Of Data Protection, Photos and Compassion

During the past few months we have been familiarising ourselves with the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which comes into force on 25 May 2018. We have dutifully completed online courses to ensure we understand most of what we are dealing with, redrafted our web site Privacy Statements, deleted old contact lists, prepared new sign-up forms for our newsletters*, found keys to locks we never thought of using before and generally tried to make sure we are doing what we ought. As we have no intention of sharing any personal information with others nor any thought of marketing anything, it has seemed at times an enormous waste of effort; but it is the law, and we must obey. The question, as so often, is: cui bono? Who will actually benefit from what we are doing?

In our case, my own answer is a rather doubtful one because of the very limited amount of information we hold, but lack of privacy and the exploitation of personal data is fast becoming a major problem in society. No matter how careful we are as individuals, it seems we are always on the verge of having our identities stolen or becoming the victims of fraud, and there are remarkably few ways of obtaining redress.

The trouble is that at exactly the same time as we are trying to make life more secure in one way (data protection laws), we are effectively undermining personal security in another. It has become commonplace to photograph everything from the food on our plate to what we see in the street and to upload the results to one of the many sites that are basically image collections. The idea of asking permission rarely seems to occur to anyone. As you can imagine, we sometimes get snapped as we go about our lawful occasions (the habit is a big draw) and I often want to ask the photographers whether they realise that what they are doing is an invasion of privacy and might even be putting someone at risk (e.g. our car has a distinctive number plate). I think we can handle that, but not everyone could; and it is naive to think that anything posted online is somehow ‘anonymous’ or untraceable, as many have found to their cost.

Data protection laws are fine, but wouldn’t it be better to try to create a culture of thoughtfulness towards others which takes into account people’s need for privacy and security? The individual bears as much responsibility as an organization does in this respect, but it isn’t really something we can legislate for — and anyway, who would want to do that?

Thoughtfulness is one of the qualities we admire in others, but how often do we make the connection with almsgiving (from the Greek for showing mercy or compassion, i.e. fellow-feeling) and link it with what we are about during Lent? Being compassionate towards others is an essential part of our Lenten discipline and it extends beyond giving money or time to good causes. It means adopting a particular way of living, of being always concerned about others and doing what is best for them rather than ourselves. It may seem slightly absurd to associate taking a photo without permission/thought of the consequences with compassion, but unless we make the connection those of us who love taking photos may find that we have failed to protect others from an unwarranted intrusion into their lives, that we have been perpetrators of a wrong. Put like that, isn’t it worth thinking first?

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4 thoughts on “Of Data Protection, Photos and Compassion”

  1. Thank you Sr

    One of the finest articles about GDPR that I have read anywhere! Your comments about unwitting invasion of privacy are far more important though. I agree with Ann H that this should have a wider audience. Hopefully if it did it would make more people think before snapping away with their mobile ‘phones.

    Blessings on you & your ministry to us

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