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The Data Legislation Debate: security vs privacy

Should the law provide security at the expense of privacy?
Should the law provide security at the expense of privacy? Take a moment to consider each of the following statements. Write down whether you agree or disagree, and then share your reasoning with your fellow learners. It is the government’s responsibility to protect me from threats to my personal data. The government shouldn’t listen to my private telephone calls. If I have nothing to hide, law enforcement should have access to my password-protected phone. I have a right to determine which digital services have access to my personal information and what is done with that information. The government should store information about its citizens indefinitely. Intelligence services should collect data on people in order to stop crimes before they happen.
The government should be able to read the encrypted messages of suspected criminals. A society can never be fully private and also secure, but which is more important? Join in the discussion and share your thoughts and reasoning with your fellow learners.

Should the law provide security at the expense of privacy? Living in the digital age means that data is always being collected about us, and lawmakers have an obligation to review and update the law to adapt to current issues. In this step you are going to argue with your fellow learners to decide what the lawmakers should focus on: security or privacy.

Security and privacy: can’t we have both?

A society can never be fully private and also fully secure. Privacy means that information about individuals is protected, even from the government. To keep a nation secure, the police and other organisations have to gather data about suspects and events to conduct investigations. Collecting data about all your citizens infringes on their privacy, and there is no way to guarantee that the data will not be used inappropriately.

Everyone will agree that security and safety are important, and the concept of a right to personal privacy is very new. Privacy was once a luxury for the rich, and was inessential for most. Living in small groups, humans have very little need for privacy. For hundreds of years, we functioned relatively well in small communities and were completely entangled in each other’s lives.

This question has gained prominence in no small part due to the mass collection of personal information, by large corporations and governments, about huge numbers of people. The main fear is that the collection of data can be hijacked by malicious actors, either hackers or other governments, and used to cause harm to the data’s subjects.

So if we can’t have both, what should lawmakers prioritise? How should society handle data in the future? Which priority offers the best protection against malicious individuals? Collecting data for security, or keeping it private so that it doesn’t get into the wrong hands?

The articles for debate

There are four main pieces of legislation that will form the basis of your evidence. These are the laws currently in place that dictate how our data is handled. Have the lawmakers done the right thing?

Legislation Description
Data Protection Act 2018 This is the UK’s implementation of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). This set of laws defines what types of data are considered personal and what types are not. It also regulates what companies can do with the data they collect and how they must communicate this use to their users.
Freedom of Information Act 2000 This set of laws was introduced to end a culture of secrecy in government. It allows anyone to request data from the government and its associated organisations. Prior to this law, there was nothing that required the government to reveal its processes and conduct to the general public.
Investigatory Powers Act 2016 This set of laws allows the UK government to control what data the companies we use for internet access or communications need to capture and retain records of, about our activities on their services. It allows government agencies to collect this data in secret, and sometimes without a warrant.
Telecommunications Act 1984 These laws govern the collection of telecommunications data by the government and police. In particular, Section 94 allows broad regulation of telecommunications in secret in the interests of national security. Any secretary of state can issue commands to telecommunications providers, with very little restrictions on what they can be.

A state of security

The government has a responsibility to all its citizens to provide them with a safe and secure environment in which to work and live. If they focus on security, all of their citizens could be safe from those who would harm them. Governments could easily find and track individuals suspected of crime. Large data sets could be analysed to predict crimes before they happen.

The data the government collects is useful in fighting threats and stopping incidents before they happen. The UK home secretary has previously stated that communications data is used as evidence in 95% of criminal cases.

A place for privacy

As we live our lives more and more in the digital space, the applications and services we use collect a lot of data on us. This data can and has been used to manipulate events both inside and outside the digital space. If data is kept private, it cannot be used in inappropriate ways. Data can be a weapon, to be manipulated and used against the public.

In 2015 it was revealed that GCHQ had been using the Telecommunications Act to collect extensive data on the British public for over a decade. In the USA, Edward Snowden showed the world that the National Security Agency (NSA) had been collecting huge amounts of data on the public with little to no evidence for how it was going to be used to protect them.

Debate time

“This house believes collecting data on all citizens of the UK offers the best protection against malicious individuals.”

Are you for or against this motion? Pick a stance and weigh in in the comments. Research the legislation and its impact, and provide evidence to support your claims.

Try to anticipate any points the other side might make.

Teach Computing Curriculum Resources

The Teach Computing Curriculum includes resources for teaching the following lesson related to this step:

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Impact of Technology: How To Lead Classroom Discussions

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