The decade between 2010 and 2020 saw the convergence of three previously separate tracks – physical world monitoring, Internet technologies, and law/policy – to create a privacy disaster. There were still a few wins: Britain, as part of the EU, adopted the General Data Protection Regulation (2016), which enhanced citizens’ data protection rights and granted regulators increased enforcement powers, and public pushback against care.data, a 2014 plan to allow commercial researchers access to NHS patient data, forced a rethink.
As 2020 began, long-running concerns about mass surveillance and the loss of privacy became overwhelmed by the need to contain the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. While even dedicated privacy advocates generally accepted the immediate need for exceptions, concern remained that these intrusions might persist after the emergency ended.
The following tale of privacy in Britain between 2010 and 2020 falls into three parts: the state of play at the end of 2019, the pre-pandemic “normal”; a topic-by-topic breakdown of how privacy changed between 2010 and 2020; and the early response to the COVID-19 outbreak, which set the stage for vastly expanded surveillance – temporarily, one hopes.
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