We told you so… – Ideal Government http://idealgovernment.com What do we want from Internet-age government? Wouldn't it be better if... Sun, 12 Aug 2012 09:49:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 GDS design principles and design-driven public services http://idealgovernment.com/2012/04/gds-design-principles-and-design-driven-public-services/ http://idealgovernment.com/2012/04/gds-design-principles-and-design-driven-public-services/#comments Wed, 04 Apr 2012 08:43:51 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=2234 Like a contented snore from a prolonged snooze, here’s a quick and now rare post to acknowledge the new GDS design principles:

1 Start with needs*
2 Do less
3 Design with data
4 Do the hard work to make it simple
5 Iterate. Then iterate again.
6 Build for inclusion
7 Understand context
8 Build digital services, not websites
9 Be consistent, not uniform
10 Make things open: it makes things better

It’s a great start. For digital services it strikes me as close to ideal; better than we could have thought to ask for. What we would still ask is that the notion of “starting with needs” and “doing less” be extended to policy and public services more universally.

On this basis it makes sense and feels achievable to go 100% digital for that hwich can be digitised. But it’s not just a digital thing. This is the culture we need across the board.

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DWP-HMRC-CSA org-centric data #fail http://idealgovernment.com/2011/01/dwp-hmrc-csa-org-centric-data-fail/ Fri, 14 Jan 2011 07:58:29 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=2162 Look at this buck-passing after a classic org-centric data #fail:

The Parliamentary Ombudsman has criticised three government agencies for a “data sharing blame game” after they failed to put a citizen’s data problems right after a complaint going back to 2006.

In a report published by Parliamentary Ombudsman Ann Abraham, the agencies are found to have collectively failed to deal with a data mistake, which led to a woman’s personal and financial information being wrongfully disclosed to her former partner, and her child support payments being reduced without her knowledge.

Classic case of why Transformational Government is Kafkaesque as well as Orwellian.

Lie detector tests for benefits dropped http://idealgovernment.com/2010/11/lie-detector-tests-dropped/ Wed, 10 Nov 2010 09:49:38 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=2125

Plans to use VRA lie detector software to identify benefit cheats have been scrapped after trials suggest it is unreliable…

Professor Lacerda, who is head of phonetics at Stockholm University, told the Guardian he welcomed the government’s decision to drop the technology.

“I praise the Department of Work and Pensions for the serious investigation they have done, which reinforces the strength of their decision. My only surprise is that it didn’t come earlier. There is no basis for the device at all, so I would be surprised if they had reached another conclusion,” he said.

“The problem with this device is that it is not even plausible to begin with. Had the department asked scientists in the UK they would probably have been advised not to bet on it, so this is a very expensive way of reaching an obvious conclusion,” Lacerda added.

The better way is to make it easier for claimants to acquire and demonstrate trust. Then you can raise the bar of proof without treating everyone in a hostile and suspicious manner.

Twilight of the speed cameras http://idealgovernment.com/2010/09/twilight-of-the-speed-cameras/ http://idealgovernment.com/2010/09/twilight-of-the-speed-cameras/#comments Thu, 23 Sep 2010 09:19:39 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=2115 It seems councils are starting to turn off vehicle speed cameras (Reading, Derby, Oxfordshire). There must be a German word for this. Something like Fahrzeugsgeschwindigkeitskameraeinrichtungdämmerung.

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Rethink personal data logistics 2: health http://idealgovernment.com/2010/09/rethink-personal-data-logistics-2-health/ http://idealgovernment.com/2010/09/rethink-personal-data-logistics-2-health/#comments Sat, 04 Sep 2010 21:03:25 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=2101 The whole business of centrally held health records, summary care records shared without informed consent, detailed care records, secondary uses by all and sundry is far from ideal. Wibbi you could just press a big ol’ button and download your health record, in machine readable format, to put in your personal data store or locally held service?

Oh look – it’s just happened. President Obama has launched a “Blue button” service which lets US veterans download their health record. Here’s a sample of what the record looks like. And there’s a “developer challenge” to get hackers to do cool things for the people who have just got their data back.

Simple. Cool. How long until it happens here? Let’s set a date. Who’s health is it anyway? Who’s data is it anyway?

