Trust = Privacy. Not Really.

Leila Trilby
May 6, 2020 · 2 min read

Privacy as an infrastructure, not a service. The MadHATTERs Editorial, 6 May 2020

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So the GCHQ has access to NHS data. More specifically, data relating to its network and IT systems so the UK’s intelligence and security organisation can protect the health service from cyber-attacks. Seems we’re fighting not just a global pandemic but also COVID-19-related malicious cyber activity like scams and phishing emails. And hostile states trying to steal COVID-19 vaccine research.

This data access, granted until end-2020, does not include patient personal data. Still, it’s unlikely to allay privacy concerns, especially those around the NHS’s centralised contact-tracing app trialling on the Isle of Wight this week before its eventual launch to the British public. Whether it’s IT or personal health the issue seems to be: can we can trust our governments and health authorities with our data. And these debates tend to conflate trust with privacy, as Dataswift CEO Irene Ng told recently.

When your customers or users trust you, you have the responsibility to protect their privacy. But while the GCHQ — more specifically its National Cyber Security Centre — has the security infrastructure to safeguard the NHS’s data systems, where is the privacy infrastructure for our health data? Security does not equate privacy. And neither does trust, so it seems.

Most organisations see privacy as a service when they should view it as an infrastructure. Like how the banking industry builds an infrastructure for security AND privacy as well as exchange. But it’s about time we take this approach with personal data (more in Dataswift’s Modern Privacy briefing).

When we say you should be able to trust technology when you use it, we need to show we really mean it, Europe’s competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager told The New Yorker last week. Here’s how companies and institutions can show us we can trust their technology and their ability to preserve our data’s privacy: by making sure they have the right data infrastructure.

MadHATTERs is a weekly newsletter covering technology, personal data, and the Internet. Its perspective championing decentralised personal data is led by Dataswift with the Hub of All Things (HAT) technology. If you like what you read, subscribe to receive MadHATTERs in your inbox. Find out more about the HAT at

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