The increasing reach of information technology into all areas of life, from social networking websites to data sharing in public services, has thrown up a number of questions about privacy. Information about our medical records, financial circumstances and shopping habits is increasingly likely to be stored in electronic media that are out of our control.
Some critics worry more about Tesco's data-gathering than any "surveillance state." The controversy about Google Maps' Street View function, which captured thousands of unwitting people walking or standing on the streets, is a reminder that new technology constantly raises new questions about our privacy.
So how worried should we be? Does the convenience of easily accessed information outweigh the danger of abuse? How are our conceptions of privacy changing? And following the success of the Pirate Party in Sweden, can we expect privacy to move up the political agenda in the UK, too?
These concerns focus on technological development, but arguably there has been a broader cultural transformation, whereby we are loosening up about what we consider "private." From school to the workplace, we are constantly encouraged to discuss our feelings, while public figures in politics as well as showbiz seem ever-anxious not only to be "transparent" about their work, but to reveal intimate details of their private lives.
Some argue we are seeing a fundamental shift in attitudes to privacy, with a whole new generation growing up at ease with sharing pictures and information about themselves online with loosely-defined "friends." Meanwhile, we are increasingly suspicious of goings-on "behind closed doors," and the demand for privacy often seems a cranky hang-up of those with something to hide.
In this context, what does it mean to insist on a right to privacy? Should we look to privacy laws to protect those who are less keen on sharing all? Where is the line between public and private today? Do we need to redraw this line and why is this so politically important?
Peter Barron is Google's Director of Communications and Public Affairs for North and Central Europe.
He was previously editor of BBC2's "Newsnight" from 2004-2008, and he has worked in TV news and current affairs for nearly twenty years.
He started as a BBC news trainee and has worked at a senior level on "Newsnight," "Channel 4 News" and "Tonight with Trevor McDonald." He devised and edited the BBC drama documentary series "If...".
In 2007 he was advisory chair of the Edinburgh International TV Festival.
Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author, activist, journalist, and blogger. He’s the co-editor of BoingBoing.net, and the author of the bestselling “Little Brother,” which was recently optioned by Paramount, with Don Murphy (“Natural Born Killers,” “Transformers”) producing, and the new book “Walkaway,” among many others. He is the former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group. Born in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in Los Angeles.
Claire Fox is the director of the Institute of Ideas (IoI), which she established to create a public space where ideas can be contested without constraint.
Fox initiated the IoI while co-publisher of the current affairs journal LM magazine (formerly Living Marxism). The IoI has since worked with a variety of prestigious institutions in Britain and abroad.
Fox is a panelist on BBC Radio 4's "The Moral Maze" and is regularly invited to comment on developments in culture, education and the media on TV and radio. Fox writes regularly for national newspapers and a range of specialist journals. Fox has a monthly column in the Municipal Journal.
Dr. Norman Lewis is the Chief Strategy Officer, Wireless Grids Corporation, USA where he is responsible for business strategy and building key-industry partnerships to bring this technology to market.
Prior to joining WGC, he was the Director of Technology Research for Orange UK, formerly the Home Division of France Telecom, where he focused on the integrated Telco approach to the emerging Web2.0 ecosphere. His research team were subsequently recognised as internet thought-leaders across the world.
Until recently he was an Executive Board member of the MIT Communications Futures Programme - a global research partnership between industry and six laboratories at MIT, Cambridge Mass. He has acted as a consultant to the World Intellectual Property Organisation on issues related to the Digital Divide. He is currently the Chairman of the International Telecommunications Union's TELECOM Forum Programme Committee.
His current focus remains on the subject of digital children and their encounter with innovation in a risk-averse culture. Allied to this he is researching new disruptive business models around Next Generation voice and messaging services.
Anna Minton is a writer and journalist. She has worked as a foreign correspondent, business reporter and social affairs writer and is the winner of five national journalism awards. After a decade in journalism she began to focus on longer projects for think tanks and policy organizations. She is the author of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's Viewpoint on fear and distrust and a member of the writers' panel for the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. She appears regularly on television and radio and is a contributor to The Guardian.
The idea for "Ground Control" emerged from a series of three agenda setting reports. The first focused on gated communities and ghettos in the US, questioning to what extent these trends are emerging in the UK. The second, "Northern Soul," looked at polarization and culture in one British city, Newcastle, and the third, "What kind of World Are We Building?" investigated the growing privatization of public space.