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Databases can’t fix society. But society can fix the databases http://idealgovernment.com/2010/08/databases-cant-fix-society-but-society-can-fix-the-databases/ http://idealgovernment.com/2010/08/databases-cant-fix-society-but-society-can-fix-the-databases/#comments Sun, 08 Aug 2010 20:47:33 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=2092 The closure of ContactPoint and the onset of the Databankendämmerung is – let’s say it again – cause for celebration. It’s also cause for congratulation to those who campaigned long and hard, with negligeable resources, against the brick wall of prevailing wisdom to get rid of it.

That’s not to say the underlying problems ContactPoint was meant to help with – caused by poorly co-ordinated and overstretched childrens’ services – have gone away; they haven’t.

The question of how technology best supports front line professionals, without disproportionate and unwarranted intrusion remains unanswered. It’s part of the scope of the Munro review, which provides first feeback in September, and a final report in April 2011. I suspect we’re in good hands here. I’d hazard a guess that Dr Munro will focus relentlessly on the crucial matter of protection of the relatively small number of children at real risk, and not attempt to boil the ocean of the welfare, diet, propensity to obesity and general wellbeing and conformance to social norms of every child. And I also bet that the role she recommends for ICT in helping child-protection professionals will be conformant to data protection and human rights law in a way that ContactPoint was not.

The Databankendämmerung must spread, just as we must escape the limitations of the Accentureweltanschauung. There are other ill-advised and intrusive central databases on which we should call time: eCaf; NHS SCR; the NHS Detailed Care Record; NHS Secondary Uses Service; long term comms data retention generally and the Intercept Modernisation Programme in particular. Kind friends won’t let me forget that I’ve promised to do a special celebration to mark the end of the Benighted ID Scheme and its lavish quantities of nugatory PA consulting.

The LibDems always opposed the “Database State”. The Tories were quick to spot that the last administration had taken a wrong turn and were politically vulnerable. But when Labour Ministers stopped listening exclusively to Cheltenham and Whitehall and resumed listening to the outside world (about eight weeks before the last election) they too quickly came to their senses as well.

It’s best not to see this in political terms, because really it’s a question of information logistics. Remember Troubleshooter? If John Harvey-Jones could revisit us and contemplate the dozens, hundreds of databases which public and private organisations run each trying to scrape, grab and update their versions of us, and then looked at the average householder spending a week and a half updating the different customer service systems of every entity we ever have to deal with (through episodes from moving house to losing a wallet) recording and sharing the same data over and over again, filling out endless forms with different callcentres and web sites and usernames and passwords, ….he would just laugh his vast laugh, wouldn’t he? And as he laughed he’d start to calculate the waste and loss of value, and huge tears would roll down his generous cheeks.

The Database State is an issue of civil liberties, justice and equality, of course. But there more than that: it’s been clear for a good year that the country heading for bankruptcy. It has been clear for a decade we need radical reform of public services. It has been clear ever since people started chipping in their ideas to IdealGov that the role of technology in this radical reform is about user participation, about quick wins and creating a foundation of trust.

The radical money-saving reforms have to be based on accurate personal data. They have to be built with tech systems that work. They have to draw on people’s supportive, active participation.

Some databases are valid and unobjectionable of course: DVLA, TV licensing, the electoral roll. Many public-sector databases can be fixed. The point about the Databankendämmerung isn’t that all databases are evil. It’s that the state can’t fix society’s complex human problems with giant databases.

Weirdly enough, however, the opposite will turn out to be true. Even the worthwhile databases are still plagued with errors, omissions and duplications, They need our help. Databases can’t fix society. But, given the tools, society can start to fix the databases. That’s a much more promising way forward.

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#idealgits & the “lost decade” in identity and personal data http://idealgovernment.com/2010/03/idealgits-the-lost-decade-in-identity-and-personal-data/ Mon, 29 Mar 2010 21:02:22 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=2030 The #idealgits process now has a supportive champion in Jim Knight, DWP Minister charged with all digital aspects of Smarter Government.

