UK Liberty

Was 2007 the year the public woke up to the dangers of the database state?

Posted in database state by ukliberty on January 4, 2008

This blog’s statistics are hardly representative but I had more viewers looking at database state -related articles than any other topic in late 2007, after we were told that the HRMC had ‘misplaced’ records (on two CDs sent via post) relating to 25m people and compounded the error by including in its 7.25m letters of apology the very data we were worried about – with some people receiving multiple letters of apology addressed to people they had never heard of!

Then, among (too many) other examples, we heard that information relating to 7m driving test applicants had been lost in Iowa, in the United States, and later that nine NHS trusts had lost lots of our confidential data (hat-tip Ideal Government).

Many people were already worried about their medical records being held ‘centrally’ – previously that was the single most accessed topic on this blog – are they now starting to worry about the rest of the database state?

The Government has been consistently warned for years by independent security experts that we may be simply incapable of securely storing all this data on such a scale and increasing sharing (Transformational Government) and improving ease-of-use.

But the Government continues to press on with data-sharing, “one central storehouse of truth”, and the like, not only nationally but internationally – whether ‘outsourced’ to other countries for processing or storing, or shared with other countries (eg within the EU) for the prevention of crime and so on, apparently regardless of these concerns.

The Justice Committee concluded in their recent report on these issues that

  • There is evidence of a widespread problem within Government relating to establishing systems for data protection and operating them adequately;
  • It is widely accepted that it is necessary to have a substantial increase in the powers given to the Information Commissioner to enable him to review systems for data protection and their application – recent events have underlined the urgency of this; and
  • There is a difficult balance to be struck between the undoubted advantages of wider exchange of information between Government Departments and the protection of personal data. The very real risks associated with greater sharing of personal data between Government Departments must be acknowledged in order for adequate safeguards to be put in place.

It really does boggle the mind that “the very real risks” have yet to be acknowledged, doesn’t it?

But I think it comes down to competence. What a lot of people seem to forget is that those in positions of authority may not be the best people for the job – it is quite scary, isn’t it, to think they might not be any more competent than the rest of us (and indeed some may be even less competent), particularly MPs, who are where they are because of their ability to curry favour.

If we cannot improve competence, then, should we grant a central government such power over our lives, or would it be better to put our eggs in lots of little baskets around the UK?

At least then there would be more easily dealt with little, genuinely isolated failures, rather than millions of people being compromised in one go.


The Register reports that 2007 was the worst year for data protection.


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