A new dialogue on data
We need a rational, respectful discourse if we are to properly consider the benefits and flaws of using databases. …
… the increasing sophistication of data management has sparked concern about data protection and civil liberties, most acutely over the measures government takes to protect its citizens. This tension is serious, complex and inescapable. In modern democracies it will always be hard to strike the right balance between protecting the public from the threat posed by crime and terrorism and the need to protect civil liberties.
Reconciling the goods of liberty and security and opportunity, which all speak different languages, is never easy. The only way that it can be done is through rational and mutually respectful discourse, wary of anyone, on any side of the debate, who claims a monopoly of wisdom.
But that’s what the Government does, isn’t it? Claims a monopoly of wisdom, I mean.
Unless people agree with the Government, in which case those people are wise too…
The basic principles for using personal data are that it should be proportionate and necessary. That goes for debate about it too.
Sadly, such a rational, respectful discourse, so essential to the creation of public policy on this crucial issue, has been largely absent in recent years.
Government must take its share of the blame. Too often, we have been overly defensive and dismissive of criticism.
Rather understating it, seeing as Government Ministers have smeared and traduced their critics and called them “intellectual pygmies“, among other things.
But equally, opponents have been too quick to assume the worst of government, without any evidence to support their assumptions, replacing argument with rhetoric.
The Rowntree report, Database State, exemplifies this flawed discourse. Riddled with factual errors and misunderstandings, it reached conclusions without setting out the evidential base for doing so. The government has now published its response.
… We can never be complacent about databases – the challenge in getting the balance right between seizing the opportunities they offer and avoiding the risks they pose is evolving as fast as the technologies themselves. Whenever changes need to be made, we will make them. But we can only do this on the basis of a rational dialogue between all concerned.
Government Ministers aren’t interested in dialogue, nor are they interested in supporting their assertions with evidence.
They continue to waste our time and our money on half-baked, unsupported, proposals, and post hoc insincere apologies and justifications.
This is not “rational and mutually respectful discourse”, this is treating the world as a write-only medium and our money as their largesse.
The UK government has turned down an opposition request to explain why it has refused to publish a full security report into ContactPoint, the controversial child protection database. …
… And why, you might ask, am I, um, handwringing over this in quite so prurient a fashion?
Simple. This is just the kind of happy little vignette that it’s apparently just fine for three hundred thousand civil servants and ministers to know about the rest of us. Every internet transaction, every site visit, every email. So what if outrage, mortification and a publicly damaged relationship results? At least the government have been able to verify to their own satisfaction that you’re not doing anything wrong. …
Note that the anger MPs are feeling about the expenses revelations is directed not at those MPs who are abusing the system and bringing them all into disrepute, but at those who are exposing them. Labour MPs are convinced there is a “Tory mole”* in the fees office, others think that digitised versions of their soon to be released receipts are being shopped around the papers. …
When Harriet Harman was being questioned about Shred’s pension she said that although his contract may be enforceable by law, it is not enforceable in the “court of public opinion” and hence the government would “step in”. I wonder whether she takes a similar view about Jacqui Smith trousering over £100K by claiming that a room in her sister’s house is her main residence whilst she has a huge house in Redditch where her husband and children live. It is clear that is also not enforceable in the “court of public opinion. Is she now going to “step in”?
For those who wondered why last week the Cabinet Office apparently spontaneously published details of top civil servants’ freebies from big business in the greater interests of transparency — resulting in stories like this one – the new Private Eye has the answer.
When the Cabinet Office last week published details of junkets enjoyed by our most senior civil servants, it claimed that “the decision to publish this list reflects the government’s continued commitment to openness and transparency”.
This was, er, bollocks. The junkets only emerged following a two-and-a-half campaign by Private Eye, hassling every Whitehall department for registers of hospitality for the three years up to 2006/07.Far from being open about these, the Cabinet Office orchestrated a cover-up under which all departments would say the older information would be too costly to obtain and that details for 2007 would be published in the “new year”. That was supposed to be the new year 2008, by the way. ….
In a similar vein,
The Office of Government Commerce has spent at least £140,000 on legal fees to keep secret two early Gateway reviews on the national ID cards scheme.
Costs will rise further if government lawyers appeal against a new order by the Information Tribunal to disclose the reviews.
On Thursday last week the Tribunal ordered – for a second time – that the reviews should be published. It gave the Office of Government Commerce 28 days to release them.
But the OGC is likely to appeal the Tribunal’s decision, which means it can continue to keep the reviews secret.
If the OGC were to lose any High Court appeal, it could take the case to the Law Lords. If it lost that too, ministers could veto to stop the reviews being published.
… Three nations in the United Kingdom, as a result of one of this government’s rare progressive policies, now possess a representative assembly. The fourth, and largest, does not. England, the great colonising nation, has become a colony. It is governed by a Scotsman who uses foreign mercenaries – Scottish, Welsh and Irish MPs – to suppress parliamentary revolts over purely English affairs. There is still no democratic forum in which English interests can be discussed only by English representatives. The unfairness is staggering, the silence stranger still.
One of the peculiarities of UK politics is that issues supported by hardly anyone receive majority assent in parliament. In the current system, no popular support is required. University top-up fees, for example, were rejected by the Scottish and Welsh assemblies, but Scottish and Welsh MPs were frogmarched through the lobbies to impose them on England (the government won by five votes). Foundation hospitals were voted down in both Wales and Scotland, and foisted on the English by the representatives of those nations. Had Heathrow’s third runway been debated only by English MPs, the proposal would have been resoundingly defeated; it was approved by 19 votes, after 67 MPs from the other nations were induced to support the government. They can support such measures without any electoral risk, as their constituents are not directly affected. Devolution, which has had such beneficial consequences here in Wales and across the other borders, has left the English high and dry. …