The pace of technology is leaving us all behind

A few months ago our eldest son went to University. (We think he’s doing okay, thanks for asking, but we generally work on the basis that no news is good news.)

However, since he left there has been a running debate with me and Mrs Wallace as to whether he needs a TV license. He is in halls of residence, with a separate room. The online guidance and examples (follow this link if you are interested) talks about the difference between a portable TV running off batteries (no license required, so long as the address is temporary and there is a license at your permanent address) and a TV which runs off the mains. He has no TV and only watches programmes on his laptop. The laptop has an external monitor for working on (as the screen is quite small on the actual laptop itself for using Word and Excel).

After exchanging three rounds of emails with the enquiry service at TV licensing I can report that the answer is quite bizarre. It appears that he does not need a license if he watches TV on his laptop if it is running off batteries, but if he plugs it in (or attaches an aerial) then he must have a license. I tried to suggest that the laptop is actually always running off batteries, even when plugged in, the plugging in merely recharging the batteries, but they wouldn’t accept that point. I imagine that if he watches via the separate monitor then that, being plugged in, requires a license.

It seems to me that this is an interpretation of old law, designed to deal with battery powered TVs in holiday caravans, onto the new world of laptops, tables, smartphones, digital set-top boxes, cable/satellite TV, online streaming, games consoles, BBC iPlayer, etc. As ever, when old legislation has to stretch to fit new circumstances then the fit is not always perfect!

In my day job I have responsibility for the IT at Barnes Roffe. The speed of evolution of options and alternatives has always been very fast. For example, when Dropbox launched many people seized upon it as a convenient way to share files – which it was. But nobody thought “where is my data, who has access, can I control it”. By the time that thought process was running, the horse had already bolted from the stable! Many businesses allow staff to use their own devices for email (phones being the main example), but do they have control or even knowledge of where the data is? As ever, the pace of change in technological alternatives has outstripped the systems and procedures which would have kept control over data.

The new General Data Protection Regulations (“GDPR”) need us all to have a cultural mind-shift towards the data we hold. In regard to personal data the shift is large! I had a meeting with a supplier recently and he described it as thus, “we think we own the personal data in our databases, but we have to realise that we do not own it, we are temporary custodians of the data, it continues to belong to the individual”. Whilst I’m sure a data law specialist would argue that this is the way it has been since the Data Protection Act first came into being, this was a very powerful way of explaining the paradigm shift we need to grasp. The explosion of personal data, via website log-ins, credit information, data given away on mobile phone apps, etc. means that the control over this data becomes more and more critical. The risk of identity theft is real and present, I myself received a letter form Experian last week explaining that I had been a victim of their data breach. The challenge we face is rounding up that horse and getting it back in the stable! Again, this is another area where the technology leads and our business procedures and the legislation has to run to keep up.

At Barnes Roffe we are working on the GDPR in parallel to new IT security procedures to control access and clamp down on where data can go. I’m sure many colleagues will find this an inconvenience, however, who said progress would be easy.

If any clients would like to consider a user forum for their decision makers and IT managers then I would be willing to host a gathering to exchange ideas and have some experts speak. Please let me know if this is of interest.

[PS In case the TV licensing people read this, our son does have a license!]


Blog author: Graham Wallace

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