Your data – whose property?

Alerted by a tweet from a reader I’ve looked more deeply into what the NHS does and proposes to do with our data. It concerns me. Their own leaflet, “Better information means better care”, makes it clear that the NHS already releases information from hospitals and other non-GP parts of the NHS – what could be clearer than this:

We sometimes release confidential information to approved researchers, if this is allowed by law and meets the strict rules that are in place to protect  your privacy.

As far as I can understand it, the big difference coming shortly is that all the details from your own GP surgery are soon to be included in this national database, linked together on a backbone of your NHS number, your postcode, your gender and date of birth.

I don’t know about anyone else, but whilst I want the NHS in all its forms to have access to my data, I’m not happy to leave it to them (or government) to decide which other organisations they “approve” to share it. That’s why I’m not happy with the system we are getting. It’s an “opt out” system. Fundamentally it assumes that we are all content to leave it to others to decide what counts as anonymised data,  or to decide which organisations are OK to have our data and which are not.

Of course, if there was a system that invited me to “opt in” to my data being used for a particular purpose that I recognised as beneficial I’d be happy to make a judgement. Without that I can’t see any reason not to opt out. And as far as I can see, the only way I can do that is to ask (and rely on) my GP Surgery to record this on my file.

Human Trafficking

I was recently contacted by the Parliamentary all party working group on this subject. The statistics are apalling, and the frightening thing is how widespread the problem is throughout Britain. Over twelve thousand victims in this country alone.

Human Trafficking is one the top three most lucrative manifestations of organised crime – along with drug dealing and the arms trade.

Human Trafficking is a fundamental assault on basic human dignity. It affects millions of men, women and children throughout the world. More than twice as many people are in bondage in the world today as were taken in chains during the entire 350 years of the African Slave Trade. Over 100 000 of which are in Europe, 1 in 8 are in the United Kingdom, some British, many European.

Human Trafficking includes Debt Bondage, Domestic Slavery, Child Labour as well as the more well known Sex Industry and it takes place throughout the UK – often in peaceful looking suburbia. Cases of Human Trafficking have recently been identified in Worthing, Northampton, Ipswich, Dundee, Birmingham, Plymouth, Exeter, Colchester, Nottingham, Belfast, Edinburgh, Paignton and London.

More details about modern day slavery and the work of the All Party Working Group here

ID Card debate

You can hardly have missed the fact that the government is planning to “pilot” ID cards in Manchester, initially for £30 and then moving to £60 once pharmacies and other outlets are used to collect fingerprints.

I’ve never hidden the fact that I am opposed to these cards being made compulsory. There aren’t many people I want to share my biometrics with, and the Home Secretary is certainly not one of them! As long as the cards are voluntary it’s fine – but of course they are useless until they are made compulsory so you can be sure they will eventually end up being made compulsory.

Many people say, “why worry if you’ve got nothing to hide”. I don’t have anything to hide, but I do have a strong belief in the idea that we are innocent until proved guilty. In forcing people routinely to give their fingerprints and biometrics, elements only ever previously required of those suspected of a crime, government will change the fundamental relationship between government and the citizen. We will all become suspects waiting to be eliminated from enquiries.

This is quite apart from questions about our willingness to entrust even more data to government, when government has proved so careless with it and so incapable of processing it accurately. It’s apart from questions about whether this expenditure would produce anything like as great a security benefit as spending the money on extra police. It’s apart from the cost to individuals – a cost which would be compounded in cases of loss or theft and could result in hefty fines.

 As always I’m interested in your views. Why not take the new straw poll on this website.

Keeping them honest

DNA phoneSometimes Lib Dems are accused of being obsessed with parish-pump politics, and it is true that getting involved at the street level can make you forget the wider world.

That’s why I thought I’d share with you a story from Merseyside where a young lad handed into the police a mobile phone he’d found  – only to find himself arrested for “theft by finding”. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he was then forced to provide fingerprints and a DNA sample. Read the rest of this entry. Read the rest of this entry.

Political virility test?

A visitor from Mars might wonder why the British Government has set up Wednesday as a battleground on which to stake its reputation; a Parliamentary showdown in which it proves it has the political muscle to introduce six-week long detention without trial.

Our Martian would observe that such dangerously radical countries as the USA, Canada and New Zealand each allow only two days before charges must be brought, and that no other country with a system of common law like ours detains people for as long as we do already.  He could only conclude, therefore, that our circumstances must be much worse than those of other countries and that our government had surrendered to heavy pressure from its security services.

Our mythical Martian, then, would be surprised to find that the Home Secretary, asked if MI5 were pressing for forty two days, replied “No, not directly, but nor did they ask for the extension from 14 to 28, nor did they ask for the extension from 7 to 14.” At this point he might conclude that there was some other agenda in place.

I don’t mean to treat this lightly. Security issues are very serious; most nations, like ourselves, have experienced the horror or terrorist atrocities. The key difference, however, is that they have responded efectively without resorting to ever-lengtheing periods of detention without trial. Instead they work within their laws and introduce much less illiberal measures, like allowing intercept evidence in court and enabling post-charge questioning with judicial oversight.

In this way other countries build effective defences against terror, instead of the intellectually bankrupt approach of just lengthening the period in which people, often innocent people, can be held without trial in the name of protecting freedom. That is an approach which is bound to create resentment amongst those who are falsely imprisoned and bound to alienate the communities from which they come.

I don’t want to be cynical, but I can find no other explanation than that, having been humiliated elsewhere (especially in the 10p tax debacle) our Prime Minister wants to stamp his authority on his party and believes that this is a measure they will be nervous of opposing because it may be popular with the electorate.

Our hard-won freedoms are too important to be gambled away like that, and if I were a betting man I’d back my fellow citizens to share that conclusion.

What’s your view?

Stop ID Cards

NO2ID

I recently received an appeal from NO2ID. It’s an organisation fighting the introduction of ID Cards. I have supported it previously, but perhaps I’ve grown complacent. The movement towards ID cards has been so slow that it’s been almost imperceptible. So I say well done to NO2ID for reminding me that those of us who care about this issue mustn’t let it overtake us by stealth.

I care passionately about ID cards because they will fundamentally change my relationship with the state. I willingly (if unenthusiastically) give the state information about my finances in order that it can make sure that I pay my taxes, and for that purpose only. I provide it with information about my age and residence in order that it can plan the services our community needs. As a citizen I consent to those things.

I do not consent to give the state my biometrics so that it is capable of keeping tags on where I go or who I meet. It’s not that I am so paranoid that I think it is after me, simply that I do not believe it has a right to the information about any of us until, or unless, there is reasonable suspicion that we are doing something illegal.  

I do not consent to give the state an open-ended source of database information about me. I cannot trust it’s benevolence only to use any information it gets for the benefit of society as a whole. I am cynical enought to believe that the more information government has, the more likely it is to abuse it should there be some advantage to it in doing so.

In order to consent to these things I’d have to be very sure that the risks I ran in handing over all that information was going to make the world a much safer place for everyone else, and no less safe for me. Actually I believe it would be less safe for us all. All that knowledge collected together makes us very vulnerable. We’re generally advised to shred anything with just our address on it, not pool together all our data in a single place. Neatly collected, human error, malice, bad luck or computer hackers breaking systems for the hell of it can put all this data at risk at one go. And which of those has government shown itself to be immune from?

If you’re interested in the issue, take a look at www.no2id.net .

If you care about this issue, let me know. I’d love to see an active group locally. I’m sure there are plenty of us fellow-thinkers in Consett if only we knew who each other were!