January 15th, 2007

Blair launches new drive to let officials share data on citizens

Tony Blair will today spearhead a fresh government initiative to persuade voters they have nothing to fear from consenting to a relaxation of “over-zealous” rules which stop Whitehall departments sharing information about individual citizens.

How are people going to give ‘informed consent’? Is it not more likely that officials will be told to assume consent has been given unless specifically denied (and how effective is this likely to be)? And how will all this be regulated?

But the exercise was denounced by opposition MPs as a further lurch towards a Big Brother state even before the prime minister announces the formation of five citizen panels, each with 100 members, to examine the merits of such a change.

Just examine the merits? will these ‘citizen panels’ be fed with the sort of half truths and incomplete information that Civil Servants/Select Committees would rightly reject?

Officials were keen to emphasise that talk of a “single massive database” is misconceived. What is at issue is allowing individual departmental systems to talk to each other.

What is at issue is the ability for an individual to limit/prevent the damage caused by disclosure of personal information to all and sundry.

One official derided the condemnation likely to come from civil liberty lobbies, insisting: “At present we have some ridiculously artificial demarcations in government when Tesco and the credit agencies know more about us all than government agencies which are there to help you.”

Tesco is not a monopoly service provider and the information it gathers can be controlled to an extent by Data Protection laws which help prevent it gaining third party information. In principle and to a large degree Tesco only gathers the information you supply it with or allow to be made public. YOU CAN OPT OUT OF SUPPLYING TESCO WITH INFORMATION especially by not shopping there. In addition a lot of information held by State controlled agencies is potentially more damaging than that held by Tesco et al. (and I don’t even include covertly gathered ‘intelligence’).
There is no comeback from not supplying Tesco with information – it can’t fine you for not having a clubcard, or for not having a TV License, it doesn’t have powers to curtail freedom of movement or protest. It’s a shop – it just sells things.

The first target of the reforms is bereavement, when families under stress are required to notify a range of agencies that they have lost a loved one.

Work is still under way to establish the technical changes that would be necessary to make reporting a death a one-stop call. It is claimed such changes would help “early identification” and thus give warning that a family is struggling.

Surely it is better to question why so many officials need to be informed of a death.

But the Tories and Liberal Democrats have brushed aside promised safeguards and denounce the change as “an excuse for bureaucrats to snoop”. The NO2ID campaign to resist government plans for universal ID cards calls the proposals “the abolition of privacy”.

Manifesto commitments to overturn this please, all else is hot air.

It reverses the historic presumption of confidentiality, the campaign argues, something ministers deny. But the office of the information commissioner, whose task is to promote public access to official data – and to protect personal data – is taking a more benign view. The government’s intentions have been debated within Whitehall and were signalled as part of the reform of public service delivery in the documents published as part of Gordon Brown’s pre-budget report in November. “Citizens should be able to access public services in relation to changes in their personal or family life events through a single point,” said a document which promised a delivery plan in 2007.

If public services were handled at a local level more then the burdens would be easier to bear on both sides

Inside Whitehall the lead department on the proposed change is work and pensions, whose secretary of state, John Hutton, yesterday used an interview on BBC1’s Politics Show to deny that the change were too intrusive. The potential benefits were considerable, he said. “The government already stores vast amounts of data about individual citizens [why??? – mm] but actually doesn’t share it terribly intelligently across various government agencies. I had a case in my department about a family where someone had unfortunately died in a road traffic accident, and over the space of six months, on 44 separate occasions, they were asked by elements of my department to confirm details of this terrible tragedy.”

This burdensome red tape is entirely because the government is already too involved in people’s lives.



This all follows on from the relaxation of Data Protection controls last July and is most likely a prelude for the most questioning Census ever in 2011. It’s like a real version of the boogeyman stories about drugs, the soft stuff leads onto the hard stuff and BAM! you’re hooked.

Government intrusion? Just Say No!

Hmm, I was trying to ‘Detox’

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