A Modern Day Christmas Carol
On a very recent December evening in the snow covered streets of a local UK town a businessman upon returning to his premises was greeted by the sight of his letterbox smiling at him.
As he looked closer, he discovered it was not a smile but a white envelope which had not been pushed completely through the door. He pulled the envelope from the letterbox and read the bold inscription across the top “Information Commissioners Office”.
Hurrying indoors, he opened the envelope and read that in spite of his widely promulgated boasting, to anyone who would listen, that he and his business took a Cavalier attitude towards the requirements of data protection, (and most other things).
However, he had now, like so many before him, succumbed to the penalties of the Data Regulator and was to be punished.
Until that point, his favourite expression was “I’m only a small business, I’ve enough to do without protecting other People’s data, People should protect themselves.” This attitude had cost him customers in the past but now something much more serious was waiting for him.
That night, whilst in bed, his punishment began: The Regulator’s correspondence had informed him he was to be visited by three Ghosts who would haunt his waking hours and require his attention to the plight of those in Data Purgatory!
At Midnight precisely, the bedroom door began to shake and from the hallway a blinding white light shone through the gap around the door frame, a brief pause and then a deafening crash as the door swung open. The businessman shielded his eyes with his hands as a booming voice instructed.
“Pay Attention. I am the Ghost of Data Past.”
It seemed a film was playing in his mind of people entering their personal details into computer screens and mobile phones. They typed in their pin codes and wrote down passwords, they scribbled their customers details on scraps of paper and laughed uproariously, as the paper was swirled into the air and the computers, cash machines and mobile phones formed a twisting Tornado of multi coloured numbers, letters and codes into the air.
Peeking out from his bedsheets, as he re-focussed his eyes he realised the passwords and PIN numbers were his own, the Tornado expanded and exploded while a million hands attached to unseen bodies grasped the air to steal his precious data as ghostly hands fastened a heavy chain to his leg which dragged him into a dark mound of despair labelled “Responsibility for Purchases you never made!” As the mound swallowed him completely he gasped for air until, in suffocation of the debt, he awoke to a silent room.
He looked around, his watch still said Midnight. He thought “This is not over….”
He looked around the room and shouted “That’s enough now. It’s OK, I’ll get someone to do some Data Protection stuff for me. I’m far too busy to do it myself.”
It was Midnight for a long time that day. The second Ghostly occurrence began soon after, or was it before, the supernatural time paradox is such a twitchy subject, its difficult to know for sure.
In any event a voice said “Pay Attention, I am the Ghost of Data Present!”
The film began again, this time a crowd of business people were writing plans, they each displayed their membership numbers and in front of each was a computer open at the Regulators website, the business people were auditing their businesses, they paid their fees to the Regulator and they wrote plans and procedures for their businesses. As far as he could see there were Men and Women from all walks of life and all sizes of business busy investing their time into the protection of the Data used in their businesses.
At this point a pair of ghostly hands took hold of his shoulders from behind and slowly but firmly turned him around. The light faded and he saw a much, much larger number of business people wandering around in the gloomy darkness, these people were not planning for their business, they were not writing policies for their business and they did not seem to be planning to do so. They were all walking along in the dark towards a much deeper darkness ahead of them.
The ghostly hands were now outstretched ahead of him and pointed to the destination of the larger crowd. He realised they were blindly walking towards a cliff edge and began to wave and shout frantically to the herd of unthinking business owners.
“They do not listen” said the Ghost.
“Let me tell them” shouted the man, “I will explain what they are doing, I will tell them.”
The Ghost lowered its head and stared at the man with penetrating red eyes and said
“They can hear you now, they just don’t care.”
“But they’ll fall off the cliff.” He said
“The ones who don’t protect the interests of others always do. Perhaps its for the best.” The Ghost replied.
The man looked back to the area of light, where the business people were safe and started to move in that direction.
The Ghost grabbed him and pulled him back. “Where do you think you’re going?” He hissed “…You are in the larger group!”
Once again the ground started to swallow him up and he awoke a moment later, screaming at the darkened wall of his room.
He relaxed and got himself under control. “is that it now?” He thought. The answer came swiftly.
A thundering noise like a hundred galloping horses entered his consciousness and he began to travel uncontrollably forward, he passed through the wall of his room and up, high above the lights of the town. A figure was ahead of him in the distance, small and indistinct at first but suddenly growing to tower over his body and staring down with the same red eyes as the last Ghost.
“Are You’re early?” it said.
“What?” The man replied. “I’ve just arrived”
“I know” said the Ghost. “That joke that goes down well in temporal mechanics.”
The man relaxed and smiled. “Let me guess, the Ghost of our Data Future?”
“No one likes a Smart Arse” said the Ghost and the man dropped through the floor.
Falling fast towards the Earth, increasing in velocity and spinning wildly he came to rest a moment before making contact with the ground. After his head stopped spinning, he looked around. Everything seemed fine. The sun was shining, people were going about their business, everyone seemed happy.
“There must be a catch” He thought.
“There is” said the ghost. “At least for you, Look”
To his right beyond the green meadow was a churchyard. In an instant they were both standing beside the only grave.
“Is it my grave?” he asked timidly.
“In a sense.” Said the Ghost.
The man read the inscription on the Gravestone. “Here lies the corpse of all businesses who failed to comply with Data Protection. Their time is over and they will not return.”
The man protested. “But the cost, the effort to be compliant, I’m only a small business. It’s not fair.”
“What isn’t fair?” Said the Ghost, then continued…
“The fact people trust you with their information and you don’t protect it?...”
“The fact you pester them with cold calls, for months and even years without consent?”
“That you allow others to get hold of their data and ruin their lives?”
“or the simple fact that you see no value in protecting them and you simply don’t
“Is any of that fair?”
The man replied. “it’s just business.” with which, he sank into oblivion and apart from being Named & Shamed on the Regulator's website forever, was never heard of again!
Unfortunately, dear reader, in spite of the festive time of year and the uncanny but entirely coincidental similarity of this story to any other you might have heard that had a happy ending, this one does not!
There are too many business people who still ignore their responsibilities to their customers and the public in general and we make no apology for saying that their time is over.
The Regulator is, in their own words “Actively seeking out” the non compliant businesses.
You should consider that especially at this time of year, bad data protection practices can literally ruin lives, our story should serve as a timely reminder to only hand over your data to people who can PROVE they will look after it.
Transition Law SHIELD would like to wish a Happy Christmas, and a 'data safe' New Year to everyone!