The Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) welcomes this opportunity to comment on the Right to Privacy (Article 8) and the Digital Revolution. The Society is the learned society and professional body representing geography and geographers. It was founded in 1830 for the advancement of geographical science and has approximately 16,000 members.
Geography is the integrated study of the Earth’s landscapes, peoples, places and environments. Geographers specialise in the dynamics of these phenomena, with skills based in quantitative and qualitative methods in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities.
Geographers are ideally placed to relate to many other fields of knowledge, which include the increasingly complex relationship between location (geospatial) data, applications of big data, and broader technological and digital advancement in collection, use and storage of [personal] data.
Is the collection, use and storage of data by private companies a threat to human rights?
The Committee are clearly aware that data can be used to deduce an individual’s background, religion, political beliefs, gender identity, and even medical conditions. One of the key tools in doing this is through the routine collection of location (also known as geospatial) data. To date, a person’s location does not appear to have obtained the same level of scrutiny as other aspects of personal data. The ways in which we collect, use and store this geospatial data is associated with numerous ethical issues. Therefore, we welcome this inquiry.
We believe it valuable and relevant that the Committee factor into their inquiry the ways in which location data is collected, the degree to which consent is obtained, and crucially, how those data are shared. Location is a fundamental component of personal identity and behaviour and is a key aspect to the plethora of data being created. One recent example that brings these potential issues to life is Your apps know where you spent the night., an article published in the New York Times.
Growing AI capability will make it increasingly feasible to identify an individual from anonymised data by scraping and processing location-based information from multiple sources. This is a topic which requires further consideration if innovators are to be able to use the location attributes of data legally and ethically. Personal location data needs to be carefully managed within future AI applications if it is not to infringe personal privacy, even if inadvertently.
The Inquiry report and evidence, including this submission, can be found on the Parliament's website