficult, if not nearly impossible, for people, even tech experts, to find out who their data has been shared with, to stop it being shared or to delete inaccurate information about themselves;
  • the consent model relies on individuals knowing about the risks associated with using web based services when the system should provide adequate protection from the risks as a default; and
  • it is completely inappropriate to use consent when processing children’s data: children aged 13 and older are, under the current legal framework, considered old enough to consent to their data being used, even though many adults struggle to understand what they are consenting to.

The Committee says that there is “a real risk of discrimination” against some people through the way their data is used. The Committee heard “deeply troubling” evidence about some companies using personal data to ensure that only people of a certain age or race, for example, see a particular job opportunity or housing advertisement.

There are also long-established concerns about the use of such data to discriminate in the provision of insurance or credit products.

The Committee notes that unlike traditional print advertising, where such blatant discrimination would be obvious and potentially illegal, personalisation of content means people have no way of knowing how what they see online compares to anyone else. There is currently no mechanism for protecting against such privacy breaches or discrimination being in the online “Wild West”.

The Committee calls on the Government to ensure there is robust regulation over how people’s data can be collected and used and it calls for better enforcement of that regulation.

The Committee recommends:

  • that the Government strengthen regulation to ensure there is safe passage on the internet guaranteed;
  • that the digital age of consent at 13 years old be revisited;
  • the Government regulate to keep people safe online in the same way as they do in the real world, i.e. by having strictly enforced standards that protect people’s right to privacy and freedom from discrimination;
  • that it be made much simpler for individuals to see what data has been shared about them, and with whom, and to prevent some or all of their data being shared; and
  • that the Government look at creating a single online registry that would allow people to see, in real time, all the companies that hold personal data on them, and what data they hold.

To read the Committee’s news release in full and for a link to the full Report, click here.