Jerry and I had a second meeting (we can’t really say where or with whom) at which it was Jim who led in setting out the case for personal control over personal data. There’s growing interest in the “framework of trust” idea for on-line identity. Now adopted by the Obama administration it was, after all, originally UK policy a decade ago. Technically it still is.

So the good news is: the UK had a good policy; it’s is still in place (including some legal underpinning), just unimplemented; the US has led decisively down this route which creates a market and gives confidence for UK government; there’s a new climate of listening and political realism, and we have the courteous and mutually respectful dialogue #CMRD. The bad news? The UK lost a decade. *sigh*

#Idealgits: how we need to do section one http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/idealgits-how-we-need-to-do-section-one/ http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/idealgits-how-we-need-to-do-section-one/#comments Mon, 28 Dec 2009 10:08:19 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=1956 Britain’s ideal government IT strategy (#idealgits) first needs a plain top-level statement of the role of technology in the context of the society we’re trying to become. We’re going to try to set this out here.

It has to address the big issues directly and succinctly.

This means it has to support the overriding economic and commercial needs of the country, and the big social agenda: war, peace, climate change, poverty.

It needs to be medium-term, and to establish key principles and objectives that will hold good for a decade. Detailed, operational planning that sits below it that provides the detail of how to deliver those objectives.

An ideal government IT strategy doesn’t do the politician thing of claiming Britain is going to lead the world. e-Government isn’t a new Empire, and CCTV isn’t the Royal Navy.

Instead it cheerfully takes the best ideas available around the world. Consitutionally we want to be as smart as Holland. We want ourpublic sevants to be as at ease with FoI as Scandinavians. We want the customer service ethic of Canada, the web savvy of the US or Australia.

This means taking the ideas of people like Clay Shirkey, Tim O’Reilly, Kim Cameron, Stefan Brands, Doc Searls. We’re already working with our own Tim Berners-Lee and Marth Lane-Fox who are doing great work. We’re bringing in more Tom Steinberg and Ed Mayo, and we need more Paul Hodgkin and the perspective of exemplary young CIOs like James Cronin and Mike Bracken.

Economically it has to work at three levels:
– we’ve proven to ourselves in the last decade IT and consulting can be a bottomless sink for taxpayers’ money. We need to spend very shrewdly and effectively on IT
– Notwithstanding, the opportunity to cut administration costs is 10 times larger than the opportunity to cut IT spend.
– The savings opportunity if we streamline or reinvent public services is 10 times as large again.

This means if our IT strategy enables NHS 2.0, or welfare 2.0, or education 2.0 the opportunity for savings is two orders of magnitude larger than what we spend on IT in Whitehall today. But that does not mean we’re going to propose spending more on IT to achieve that. We don’t think it’s necessary. More to the point, in the present climate, spending more simply won’t wash.

Then our ideal government IT strategy reviews and fuses these, and expresses it in a uniquely British way. There’s no shoutey smugness, no groupthink or doublethink. The odd cartoon or joke is fine. It will form an exemplary part of the new “courteous and mutually respectful dialogue” (#CMRD).

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Time to say what we want from government IT http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/time-to-say-what-we-want-from-government-it/ http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/time-to-say-what-we-want-from-government-it/#comments Fri, 18 Dec 2009 10:54:19 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=1942 It’s time to say what we want from government IT.

Let’s do this together. Let’s say “wouldn’t it be better if” about how tech affects transparency, costs and the quality of public services and how they affect our lives.

@ntouk and I have long since been fed up with what one senior Whitehall official yesterday called “this £trillion attempt to drag us into 1983”. Many of us have had a go at the draft government IT strategy on the Opposition’s makeITbetter site. Officials across Whitehall are now furiously revising it, so let’s hope the final published version is better.

Meanwhile we can speak freely. We can look to the realities of the wider world, and we don’t have to pretend that everything to date has been fine. Now it’s time to find our voice and say what we want.

The Centre for Technology Policy Research and IdealGov are launching a six-week competition, which everyone wins. Everyone who contributes is invited to a party. And everyone can, like, bring stuff (as we did to mypublicservices).

Practicalities. Please add any comments of suggestions about the process to this post. The final crowd-sourced “White paper of Wibbi” will be created on an open wiki here. Please feel free to register and edit, or to add comments at the end.

