Another day, another database

There are good civil liberty objections to the government establishing a data base for young people’s qualifications, which is coming across on the airwaves.

There is also a simpler, financial one. When will this government stop dreaming up expensive centralised data computer schemes? Does it not realise, even today, that the extra spending has to stop? Does no-one in government know where the spending tap is, and know how to turn it down?

We need a a year of no new spending initiaiitves, a year of trying to get more out of what they are spending, a year of cancelling some of the stupid, wasteful and spiteful projects that are already running. Ruth Kelly could cancel some of the lorry loads of intrusive technology her department revels in at transport, the Home Office could cancel the ID scheme, and the Treasury can stand down the accountants who were about to march into the offices of the Non Doms.

Best of all, they could cancel the orders for more CDs to lose in the post, and fail to replace any ciivl servant leaving one of the jobs where all they do each day is dream up more ways of prying into our lives and putting us under surveillance. We are not only fed up with them making Britain into a kind of prison camp for all of us inmates, but for sending us the extortionate bill for it.

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7 Comments

  1. Gareth Sutcliffe
    Posted February 13, 2008 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Presumably Labour cannot turn off the spending pledge machine because it is controlled by Labour's need to get in the headlines everyday. No spending pledges, no headlines. And headlines are what government is all about, right?

  2. Dr Dan H.
    Posted February 13, 2008 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Someone go tell HMRC about Kerberos authentication and AFS networked file systems, please.

    Those two work well, assume an untrusted network between user and server, use strong data transfer encryption and have clients that work on Linux, Solaris and pretty much every version of Windows going.

    Oh, and the software is completely, militantly, Open Source GNU free. Free as in pay nothing to anybody and free as in read the documentation and you're set for getting it working.

    Use this and there'd be no need to push data around by post; you'd just copy the data to a directory to which the accountants had read access and tell them where to look.

    Lots of places use AFS. Many universities do, because it works, it lacks security problems and it is free.

  3. MarkE
    Posted February 13, 2008 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Gary Sutcliffe

    There is another reason why Labour will not turn off the spending pleadge machine; they have created a client state of sinecure holders who (they hope) will loyally vote Labour at the next election. While real government workers (Doctors, nurses, teachers, the emergency services etc) know their jobs are secure whichever party is in government, these sinecure holders legitimately fear that a future Conservative government might abolish their jobs, thus reducing their incomes and possibly even meaning they have to work for a living.

    I fear they may influence the outcome of the next election. I fear even more that David Cameron will feel he has to protect these parasites if he is to be elected.

  4. John of Enfield
    Posted February 13, 2008 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    After working in the IT industry for 40 years in senior positions I cannot understand why NuLabour is so unquestioning about the power of technology to achieve their political objectives.

    FIRSTLY they want to centralise everything. This on its own prevents any such system from being safe. The NHS Medical Records, the UK ID system and many others are intended to contain data on the complete population and need to be accessed by hundreds of thousands of people. This makes them inherently unsafe because the security weakness lies in the number of people with access and in a group of this size there are bound to be a few bad apples. See Prof. Ross Anderson's writings for a more rigorous analysis of this problem. Also note the regular sad incidents of incorrect use of the PNC even with a much more restricted set of highly vetted users. The sale of our personal data by the DVLC shows how government is unable to resist the temptation to make money out of our private data – so they completely bypass any security systems in place!

    SECONDLY they continue to believe biometrics will solve the problem. All it does it put up the cost, for a short while only, of defeating the access control system. And, when your identity IS stolen, that gives the thieves even more control over your assets. We have seen cash withdrawn from ATMs and the victim unable to claim the money back because the banks allege that their security access was unbreakable. We have seen complete houses stolen because the Land Registry put personal information and signatures on the Web. Mark my words, such crimes will be increasingly prevalent and will be even more devastating when these national data bases get into full production.

    Then, THIRDLY, we have the problem of correcting incorrect data. I refer you to the first two points to give you an insight into how difficult it is to properly manage this process.

    CONCLUSION. The growth of these national IT systems must be at a much slower rate and must be governed by some fundamental principles, e.g. the right to privacy & the right to control the use of our own data.

    Look at the way ID systems in Germany are deliberately decentralised to avoid the sort of abuse that the Nazis indulged in when they came to power.

    This is one of the few areas where I believe that the precautionary principle must be applied.

    I would appreciate it if the Conservative party raised the level of debate on this issue to a much more professional level than the government currently indulges in.

  5. Richard
    Posted February 13, 2008 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    This government's record on carefully safeguarding citizens' personal and private details is absolutely appalling. So why do they persist in extending their unwanted tentacles across every person's ( and child's ) daily existence ?

    Why is there no effective opposition to the insidious, creeping 'Stalinisation' of this country ?

    Reply: Some of us oppose it and highlight it when ever possible. I think people forget just how large a majority they gave Labour in 2005.

  6. mikestallard
    Posted February 13, 2008 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    One person in four is a government payee in large parts of Northern England. There are millions of people throughout the land who are not producing money, but who instead are using it. The pensions they get are enormous. And then there is the

  7. johnlocke
    Posted February 14, 2008 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    "Look at the way ID systems in Germany are deliberately decentralised to avoid the sort of abuse that the Nazis indulged in when they came to power."

    John of Enfield, that's very interesting. Would you know where I could find out more about this (ideally in English)? The Germans certainly seem to have learnt from their history – a few years ago they were considering an ID card similar to the one now being introduced in this country. Not quite so many private details, not quite as sinister as ours, but a similar concept. But there was such an outcry that the idea was abandoned.

    Another example of German good sense and respect for privacy: every year, in Munich, CCTV cameras are put up for the Bierfest. And every year, in Munich, CCTV cameras are taken down, after the Bierfest. Can you imagine a local council here doing anything as sensible as this?

    Why are we so awful at protecting our freedoms, when we have such a proud history? Why do so many in government seem to despise liberty, despise privacy, and want to put us all onto a thousand databases? Why do so few in Parliament care? (Mr Redwood, and a few dozen others, being honourable exceptions.) These aren't rhetorical questions… I'm genuinely troubled. I'm too young to remember Old Labour, but my reading of history suggests they weren't like this lot. What have we lost?

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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