Santa’s Surveillance is Legally Shonky

“He behaves so much better at this time of year”, confided the friendly mum at toddler group.

“Every time he’s disobedient, I tell him Santa is watching, and he stops it straightaway”.

I nodded, but her story made me sad. When I was a child, Santa was a twinkly-eyed superhero, a bearded wonder who sped round the world in one night, leaving fabulous gifts in his wake. A Santa who supervises rather than surprises seems like a sorry sort of Santa to me.

But I think he might need to rethink his approach. Because I’ve got news for you, Santa: there are laws about this sort of thing. Under the UK Data Protection Act 1998, you’re a Data Controller, and as such you have to register with the Information Commissioner. Newsflash, Santa, I checked the register, and you’re not on it. Know what that means? It’s a £500 fine, pal. Plus costs, so you’re looking at a couple of grand, easy. Bet you don’t fancy explaining that to Mrs Claus.

You’re also required to tell people you’re processing their personal information. So where’s your notification, Santa? The way I understand it, you ought to have a sign up in the bedroom of every child in the land, making clear that your agents and sub-contractors (like those Elf on the Shelf dolls that have infiltrated our homes) are conducting surveillance. Slipped your mind? Didn’t listen to your lawyer? That’s an unlimited fine right there, matey.

And what kind of a database must Santa have? At a minimum, his system must log:

– Details of every child’s behaviour

– Letters received and presents requested

– Decision on naughty/nice category and gift awarded. Eg “punched cat in nose so can’t have Nintendo DS. Little Minx album instead”.

Plus names, addresses, ages and who knows what else. This is some serious data storage, and Principle 7 of the Act makes clear there’d better be proper security. As VTech recently found out, just because you’re storing data about kids doesn’t mean hackers won’t come after you.

Come to think of it, where are subject access rights in all this? We can all ask to see the data an organisation holds on us, and have it corrected if necessary. Why aren’t kids bombarding Father Christmas with subject access requests, and challenging his shonky illegally-held records?

“I may have dissected my sister’s My Little Pony, Santa, but you need to update your records to show that she’d stuck sprouts up my nose, so she totally deserved it.”

I’ve checked, Santa. There are no exemptions in the Act for jolly, white-bearded patriarchs. Unless you want to argue that you’re operating in the interests of national security, and that’s a case I’d love to hear in court.

So kids, don’t listen to your parents. Whether you’re naughty or nice, Santa’s wide open to legal challenge if he starts withholding gifts. Assuming he doesn’t want the chink of jingle bells to be replaced by the clink of handcuffs, he’ll have to keep the presents coming.

Merry Christmas!

Review: The Fifty States

Randomly receiving books in the post is something that happens to me with distressing infrequency, so it was nice to get this rather gorgeous book to review, courtesy of Mumsnet.

The Fifty States is a beautifully produced coffee-table hardback consisting of fifty quirky illustrated maps, one for each of America’s states. The idea is that instead of using conventional cartography, each map shows several facts about the state. So Alaska includes a picture of musk oxen, a gray wolf and a note about Sign Post Forest, where homesick people make signs showing the number of miles to their hometowns. And Montana’s map reveals that the state possesses a garden of 1,000 buddhas, where locals go to meditate.

Each map includes a summary of the state’s history, a list of moments to remember and some key facts. It’s informative, but the real beauty of this book is in the presentation: the illustrations and design are really lovely. My two year old daughter enjoyed looking through it and an older child would find it an engaging way to learn about the US.

The Sacrifice of the Suffragettes, or, How I Discovered that I am a Colossal Wimp

I have a fridge magnet, given to me by my colleagues. It’s a picture of a crying infant with the strapline, “Mummy’s a suffragette!” It is, apparently, a genuine piece of anti-suffrage propaganda from the early part of last century.

When I opened the gift I laughed, marvelled at the desperate tactics deployed by those demonstrably on the wrong side of history, stuck it on the fridge and forgot about it.

Today, watching the film Suffragette, I thought more deeply about it. Suffragette tells a story we all know through the life of Maud Watts, a humble foot-soldier in Mrs Pankhurst’s green, white and purple army. Maud is drawn into the militant suffrage movement by a friend, and kept there by the repeated insistence of her husband, her boss and the police that she is irrevocably powerless. Her arrests lead to the loss of her husband, job and ultimately her young son, who is sent off for adoption – as the legal property of his father, he can be disposed of without Maud’s consent or even knowledge.

We know how this story turns out. The women win, and it is very much to my advantage that they did. So I was shocked and ashamed at my response to Maud’s increasing activism. I didn’t want her to do it. I watched Maud dive deeper into the world of clandestine meetings and assaults on public property, and I silently urged her to go home. To retain her job, see the good in her husband and above all, keep hold of her son.

Which goes to show that I’d be a rotten scriptwriter – “Woman continues to live life much the same as always. Has toast for supper. The end”.

But also demonstrates, sadly, that faced with the injustices and indignities visited on my ancestors, it’s unlikely I’d have taken a stand. I’ve always identified with the suffragettes’ fight against the straitjacket of twentieth century definitions of womanhood. And I’ve often considered that, had I been born eighty years earlier, I’d have been throwing stones and waving banners.

I guess it’s not true. I can’t bear to watch a fictitious woman’s life fall apart because of her commitment to equality. What chance that I’d have lined up alongside her, offering up my own family for destruction?

I always knew I owed a great debt to the suffragettes and their non-violent sisters, the suffragists. But I never considered until today just how much these women had to sacrifice, for me to be able to vote, work and take decisions about my children on equal terms with men. When my daughters are old enough, I’ll make sure they know the stories of the many real-life Maud Watts, who gave up the chance to raise their own children, in order that mine could be free.