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27 August 2006 Blog Home : August 2006 : Permalink

All your data are belong to HMG

Gosh aren't residents of the UK terribly lucky chaps and chapesses. Their commons and masters (not lords because the lords as TimW astutely points out tend to vote against these things) seem to think that they are naughty boys and girls who need continual supervision from the grown ups in government to mske sure they behave.

Witness the spying rubbish bins reported in the Daily Mail and demonstrated in situ at An Englishman's Castle. Now I'm going to say that I think the Mail is being dangerously Xenophobic in its coverage (like that's a surprise) but the clear intent is to charge consumers by the amount of waste they put out, as the manufacturer says on its website:
The advantages of waste container identification:
· Ability to charge waste producers based on number of collections.
· Allows efficient route planning and collection management
· Reduced costs through better efficiency
· Increased customer confidence and perceived value for money
· Provides proof of collections to support invoices
· Competitive advantage
You just have to read number 1 on the list "Ability to charge waste producers based on number of collections." and number 5 "Provides proof of collections to support invoices" to see that charging by use is going to occur. What seems somewhat bizarre is number 4 "Increased customer confidence and perceived value for money" exactly how does spying on how much rubbish I put out increase my confidence?

Anyway, although I'm not clear on the law in the UK I would guess that in certain areas a business opportunity for alternative waste disposal services is going to spring up once the councils start charging per kilo and we get to see how much they want to extort.

Spying on rubbish disposal is unfortunately not the only trick HMG seems to be foisting on an unsuspecting electorate. From Samizdata there is this article quoting the Grauniad:

Ministers are preparing to overturn a fundamental principle of data protection in government, the Guardian has learned. They will announce next month that public bodies can assume they are free to share citizens' personal data with other arms of the state, so long as it is in the public interest.

The policy was agreed upon by a cabinet committee set up by the prime minister, and reverses the current default position - which requires public bodies to find a legal justification each time they want to share data about individuals.

The officials behind the "transformational government" scheme say data sharing could present a more consumer-friendly face to government, and help tackle social problems such as prisoners re-offending.

For example, officials say, when moving house, a citizen would register the change online once with their local authority's "one stop shop". It would update its own records, that of the new local authority, and then of central government, including the electoral register, DVLA and Inland Revenue.

As with "bin brother" scheme, there are some worthy possible excuses for the scheme (such as the change of address one mentioned) but there are rather more scary ones as well. What gets me is that all of these schemes work just fine so long as everyone is honest and law-abiding. Should someone not be honest then many of these schemes open the possibility of identity theft and all sorts of other acts and, given the repeated inability of the government to build IT systems that are
one has to wonder how this automatic right to sharing data will extend to sharing it to those outside government (witness the DVLA's generosity with driver address data for example) who may not be completely 100% honest.

Then there is the really really scary crime etc. data sharing plan that the Samizdata post links to. Read the whole thing but note the following anecdote which both shows the possible good and bad of such a scheme:

The police representative at the Bedfordshire meeting told a little anecdote that bears repetition. Again, it's the unstated assumptions behind his tale that are most revealing.

He told members that in a previous force, he had once got members of the local ambulance services and social services together over coffee. He then asked them to write down the names of the five families on a nearby estate to whom they were most often called out.

He told the rapt councillors of Bedfordshire: "Four out of the five names were the same on everyone's list. And it's that sort of information pooling that will allow us to target crime and disorder more efficiently."

It's also "that sort of information pooling" that gives me the creeps, quite frankly.

One of the Samizdata commenters makes an excellent point in suggesting this:

I have always believed that, in a democracy such as the UK, the rights of citizens (even subjects) to open government should always exceed the rights of government to general access to the private information of citizens.

Accordingly, please join[] me in the following proclamation:

Citizens are preparing to overturn a fundamental principle of secrecy of government, Samizdata has learned. They announce, with immediate effect, that all UK citizens can assume they are free to share Government data with other arms of the citizenry, so long as it is of interest to other citizens.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin