Thursday, May 18, 2006

UK plans to put your bedroom online - literally

The Labour party seems to have forgotten its past campaigns to keep the State out of the bedroom. From Contractor UK:
Digital pictures showcasing the interiors of taxpayers’ homes will be posted on the internet under freshly laid plans to be considered by the Deputy Prime Minister.

Under the scheme to revaluate 22 million homes, council tax snoopers could be given digital cameras to snap inside people’s homes, including their bathrooms, bedrooms and conservatories.

Confidentiality inside the home is an “old fashioned attitude” and taxpayers should feel no need to “hide” their expenses or value of their property, said Paul Sanderson, director of modernisation for the tax inspectors.

Instead, photographs of the property, details and “everything” about how much residents paid for their house, or rent, should be posted on publicly accessible website.

His suggestions have caused outrage among politicians and taxpayer alliances, while also raising fears among internet commentators.

Their concern centres on property information, including photographs, being sold in bulk to junk mailers and marketing companies, in light of the government’s decision to sell private data provided by the DVLA.

“Householders are already angry at the fact that camera-wielding tax inspectors can barge inside their family homes to record the number of bedrooms, size of their garage and their conservatory,” said Caroline Spelman, the Conservative minister.

“I suspect that people will be further shocked to discover that this private information would then be published on the internet for anyone to see and sold to junk mailers.”

The internet plan aims to reduce the number of people appealing against council tax payments by letting them use the website to compare their home’s value with neighbours’.
"Confidentiality inside the home is an 'old fashioned attitude'"? Words fail me. Fortunately, the drafters of the European Convention on Human Rights had something to say about this: "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence."

More generally, this episode illustrates how seemingly unrelated areas of public policy impact on privacy. If a tax system requires disproportionate amounts of private information in order to function, the solution is not to put that information online for the world to see but to reform the system so that it is less privacy invasive, and to carry out privacy impact assessments before new tax policies are adopted.

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