There is a lack of legal protection of individuals with regard to automatic processing of personal information relating to them, especially when considering the increasing use made of computers for administrative purposes. There is also a lack of general rules on the storage and use of personal information and in particular, on the question of how individuals can be enabled to exercise control over information relating to themselves, which is collected and used by others. Mistakes in data held can wrongly label individuals with a criminal record or unfairly list them as a credit risk.
In the UK, 10% of enterprises surveyed reported unauthorized disclosure of computerized information by employees to competitors. Also in the UK, some 60 protests per week are made concerning errors in personal information held in state and private data banks. Such errors have been discovered in police and hospital computers as well as among commercial collectors of personal data. In 1994 it was reported that private security firms were offering to obtain confidential information, such as bank statements or medical details, on neighbours, friends and colleagues for £750.
As the public becomes increasingly aware of the information orientation of modern life and that a substantial amount of personal data about them is being preserved 'on the record', it is understandable that people may begin to doubt whether they have any meaningful existence or identity apart from their profile stored in the electronic catacombs of a 'master' computer. Embedded in this fear of being stripped of individuality is the psychosis of the Computerized Man, popularly portrayed as a quasi-automaton whose functions have been standardized, whose status in the community has been determined for him, and whose financial condition is prescribed in immutable terms.
Computer held files are more secure than those on paper, any access to them can be controlled and recorded. Standard universal identifiers used in conjunction with an identity card would greatly benefit the public. For example, in the UK, citizens would have a single identity number instead of a national health service number, a driver's licence number, a passport number, a national insurance number and a tax number.