The China Syndrome

by | May 11, 2021 | Uncategorised

I don’t have an exciting Data Protection origin story.

I’ve heard people talk about coming into DP or FOI to fight for inalienable rights, to battle the evils of surveillance and encroaching government or corporate power. Some people seem to have started work on information rights in order to save the world. But I wasn’t bitten by a radioactive copy of Convention 108. My parents were not murdered in an alley by Cambridge Analytica’s goons. I just wanted to buy a house.

In 2000, I was cataloguing books for Stockport Library Service: a civilised, socially-useful job but not the most exciting and more to the point, not the most stable, especially if you want to buy a house. I was on a nine-month temporary contract. I would have done any permanent job, but as it happened, I saw an advert (probably in the Guardian) for a policy role at an obscure civil service organisation, whose work I knew little about. But it was permanent, the person spec looked like I could blag my way in, and as a bonus, it was based in Wilmslow. My girlfriend worked in Handforth so I could get a lift to work every day and avoid buying a car I could not yet afford.

Story for another time, but the car I ended up buying when her employer moved was a black hole for money. Buying that clunker was the second worst decision I have ever made.

Anyway, I passed the test, got the interview and in an amazing stroke of luck, they asked some records management questions. I didn’t pretend to be an expert, but I answered relatively competently, and I later found out that understanding records management even at a superficial level tipped the scales in my favour. My four short years in libraries opened the door to a considerably more extended stay in the Information Rights Sector, starting sometime in April 2001 as a Policy Manager at the Information Commissioner’s Office. Yes, I should be able to remember the date, but I don’t. To misquote ‘Withnail and I’, I became an information rights professional by mistake. My time at the ICO was short and undistinguished, but it’s the only origin story I have, so here we are: 20 glorious years.

Of course, I stayed in the sector because I enjoy it, and because it *is* possible to do some good here. I can help demystify legislation that is often clouded by misunderstanding and hype. I can explain apparently complex ideas with hats and jazz hands. I genuinely like to help people to deal with these challenges and get the job done.

And also there’s that mortgage.

I know that my many admirers in the sector would expect this glorious occasion to be marked in some way, but due to COVID I understand that the parade has had to be cancelled, and statues of egocentric white men are understandably not as popular as they used to be. To make up for the absence of a grand community celebration, I have started / am starting a couple of different projects which are my selfless attempt to give something back to the information rights sector, and definitely not just a naked attempt to boost my followers and potential customers.

First, for FOI folk, I have launched the FOI Five, a monthly newsletter which summarises the five most interesting FOI and EIR decisions made either by the ICO or the Tribunal. Every month, dozens of decisions get made, but many of them are simple or procedural, so this is my attempt to dig for the gold that will help you to do your job.

Second, for DP practitioners, I am starting a Twitter account called The DPO Daily. Every day, the account will send out an interesting piece of information for the busy Data Protection Officer or IG professional. There will be no politics or arguments: there will be a case, a book, a person you should know about as well as, hints, tips and other useful nuggets every day. Just one tweet or thread, nothing else; a daily shot in the arm for the DPO. The first tweet goes out on May 25th (do you see what I did there?). If you have a hint or tip for your fellow DP professionals, email it to If I use it, you will get a credit and a copy of my amazing GDPR audit handbook. My normal Twitter account remains in place to reduce my reputation still further in the eyes of polite society.

And finally, an exciting competition. Before our present predicament, I was a face-to-face trainer and consultant. My job was to meet people in the real world and work with them, train them and help solve their problems. The pandemic killed that role off. I’m surprised I wasn’t wiped out altogether. But I adapted, often successfully, occasionally with courses that literally nobody booked onto (RIP, ‘GDPR for elected members‘, you were absolutely not the money-spinner that I thought you might be).

I’m still here solely because people keep booking on my courses and inviting me to run in-house events, and I’m grateful to all of them. As a consequence, I have a huge back-catalogue of recorded courses to show for it. To mark my 20 years in the sector and to celebrate my continued if perhaps unwelcome presence, everyone subscribed to my mailing list will be entered into a draw to win any recorded course of their choice. There’s a separate draw for FOI Five subscribers, and another one for DPO Daily followers. Three different people will win a recording of your choice.

But that’s not all. One of the three winners will be picked from the lucky bowler hat, and they will win access to them all: my entire collected pandemic works. You’ll have to agree not to share them with anyone else, but apart from that, my training courses are yours to enough. If you paid for this, it would be over £1000. All that you need to do to win is join my mailing list, subscribe to the FOI Five, or follow the DPO Daily, and it could be you. Everyone who is signed up / following on June 30th 2021 will be entered into whichever draws they qualify for. Winners will be notified by July 7th. I will have had my second dose of the AZ vaccine by then, so I am hoping to let the lucky winner know via psychic mind vibrations, but otherwise it will be by email / tweet.

* whispers * if you want to do a deal and pay for your staff to have access to all this good stuff, email me.

To everyone who has supported me since I first started working for myself and especially since I gave up working for [redacted], I can only say thank you. Whether it was paying me for work, helping me with projects or acting as a sounding board, or just encouraging me not to quit and start applying for regular jobs, I love and value you all. Boris Johnson has just announced that hugging will soon be allowed and I want to say sincerely, and from the bottom of my heart, I do not want you to hug me. Don’t make this weird. But I do want you to sign up to my various offerings and possibly win a fabulous prize. SIGN UP NOW!

Thank you all, and here’s to another* 20 years!

2040 Mailing list:

FOI Five:

The DPO Daily:

* I’ll be 68 in 20 years, so I’m not making any promises. I’d reckon on ten at least, but after that I suspect my knees will give out.