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How important is your right to privacy?

How important is your right to privacy? A number of instances of privacy breaches have come to light recently. On Tuesday the Justice Secretary apologised for prison staff recording and listening to 32 calls from prisoners to their MPs between 2006 and 2012. These included one to Simon Hughes, a Justice Minister. All telephone conversations of prisoners are routinely recorded but those to their MPs and lawyers are supposed to be exempted.

Earlier this year it was discovered that the security services were intercepting communications between lawyers and their clients in sensitive security cases. It was suggested that the information gathered was sometimes used to win court cases.

Some might argue that if this conduct protects us from terrorists and criminals it is justified but communications with MPs do not fall into that category because they would report anything untoward to the police. The Human Rights Act says everyone has the right to respect for his or her private and family life subject only to proportionate and lawful restrictions.

We should not think this only concerns criminals. Private pictures of celebrities were hacked from Apple’s Cloud service and published on line. Hackers also accessed private photos on mobile phones and the Snapchat database. The names and phone numbers of millions of Snapchat users were published. Prison rules have been tightened and an inquiry will investigate the breaches relating to MPs and lawyers but the rest of us need to preserve our own privacy.

Good news for those concerned about EU benefit tourism came this week from an unexpected source. The European Court of Justice ruled that freedom of movement does not prevent a member state from refusing ‘special non-contributory cash benefits’ to its citizens and immigrants. The ruling applied to a Romanian woman living in Germany who had no intention of working but was claiming unemployment benefit. It was warmly welcomed by David Cameron who will see it as a basis for blocking benefit tourists to the UK. The Labour Party has also welcomed the ruling.

The Work and Pensions Secretary wants all out of work benefits included in the Universal Credit to be classed as ‘special non-contributory cash benefits’ within the framework of the Court ruling. Out of work benefits are not paid to EU migrants for the first three months in the UK. If they have not found a job in that time they can now be denied benefits and asked to leave if they have no prospect of finding one. Belgium already does this.

The ruling means that the free movement of labour, a core principle of the EU, is no longer the political hot potato it was. British firms can recruit Europeans they want but the door is no longer wide open to benefit tourists. The European Court ruling might require changes to EU legislation but it makes Cameron’s aim of reforming the EU more realistic.

We should pray for ways to support the poor with us and help others in their own countries. 

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