Party: IdealGov and CTPR are chipping in £1000 to the launch party to which everyone who has contributed is invited. There will be prizes including signed photos of our very own tech mandarin Sir Bonar Neville-Kingdom.

Political engagement:An Opposition front bench team has already agreed to listen attentively to our results. We have also extended invitations to Labour and LibDem leaderships and to officials to attend the party or have the results presented. [UPDATE: Big news: still on day one and we’ve now also heard back that this will get presented to a LibDem front bench team and to the people drafting the Labour manifesto. This is subject to the project attracting enough substantial input of quality. So this is now definitely an opportunity to put good ideas in front of all three main UK parties. We’re also up for inviting SNP, Plaid & Greens to launch party. Everyone needs a good government IT policy.]]

This initiative is formally adopting the principles of #CMRD, the “courteous and mutually respectful dialogue” called for last week by Michael Wills and first practised at an Intellect/Identity and Passport Service event this week.

Above all, we need to state in plain lay terms the role of contempory technology in future public services should be. Specifically, our work will need to cover off the main headings:

– governance of public-sector IT
– technical architecture which supports the real-world intention
– procurement of technology and tech-based services
– design that works for front line staff and users
– basis for participative public services
– public data
– personal data
– trust, dignity & legality under human rights & DP law
– political engagement, openness and trust in the political process
– and above all saving vast, vast amounts of money.

This is not a time to splash out. The country’s broke. So first we need to spend less on IT, existing contracts notwithstanding. But then it’s two orders of magnitude more important that our IT plans support far more efficient public services.

Suggesting we deploy hundreds of PA consultants (or Deloitte or whoever) to mooch around filling out timesheets and expense claims for absurd day rates is not going to get you invited to the party. But any suggestion that draws the best expertise available into the gift economy (and by no means are all consultants nitwits) is most welcome.

This project is not a platform for venting anger at wrong headedness or past mediocrity (whoops! did I just do it? Old habits…) Take that frustration but use it to say what you want in the spirit of the #CMRD. Please bring your beliefs, principles, and passion, but the IdealGov and CTPR moderators will give short shrift to anything actionable or which reeks of partisan preconceptions. Scepticism is justified, but cynicism not.

We may need a “babies and bathwater” section to set out for controversial systems such as CfH or the ID Scheme what must go but what also should be retained. We should give praise where due, eg for Power of Information work. And our suggestions must be practical enough to keep the lights on, ie to keep essential services running uninterrupted while new and better plans emerge.

Contributions from all stakeholders are welcome: officials, industry, front line staff, anyone who speaks from personal experience of public services. Pertinent Art is always welcome, because it can speak to our condition so powerfully.

We last did this in 2004, remember. Now its time to do it again.

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Michael Wills: “Courteous & mutually respectful dialogue” (#CMRD: was “It’s time to Move Beyond Rhetoric” #IMBR) http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/michael-wills-its-time-to-move-beyond-rhetoric-imbr/ http://idealgovernment.com/2009/12/michael-wills-its-time-to-move-beyond-rhetoric-imbr/#comments Thu, 10 Dec 2009 18:01:54 +0000 http://idealgovernment.com/?p=1932 In a speech yesterday Michael Wills (whom I dont know myself, but he’s Labour member of Parliament for Swindon North, and a Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice) called for a new, more courteous and respectful dialogue over government’s use of personal data.

IdealGovernment has wanted this for years. But – as he himself proves – it won’t be easy. Let me get some things off my chest. Then let the new era of civilised and mutually respectful dialogue commence.

I don’t agree with everything Mr Wills said, so I’ve taken his speech and commented in line. Attention conservation notice: this is quite a long post

Databases lie at the heart of this revolution. They offer the opportunity to improve dramatically the efficiency and responsiveness of public services. Take the Tell Us Once project, for example.

But the TellUsOnce problem won’t be solved by databases. If it was, you could have solved it by 2005 (as you promised you would in 2000).

OTOH a VRM platform would show this problem solved for so little money that the invoice wouldn’t even cross your desk – a fraction of the cost of yesterday’s “One Place” web site (which in turn you could have had for free a decade ago if you had practised respectful and courteous dialogue and listened to Stef).

