My latest Guardian column is online: "Personal data is as hot as nuclear waste," which looks at the immortality of databases -- just as it's impossible for the Internet to scourge itself of Paris Hilton's terrible genitals, it is likewise impossible that the personal information hemorrhaged by the likes of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (25 million records!) will ever go away. In the era of infinite copying, this information is like a nuclear disaster, immortal and terrible in its consequence. The only way to contain future spills is to make every person who gathers information on his neighbours pay in advance for the long-term handling and storage of that undying, toxic sludge:
If we are going to contain every heap of data plutonium for 200 years, that means that every single person who will ever be in a position to see, copy, handle, store, or manipulate that data will have to be vetted and trained every bit as carefully as the folks in the rubber suits down at the local fast-breeder reactor.
Every gram - sorry, byte - of personal information these feckless data-packrats collect on us should be as carefully accounted for as our weapons-grade radioisotopes, because once the seals have cracked, there is no going back. Once the local sandwich shop's CCTV has been violated, once the HMRC has dumped another 25 million records, once London Underground has hiccoughed up a month's worth of travelcard data, there will be no containing it.
And what's worse is that we, as a society, are asked to shoulder the cost of the long-term care of business and government's personal data stockpiles. When a database melts down, we absorb the crime, the personal misery, the chaos and terror.