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Telegraph, 8 June 2014: 'Caught in 'data maze'; privacy advocates plead for freedom on Big Brother Day'

On 8 June 1949, George Orwell published his book '1984' and introduced the term 'Big Brother is Watching You': the government constantly monitoring, controlling and manipulating citizens. Today, exactly 65 years later, privacy advocates are seizing this date to campaign on Big Brother Day under the slogan '1984=now'. We now have a choice: do we move towards a surveillance state or choose freedom? 

Fingerprints in passports, commercial companies keeping everything about customers, license plate registration, cameras on every street corner, drones and databases sprouting like mushrooms: escaping surveillance and registration has become almost impossible.

For a long time, people did not dwell on it and let it happen based on the thought 'I don't have anything to hide, do I?' But it is increasingly dawning on people that privacy is an important part of freedom, according to privacy advocates. And that the consequences can be very great if something goes wrong in linked systems containing personal data. (...)

The Dutch Data Protection Authority is getting busier, with the number of queries and reports increasing by 14 per cent last year and a quarter more investigations into breaches of privacy laws. The topic is more hotly debated than ever, the privacy watchdog concludes.

What Orwell wrote in 1949 was science fiction. Anno now, many things have become reality, says Miek Wijnberg of civil rights association Vrijbit, which is organising the Big Brother action day. Governments and companies spy on citizens and use their data, while making it almost impossible for people to do anything against it.

Wijnberg speaks of system coercion. With the ov-chipkaart, for instance, the NS ensures that it knows exactly who was where at a certain time of day of everyone who boards the train. And then the NS also knows who else was there and where those people went. The government makes grateful use of that data. The Public Prosecutor's Office requests data from travellers every week.
According to Bas Filippini, chairman of the Privacy First foundation, the government is building a 'digital concentration camp'. What you see is that systems are always being rigged after incidents. Has there been an attack? Then we start monitoring not only suspects, but immediately everyone. He advocates keeping the human touch. The technology for digital face recognition, for instance, is available, but as a society you first have to ask yourself: do we want that?

Privacy and personal data are protected in various laws. However, the Scientific Council for Government Policy, a key advisory body to the government, concluded earlier that citizens should assume that their information is insecure in the hands of the government. The Electronic Patient File, the voting computer, the ov-chip card: all evidence of failing ICT projects. The storage and processing of medical data are of particular concern. The WRR warns of a 'data jumble' in which citizens become entangled. (...)

What citizens themselves can do to protect their privacy? Experts agree: be critical and alert. Don't blindly accept being enrolled in an electronic patient record, for example. Reject the smart energy meter in your home , warns Vrijbit. (...)

Privacy advocates outline a dark future if there is no turnaround in society and people rise up against mass surveillance and registration. Now, most people are little affected, but the government is changing. You never know who will soon have access to sensitive data collected in a different era with different motives (...)."

Source: Telegraph on Sunday, 8 June 2014, p. 10. Read the full article online: