Philip Johnston gets a whiff of Java

July 13th, 2009

Philip Johnson writes in the Telegraph about ‘the database state’ and how evil it is. It feels like he has had a whiff of coffee and is waking up. What he REALLY needs are some smelling salts:

Beware Labour’s quest for a database state

There’s no reason why the Government should know so much about us, argues Philip Johnston.

By Philip Johnston

Here is a good idea. Instead of handing over personal information to the state, why don’t we keep it and control it ourselves?

Indeed. That is a really good idea. I have another one. Why not, instead of handing over all your money to the state, why dont you keep it and control it yourself Philip? If you do that, then they would not have the means to build the database state that you are so rightly frightened of.

Simple, eh? For a start, it means the state would not be able to get its hands on these data, which most of us would consider a good thing, not least when they get lost. It would also be significantly cheaper than the industrial quarrying of private information to be held on vast central government databases, which is estimated to cost a mind-boggling £16.5 billion a year, a lot of it spent on repairing IT projects that have failed to work properly.

Exactly. And the cost of keeping this data would be spread to each and every person. They would keep what they want, store it how they want (on hardware or on paper or in the ‘white meat’ between their ears), and share it with whom they like on whatever terms they care to agree with.

Anyone who has the temerity to suggest that the database society may have a flaw or two is often accused of neo-Luddism, usually by those who have a vested interest in its expansion. No one is suggesting that we should not exploit the extraordinary benefits of storing data.

I have to say, in the eight years of BLOGDIAL I have NEVER heard people who are against ID Cards or invasive databases being called ‘luddites’. And once again, who is the ‘we’ in this section? Who is it that decides what is or is not a benefit? This is central to the problem; what is the proper role of government.

But there is a similarity here with those who raged against the machines in early 19th-century Yorkshire – a feeling of powerlessness, an inability to control something that can have an enormous influence on our lives.

No, its is not that at all.

The luddites did not understand how business and innovation work. They (and you) would have been well advised to read ‘That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen‘.

This is one of the great subjects of our times because it is the same one that has exercised the minds of political philosophers since Plato: to what extent should the state be able to control the individual?

Ummm, you mean should there be a state at all? Its like asking, “should people be robbed every other day of the week starting Mondays or Tuesdays?”

Doesn’t work does it?

In this age-old battle, one thing is clear – information is power, and the state is now in a better position than at any time in history to possess it and access it easily. It does so, it says, for our own good.

Information is not power. Cooperation transferees the illusion of power. Information by itself is not enough to compel obedience. The fall of East Germany and the Soviet Unions are proof of that. Those were two societies with deeply invasive and all pervasive surveillance systems that could not withstand the pressures that caused them to collapse.

Under Labour, a programme, known as Transformational Government, was established a few years ago to develop the database society and to obtain what the policy papers call “a single source of truth” about the citizen, based on their behaviour, experiences, beliefs, needs and rights. Why should the state want to have “a single source of truth” about us?

Links or it didn’t happen.

In a lecture to the Centre for Policy Studies, in London this Wednesday, Damian Green, the Tory frontbencher, will tackle this question head on; and it is heartening to see that the Tories, in opposition at least, have understood the dangers here. Government, says Mr Green, can do harm even when it is trying to do good,

Some people say that government can only do harm.

though I am by no means convinced that it really is seeking “to do good”. All states collect information on their citizens.

‘Their’ is used here in the form that suggests that people are the property of the state. This reflexive use of language to describe people as the property of government is everywhere. It is a testament to the effectiveness of brainwashing over decades. Free people are not the property of anyone. Free countries do not have citizens; in a free country, the citizens have a free country, the citizens own the government… etc etc.

However, the amount they are able to collect depends upon the technology, which is clearly available nowadays, and the constraints placed upon its capture by the legislature. Such constraints are remarkably few in the UK compared to other democracies. How have we gone so quickly from being the country you would most expect to resist these tendencies to the one that adopted them so meekly?

It is simple. The abuse of language. Fascism is renamed ‘Transformational Government’. Journalists talk of ‘a country’s citizens’ as if people are the property of the state. They talk of ‘the social contract’ which is a fantasy. They refuse to address the true nature of anything, especially money, self ownership, ownership of property. To sum up, they absolutely refuse to be serious and question the core assumptions of their lives and ideas.

