Monday, March 23, 2009

Latest from NO2ID

First some encouraging news. After a great deal of outcry, the controversial clause 152 has been removed from the Coroner’s and Justice Bill. As reported in my last NO2ID blog, its retention would have allowed the unmitigated sharing of all of our personal data, not only among government departments and agencies, but also by the private sector and across national boundaries. Many MPs were overwhelmed with letters and emails from their constituents and it became the most briefed-against clause in the whole bill.

But there is no room for complacency. The next few weeks will see the presentation of the Borders, Citizenship & Immigration Bill with its measures for further data sharing; The Policing & Crime Bill involving the garnering of DNA and biometric data and Phase II of NHS Summary Care Records - the sharing of medical records without our consent. And then there's the initial roll-out of ContactPoint, the gathering and sharing on a whole range of personal details about your children. This is an ongoing battle requiring constant vigilance and challenges. But trying to be vigilant is being made difficult by a government intent on avoiding disclosure of what is actually in commissioned reports on their datasharing initiatives.

Just to demonstrate the arrogant way in which the government views public consultation on ID cards a public ‘debate’ was held at Westminster Hall on 11th March, attended by Meg Hillier, the ID Cards minister and MP Mark Todd who, at the outset of the ‘debate’ made it clear that there would be none on the principles of ID Cards or their effect on civil liberties. Hillier then went on to disingenuously say that 70% of the cost “will be the cost of implementing secure passports with fingerprints, something that we are doing to meet international requirements.” The truth of the matter is that there are no international requirements!

The database frenzy continues with bee-keepers being asked to enrol onto a national database. If the take up is not adequate, then it will become compulsory. This accompanies the National Equine Database and a forthcoming database for sheep and I don't just mean us!

In addition to the above, today’s Guardian newspaper published the findings of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust sponsored review, ‘Database State’ prepared by the Foundation for Information Policy Research, into the plethora of databases that our government is rolling out. In the report's estimation, only 6 out of 46 data-gathering systems that the government is currently engaged in should be given a ‘green light’, on the grounds of being effective, proportionate, necessary and established - with a legal basis to guarantee against privacy intrusions. A further 29 were given an amber light, meaning that they pose problems and could be illegal, while 11 schemes should be scrapped altogether or significantly re-designed, these including the DNA database and ContactPoint.

The report estimates that £19bn a year is being spent on database IT with a further £105bn earmarked for the next five years. This is a colossal sum and money, which it appears, is being wasted on intrusive systems that, more often than not, don’t work. Even Whitehall admits that only 30% of public-sector IT projects are successful, a shocking admission.

Crime prevention and improved public sector services are usually cited as the main advantages of this personal information matrix, which judging by their intrusiveness, unreliability and sheer cost, completely destroys that argument. What is evident, in my view, is that the pressure to roll out these schemes is supra-governmental - that it is the controlling élite that are calling the shots - while our niaive, gullible and bought-and-paid-for politicians - under orders - are stumbling about, blindly rolling out this electronic surveillance control grid, without any oversight, accountability or consultation with the general public. No-one in power has the guts to question or oppose these wholly outrageous public surveillance, big brother initiatives. There needs to be an all-party concensus in government to put a halt to any further measures and assess the whole paraphenalia for the useful bits and cast aside the rest of it, while in the process making real steps to ensure individuals' rights to privacy and confidentiality.

Ross Anderson, a Cambridge University professor said that Britain is now the most invasive surveillance state and the worst at protecting privacy in the whole western democracy. Anderson went on the say "Britain's database state has become a financial, ethical and administrative disaster, which is penalising some of the most vulnerable [in] society. It also wastes billions of pounds a year and often damages service delivery rather than improving it." He went on to say that "There must be urgent and radical change in the public-sector database culture so that the state remains our servant, not our master ... we have to develop systems that put people first."

I fear that in the scheme of things, Britain has been earmarked as the beta test ground for the 'model' police state that will eventually become the blue print for other countries worldwide, which will be made to follow this Orwellian example.

Below is my response from local Conservative MP Andrew Turner to my email regarding my concern over Clause 152 of the Coroner's and Justice Bill.

His comments concur with mine over the clause and the way in which it was surreptitiously hidden away in the bill, hoping that it would get overlooked by prying eyes. But, of course, once wearing the cloak of power, the Tories will be put up to similar tricks by their controlling masters, so his missive cuts little ice with me, unless his sentiments are from the heart and not just Tory rhetoric.

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