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The Privacy Commission

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George South | 17:05 UK time, Monday, 6 June 2011

Where does the balance lie between an individual's right to privacy and the public's right to know? Recent rows about injunctions have highlighted questions about the competing priorities of the law, the use of social media, access to justice, and about the role of parliament and of judges in making the law. The PM Privacy Commission will consider these questions, with the help of our millions of listeners.

Sir Michael Lyons will chair the PM Privacy Commission -- he'll be joined by Lord Faulks and Baroness Liddell. They will take evidence from a series of witnesses (that you can help select) this month, and produce a report with recommendations. You can read more about the Commissioners here.

The draft terms of reference are now available on the PM blog, and listeners have a week to offer suggestions and alterations for the Commission to consider, as well as proposals for witnesses. Evidence sessions will begin in mid-June.

The full audio will be available here on the blog, and reports will appear each night on PM.


  • Comment number 1.

    To consider the following:

    1/ A requirement that all internet providers offering goods and services in the UK wherever they are based geographically:

    a: request the absolute minimum of personal information from their users / customers

    b: hold that information in a safe manner and subject to regulatory requirements at least on a level with EU and UK law.

    c: how this could be enforced eg baning banks from processing transactions with companies that fail to comply

    2/ To investigate whether organisations that seek to influence the government eg Policy Exchange, Taxpayers Alliance should be able to do so whilst keeping their funding secret

    3/ To investigate whether it is democratic and justifiable that organisations, be they charities, private companies or others, who receive public funding should be allowed exemption from FOI regulations.

    4/ To investigate whether government is subverting current FOI legislation by the widespread use of catch-alls such as '' commercial confidentiality'

    5/ To investigate whether there is an equitable use of powers that infringe on privacy such as RIPA which is widely perceived as being deployed against benefits claimants but not against tax evaders.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hello, the Commissioners have disappeared from the blog. Some sort of privacy breach I suppose?

  • Comment number 3.

    Help. does anyone know where to comment on a pm story other than the prescribed one?

  • Comment number 4.

    Well, clicking on 'The Commissioners' link gives an error message, and the other related links all fail to give any useful information, so I can only presume that this is the umpteenth over-hyped Eddie Mair ego-trip with much smoke, many mirrors and virtually no content of any value. Very disappointing, and probably this will be modded away to avoid any hint of dissent, but I guess that's another aspect of the unique way the BBC is overfunded (and misspent).

  • Comment number 5.

    Bye George.

  • Comment number 6.

    This attempt to encourage listeners to utilise the PM blog in a meaningful way is very messy - users are evidently finding it hard to know where best to voice their opinion. I'd like to make a plea for one thread concerning the Privacy Commission, please, to save having to dart about all over the place.

  • Comment number 7.

    Helen Liddell? Really? The whole investigation is shot now. She is nothing but an over-promoted, party apparatchik, the entirety of her hinterland is a couple years as a BBC and Robert Maxwell "journo".

  • Comment number 8.

    Gillianian - agreed 100%. I've already mentioned elsewhere that new commentors have been waiting for 4.5 hours now ... are the mods on holiday?

  • Comment number 9.

    And clicking on 'The Commissioners' gives a friendly 404 error message.

  • Comment number 10.

    While I appreciate having a PM blog with encouragement from Eddie to make comments (a bit like the good old days), I would have to agree with Gillianian in that having a couple on the same topic is a tad messy.

  • Comment number 11.

    And trying to add the above addendum produced an equally friendly: 'You have 180 seconds left since the time of your last post.'

  • Comment number 12.

    privacy is a form of secrecy and secrecy engenders inequality and dishonesty.openess engenders integrity and integrity is a prerequisite for social cohesion and order..............

  • Comment number 13.

    How about this?


    That would protect everyone's privacy.

  • Comment number 14.

    I'm with Tony!

  • Comment number 15.

    It's all a bit embarrassing, isn't it? A "commission" that no-one wants and which has no power but which is part of some sort of frantic attempt to talk up the importance of a mediocre BBC news magazine.

  • Comment number 16.

    This is the red-top equivalent of jumping on whatever band-wagon is currently rolling.

  • Comment number 17.

    I'd like the commission to cast it's eye over the 'online privacy' of social networking sites. Facebook especially is rather good at rolling out 'new features' that gradually erode privacy, and do so subtlety - for example, just recently they've turned on face recognition in photos - without notifying anyone - which if you don't wish that to happen, you need to go and turn it off again. Other social media sites are also doing much the same - after all, they're businesses, but the problem is pretty fundamentally, the only commodity they have to sell is their user's privacy. Be it through advertising, or just outright selling their databases of user information, for data mining.
    So one of the things I would like the commission to consider - to what extent does posting something 'on the internet' constitute releasing personal information into the public domain, and how much expectation should we have that it remain private?

  • Comment number 18.

    Jurors are the bedrock of justice. Judges are the prima donnas. And the judges made ivory tower fools of themselves over the superinjunction fiasco. It's one law for the rich, another for the poor; unimaginable wealth, peace and protection for the Sir Greedies, exemplary sentencing for Jo Soap.

    In the absence of a free press, how do we know if our politicians are Berlusconis, or our financial regulators are Strauss-Khans? I'd prefer neither.

    My witness vote? Gillian Duffy.

  • Comment number 19.

    As a young councillor I found myself at a riotous party and left through a window before the police arrived (it was on the ground floor) rather than put my public reputation in jeopardy.