Mr Green has identified 28 state databases on which personal information is kept, from the obviously necessary, such as the PAYE collection system

And here is a perficio exempoator of what I just described above. Philip Johnston says it is ‘obviously necessary’ that the PAYE system collection should exist.

to some that are impossible to justify, like ContactPoint, which will hold the details of everyone under the age of 18 in England.

And again. This description of ContactPoint is very poor. ContactPoint is the compulsory database of all eleven million children in the UK, that will be accessible by over one million government workers from council workers on up. You see? by describing ContactPoint as something that ‘will hold the details of everyone under the age of 18’ you deny access to the true nature of the beast, thus preventing people from the vital starting point that will allow them to come to the correct conclusion; that ContactPoint is one of the most evil things ever created by a British Government.

The Conservatives have promised to scrap or modify many of these if they win power; but they might find in office that the temptation to hang on to the data is too tempting.

True. Nevertheless, whatever government is in place, none of these databases mean anything in the absence of cooperation. This is what Johnston misses entirely. He means well though…

What is needed is a complete reversal of the assumption that our personal data is the state’s to possess.


Why should it?

It should not. And it should not do many of the other things that it does that you do not yet accept that it should not do.

This is the question that should be answered by the “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” brigade. It is not as if letting the Government handle all of this information is secure, cheap or efficient. More importantly, it is inimical to any notion of individual freedom that a central bureaucracy should possess so much personal information about us; and, no, giving private data to the state, which has the power to misuse it to our considerable disadvantage, is not the same as having a Tesco Clubcard.

The smell of coffee… finally.

Mr Green puts forward a number of proposals for reform, including US-style security-freeze laws, which allow people to lock access to their data;

The only word that should be applied here is DELETE. No one should have data about them stored without their permission. PERIOD. Just as you should not be compelled to be a party to a contract without your consent, you should not have data stored about you that you do not consent to have stored, or even worse, shared.

an “open source” system which does not dictate the technology adopted by users from the centre;

Nice try, but open source is not the problem here. To collect and store or not to collect and store is what we are discussing. The operating systems and file formats can be discussed later.

and a right to see who has accessed personal information, the so-called audit trails.

Once again, having the ‘right’ (another misuse of English by the way) to see who has violated you and when is not the issue; that you should not be subjected to violation at all is the entire point.

Health records, for instance, would be better kept by GPs and by us as individuals.

True. And despite what Stephen Glover says about Google storing your health records, they would in fact, be a perfect solution.

Google could store your health records, uploaded by you under a pseudonym known only to you and your doctor. Google would know that your pseudonym was a diabetic for example. They would display ads for diabetic related goods and services right in your account, without knowing who you are. You get highly efficient, completely private, secure hosting of your medical records, that you can ‘take with you’ wherever you go, advertisers get highly targeted adverts to precisely the people who need to hear from them… and you have to pay NOTHING for the service.

Sadly, journalists are for the most part computer illiterates. And Stephen Glover really is like the Luddites Philip Johnston describes above in this particular instance; Glover cannot see how Google storing his health records could possibly be a good thing, because he does not understand how Google works, how anonymity works, how the internets work, and he cannot imagine several steps down the line in a hypothetical scenario thanks to this missing information.

Oh yes, and I forgot; with Google, you would be able to delete your medical records with the press of a button and would be able to control with absolute precision, who can and cannot access your medical records.

There are personalised electronic card systems available which can hold our medical details without them being available to government agencies, yet which are accessible by hospitals when we need them to be. This would eliminate the need for the NHS database and be practically cost-free. Instead, we are spending upwards of £12 billion on a centralised data system that hardly anyone wants.

There you go again with the ‘we’.

And BLOGDIAL has been talking about there being no need for centralized databases for some time now.

There is now an assumption that the state should know everything about us and be able easily to access that information.

And this assumption, like all the others, needs to be countered actively. You go second.

This is justified as being good for us because it facilitates the provision of services that may be to our advantage,

It is not good for ‘us’ it is only good for THEM, and it is only to THEIR advantage.

and on the grounds that anyone who is unhappy with the prospect must be concealing something nefarious. It is time we took back control over our own lives.



True. Next time, watch the pronouns.

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