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The Big Data Bang

Three decades have passed since the year George Orwell grimly predicted as being a nightmarish dystopia of state surveillance in his masterpiece 1984 – and if we do not quite suffer the indignities of watchful screens embedded in the walls of our homes, the great man might have said ‘I told you so’ had he been able to see a little of the way we live now.

Quite aside from the visual surveillance which is now a standard aspect of urban life, with CCTV cameras apparently on every street corner (and even, as this beautifully ironic photo shows, outside one of Orwell’s homes), the vast amount of personal data now stored by government departments and businesses is an increasing threat to privacy

As the Law Gazette recently reported, the past five years has seen the number of privacy cases reaching the UK courts double – and in just the first five months of 2014 there were 56 cases in the High Court.

Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, has caution that current privacy laws first introduced as part of the 2000 Human Rights Act may need to be revisited – and he specifically cites the ‘astonishing developments’ in IT which have enabled previously inconceivable quantities of data to be stored and shared.

These comments come in the light of other legislative developments, such as the Right to be Forgotten legislation recently passed in the European Courts, which gives individuals the right to request that search engines such as Google remove links to content relating them. Perhaps predictably, given the frankly alarming statistic that around 1 in 5 people in the world have an active Facebook account, the social media giant has faced a number of court cases regarding the use of personal information relating to users.

According to the Law Gazette, a significant proportion of privacy claims over the past year have been against institutions such as the police, including the news that Stephen Lawrence’s family had been the subject of secret intelligence gathering operations in the decades after his death.

Cases relating to the use and abuse of data are a uniquely twenty-first century issue: without the means to collect and disseminate ‘Big Data’, personal and confidential information could be shared with only a comparatively very small number of individuals and companies. With the ever-increasing range of means to store and share data, the potential for security breaches keeps pace.

It has never been more imperative for lawyers to ensure their practice meets the demands of twenty-first century clients and cases. Handling claims regarding the use of personal data requires not simply an understanding of the tech which facilitated the alleged breach, but the use of legal IT innovations such as eDiscovery to allow for swift, accurate and effective scanning of vast quantities of data. Firms and chambers keen to ensure they are up to the task should consult professional litigation support partners such as Legastat at the earliest possible stage  of the case.