    I expect no less from those who take my taxes.

    The only no-go areas are private grief and bodily functions - including breast-feeding.

    Those who live by publicity must die by publicity, and I want my freedom of speech

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    May I request that The Privacy Commission consider inviting Ms Anna Soubry MP? Ms Soubry sponsored a private member's bill to provide anonymity to a person who has been arrested but not charged.
    A clause allowed any party to ask for anonymity to be removed if it was in the interests of justice.
    The press coverage of the arrest of the landlord of Joanna Yeates in December 2010 was criticised by both police and the Attorney General and seemed a good example of the mischief, which the bill could remedy.

  • Comment number 23.

    May I request that The Privacy Commission consider inviting Ms Anna Soubry MP?
    Ms Soubry sponsored an unsuccessful private member's bill to provide anonymity to a person who has been arrested but not charged.
    A clause allowed any party to ask for anonymity to be removed if it was in the interests of justice.
    The press coverage of the arrest of the landlord of Joanna Yeates in December 2010
    seemed a good example of the mischief which the bill could remedy.

  • Comment number 24.

    Hugh Grant expressed perfectly the scandal of press intrusion into people's private lives. The public has no 'right' to know about anyone's private life unless, perhaps - perhaps - they're elected officials or guardians of morality. Certainly this doesn't apply to anyone who happens to be in the public eye as an actor, sportsman etc. The difference between 'public interest' and an 'interested public' should be clear to anyone, and certainly should be clear both to the spineless PCC and our even more spineless lawmakers. The former involves issues like lawbreaking by public servants; the latter involves nothing more than gossip. The law should protect anyone and everyone against the tabloids exploiting anybody to publish gossip and tittle-tattle; just because we're interested doesn't mean we have a right to know and cause misery to other human beings in the process. Let's hope someone in government develops the balls to legislate and make us a less barbaric society on this issue.

  • Comment number 25.

    I was reported about in the Daily Mail three years ago. I’d been the victim of a sex attack in 1987 (it was anal/digital penetration + biting and the person was charged with indecent assault, pleaded not guilty, was tried and convicted and went to prison). That was before the laws for privacy for rape victims. I carried on working in the same place and over the years had a lot of nasty gossip. I complained to an employment tribunal. The matter was settled before the hearing. The Daily Mail reported it in a nasty way (in 2008) and used my name and picture and ‘door-stepped’ me. I think victims of such crimes should still be protected with the anonymity law even if their case happened before it came in. I don’t think it was justified to make me a matter of public scrutiny. I think my experience makes me an interested party and I don’t have a lot of confidence in what’s going on.
    Further details:
    I’m only contacting you about this because I haven’t seen any other comments that deal with the same kind of issue. When the Daily Mail reported it, if you Googled my name, porn sites came up. I’m not a celebrity, so there are no compensating factors. It had a very bad effect on me and I’ve had to change my name. I complained to the Press Complaints Commission and the person I spoke to was kind, but I also felt some pressure to agree matters informally. In my understanding, it could have gone to adjudication but I was told some of the people were in favour and some against, and if I was found against there’d be even more comments about it, which I didn’t want.
    The Mail removed the article but a lot of internet sites had picked up on it and there was a lot of stuff on there about me until April this year - I had been checking intermittently, and getting upset, and eventually contacted the Press Complaints Commission again and it contacted the sites for me and they have now been removed. So I have both good and bad feelings about it, but am also left with a lot of bad feelings about the Daily Mail.

  • Comment number 26.

    Ooooo ... not keen on doggerel then ?

  • Comment number 27.

    Was it the reference to camels that upset somebody ?

  • Comment number 28.

    I think a privacy law could be safely implemented with a few well-chosen caveats. The most obvious two would be:

    1) That there most definitely is a difference between information that is "in the public interest" and information that merely "the public are interested in".
    There must be thousands of examples where a story moves from one category to the other depending on circumstances.
    E.g. Story (a); It is revealed that a celebrity, often seen in public wearing the latest fashions on her slim figure, only achieved this look after having Gastric Band operation: This story may well be interesting to the public, but the celebrity's right to privacy clearly outweighs any benefit that there might be to the public in knowing this information.

    Compared with:

    Story (b); It is revealed that a celebrity, who has released a series of diet & weight-loss books and DVD's, only achieved her look after having a Gastric Band operation: This person may have been misleading the public in order to make money. People need to be aware of this information so they can make a decision on whether to buy the latest diet book. This information is in the public interest.

    2) The law could help by acknowledging the difference between regulated and accountable publications, i.e. the mainstream media, and uncontrolled & unregulated publications, e.g. Twitter.
    Stories that circulate on Twitter are not generally regarded by the public as having any kind of authority, in a reasonable person's mind they remain 'Rumours' until confirmed by a reputable source or by the mainstream media.
    I don't believe the tabloid press are right to claim that it is unfair that they cannot publish a story which is already circulating on the internet. They have a greater level of credibility in the minds of the public, so must be charged with a higher level of responsibility.

  • Comment number 29.

    Gagging injunctions have been operated before facebook and twitter were created.
    Those who are gagged by definition do not have twitter accounts.
    It seems that PM is only interested in reporting the rich and the famous.
    Please discover how many gagging orders have been issued in the last 30 years,
    not preventing the press from publishing stories just preventing individuals from communicating with family friends and colleagues


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