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The Digital Economy Bill

The Bill’s intention is to create better data sharing gateways. The plans to digitise our birth, death, marriage and civil partnership certificates – which will be stored and shared in bulk – will make the sharing of our personal information as easy as clicking a mouse. There will be no requirement for them to consult you. You won’t be asked in advance, you won’t even be told after the event and you won’t have the chance to opt out.

Worried? You should be. Do you remember the ID card furore before the 2010 general election? The scheme was axed at great expense when public support for the plans plummeted after it was revealed that HMRC had lost personal information belonging to 25 million child benefit claimants.

Only then did the reality of how insecure our data is sink in. It’s worth noting the lost information still hasn’t been recovered almost 10 years later.

Don’t be fooled that things have improved. In 2014/15 government departments experienced almost 9,000 data breaches, according to a recent National Audit Office report.

Renate Samson

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6 comments to The Digital Economy Bill

  • Rob

    Someone else looking after your data. Someone who cannot be fined as a private company would, or be prosecuted in any meaningful way. So how thorough are they going to be about protecting that data? Not at all.

  • Paul Marks

    I am so reactionary that I am against the original “Births, Marriages and Deaths (Registration) Act” of 1835. Marriage should be nothing to do with the state – and it is none of the business of the “Sword of State” to record when every person is born and when every person dies. This island became the greatest industrial power on Earth and the heart of the largest Empire the world had ever seen – without the government demanding such statistics.

    As Financial Secretary Cowperthwait said when asked what the population of Hong Kong was “Population figures? What we would use them for?” a WARNING as well as question – as such statistics are only “needed” for government efforts to mathematically “plan society”.

    The Act of 1835 may have been passed after the death of Jeremy Bentham but his spirit (the spirit of government bureaucratic control) is in it – no surprise that it was supported by the “Philosophical Radicals” (those admirers of Thomas Hobbes and Sir William “Mathematical Planning of Society” Petty) – such as James and John Stuart Mill (those people who endlessly used the words “freedom” and “liberty” – and then when it came to actual policy……….). As one would expect from their actual philosophy – which, under a thin disguise, denied the very existence of the human person (of the “I” – of Moral Agency – Free Will).

    Still – Rant Over.

    As for this 1984 style measure – of course I am against it. Partly on Civil Liberties grounds – partly because every major government IT project becomes a “Money Pit” with endless waste and expense. But also because, as the post says, it the information is put into a government computer system it will NOT be secure.

  • Paul Marks

    “But Paul this would mean you are against the Census of 1801 – like the “Old Woman” that the great liberal Walter Bagehot mocked for saying that the government should not ask who lives in your house if no crime is even alleged”.

    Yes I am – and “do not get me started” on Walter Bagehot and his “Economist” publication. Although he was the third editor (not the first) and it was quite good before he took control of it.

    “concede whatever it is safe to concede” (“The English Constitution” by Mr Bagehot and the quote is NOT about the franchise, it is about goodies from government for the new voters). British liberalism went from being about a smaller state to, at least in the hands of Bagehot and co, being about a BIGGER state – as long as it was done in a gradual “civilised” way (no revolution) and their (the liberals) own personal property was safe.

    He was also in favour of bank bailouts (against the judgment of the then Governor of the Bank of England) as long as they were “reasonable” of course…..

  • Fred Z

    Paul Marks: “major” and “IT” are superfluous in “every major government IT project becomes a “Money Pit””

  • Fraser Orr

    I think this is an interesting conundrum. Paul’s point is well taken, however, there are surely certain things that need to be recorded centrally as the definitive record. For example, it is hard to establish citizenship (for things like passports) without a registry. It is equally hard to establish wills and estate distributions without a central death registry.

    I’m not saying these problems are insoluble without the government, certainly the whole registry could be privatized, for example, and certainly most issues with regards to marriage can be resolved by standard civil contracts. But there is a need for a “golden” record in some cases.

    However, that isn’t really the point I wanted to make. If we stipulate for the sake of argument that such a registry is necessary, and, for the aforementioned reasons, needs to be public. The question I ask is exactly how public? If it is public in the sense that you can go down the local records office and flip through a book, then that is public but makes it very hard to mine the data. If public means “download this link as a csv file” that exposes all sorts of data mining opportunities.

    It is one of those inefficiency makes government better arguments. To give another example, many times the public road speed limits are set ridiculously low. However, the police only catch and charge 1% of speeders. So this inefficiency makes the law more bearable. It has the ugly side effect of making everyone a criminal subject to the caprice of government, and it has the second ugly side effect of reducing the pain, and therefore making people less likely to demand a correction. However, in a steady state with no change, the inefficiency makes the government more bearable on average.

    So does the inefficiency of big books and quill pens at the local registrar make for allowing public access, but making it painful enough as to reduce the bigger issues that we fear?

    I think that laws would be much better if there was a requirement that the proposer of the law was required to read the full text at normal reading speed in parliament, and MPs could only vote on it if they sat through the whole reading. Or maybe even require them to write it out long hand too. After all, actually asking them to listen to the law they are imposing on the rest of us doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.

  • Runcie Balspune

    People who oversee our data security are just as stupid and irresponsible as the rest of us, who’d thunk it?

    This island became the greatest industrial power on Earth and the heart of the largest Empire the world had ever seen – without the government demanding such statistics.

    The General Register Office (later the Office of Population, Census and Survey) was created in 1836 by Act of Parliament, birth, marriage and deaths registration was meticulously done for almost everyone by church authorities for at least 100 years prior to that.