TrendGrowing problem: Private security companies pose risk to privacy

Published 24 April 2009

Government mandates in the U.K. now require more and more businesses to collect more and more information about individuals who use these businesses’ services; private contractors are hired to handled the collection and handling of the personal information collected; these contractors are not bound by the tight rules governing the government handling of such information (not that the U.K. government is doing a very good job following these rules)

The United Kingdom has often been called the Surveillance Society — but this designation, whether justified or not, has been applied to government surveillance and monitoring efforts. There is another growing problem with surveillance, though: U.K. government mandates now demand that more and more private entities collect more and more personal information on individuals using these entities’ services. These entities in turn sub-contract the information collection and maintenance tasks to other private companies. The result is that the most personal information on a growing number of people is now stored and handled by a growing number of private contractors who are not governed by the same privacy and information safety rules which govern government handling of such information (recent breaches show that the government is not very good at following theses rules).

Here is a case in point. It deals with an entity some may regard as being on the margins — a club catering to those who are into S&M — but the it helps highlight the broader problem. A security clampdown at a London club offers a troubling glimpse of the extent of privatized monitoring brought about by government policy. John Ozimek writes that visitors to fetish club Torture Garden must now hand over personal details before they are allowed to enter. The Register’s investigation gave disturbing new insights into the farming-out of ID checks and its implications; as Phil Booth of No2ID puts it, “Two of the biggest sources of data insecurity over the next few years will be government policy and bureaucratic abdication of responsibility.”

Torture Garden regulars must provide details not because sado-masochists are believed to be more prone to violence than anyone else — in fact, Ozimek writes, research suggests that on the whole, they are often better behaved than the general public — but because Torture Garden events take place on the premises managed by SEOne Club. Following a shooting incident (not during a TG event), police requested a licensing condition that in future, “all persons entering the premises must supply verifiable identification details that are passed through a digital scanning and recording system such as Club Scan, Idvista or similar computerized system”. They duly installed Clubscan - software and equipment developed by IDScan — and now all club-goers must submit one of a number of approved pieces of ID at the door before they are allowed to enter.

IDScan promotes its system