The increasing sophistication of data management has sparked serious public concern about privacy and civil liberties

We’d be fine if the approach were sophisticated. It’s the crudeness, combined with raw power, that concerns us.

Go onto Google UK and search for ‘UK government big brother state’ and you get one and a half million entries.

WTF? Is this how we gauge if it’s of public concern? As a joke maybe, eight years ago. Oh look: go onto Google UK and search for: ‘Wills eejit or ****?’ and you get 1.21m entries. Does that make it the question everyone is asking?

He talks of ‘striking a balance’ between security and liberty. He’s no Benjamin Franklin. It’s not about striking a balance. It’s about getting it right because we need both privacy and security in the systems which underpin essential public services. Mr Wills claims that kids can’t get free school meals, that voters can’t vote without data sharing by public bodies. This is absurd. He says hardly any constituents complain about surveillance but they demand CCTV in their hundreds.

To reconcile all this we need, he says

“democratic discourse, rational and mutually respectful discourse, wary of anyone, on any side of the debate, who claims a monopoly of wisdom. These issues are complex and difficult and resolving them will require intellectual rigour, a willingness to learn from experience and to engage continually with alternative points of view. Only through such a democratic iterative process can we hope as a society to resolve this issue satisfactorily.”

Hurrah. This could be straight out of the Ideal Government guide to, well, ideal government. We like that.

Sadly, such a rational, respectful discourse, so essential to the creation of public policy on this crucial issue, has been largely absent in recent years, replaced all too often by reciprocal caricaturing and stereotyping, with understanding and respect all too seldom present. And this matters.

This is true too. I must say I welcome his recognition of it, and his acceptance that

Government must take its share of the blame for this failure of discourse.

Mr Wills’ spin doctors had leaked his speech to a class-obsessed tabloid journalist David Aa. I can see now that when I saw the next bit in that hostile context I misread it:

Too often, we have been overly defensive and dismissive of criticism. Government believes it is acting benignly and legally and has not adequately recognised the fears of those who believe this is not the case.

Mr Aa is paid to be annoying, and it works. In my irritation I took the extract to mean that government was defensive and should be more assertive, but Mr Wills’ point here (and the context makes it clear) is a more subtle one which I welcome.

He then says companies make mistakes too. True, but we withdraw our business from them when they are mediocre. They’re not entrusted with passing laws, taxing us, and trying to run public services. He goes on

Where government gets it wrong, we are learning to hold our hands up and take immediate steps to put matters right. The loss of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs disks triggered radical reforms of data security in government.

Her Majesty’s data was not on that disk. Mine was. Nevertheless, horrified, many of us welcomed that loss, because it finally started to show how bad things had really got.

Did it trigger radical reform? Well, it certainly triggered half a dozen reports from tame senior officials and management consultants. It triggered episodic bans on Blackberries and memory sticks, and the glueing up of USB ports. But we have yet to see the radical reform we need which is to restore control of personal data to the individual.

When we recognised that data sharing provisions in the Coroners and Justice Bill had been too widely drawn we immediately withdrew them.

It’s true. Eventually they did. This would be a good moment for Mr Wills to thank the selfless NGOs who campaigned so hard to rectify this awful mistake he was trying to make. But instead he speaks of

opponents…too quick to assume the worst of government without any evidence to support their assumptions, replacing argument with rhetoric.

But…but…but how then did the unpaid NGO volunteers successfully win the argument against your proposed policy and show it was so ill-conceived? Do you recall how hard you and your officials resisted?

Michael: you and your colleagues will find this cultural change you call for harder than you yet realise. But as long as you try, and appear sincere in your endeavour, we will support you every step of the way. Have we all taken on board the rules you call for? No rhetoric. OK. No rhetoric.

To reject all the benefits that databases offer the public, simply because a mistake might be made, is to strike the balance in the wrong place.

1. Name the benefits. 2. This isn’t about striking a balance, it’s about doing it the right way.

Should we really avoid trying to do all we can to prevent another Soham tragedy?

Oh, please leave the memory of those poor girls in peace! Why blame your poor personal data practices on them, and on the equally unfortunate Victoria Climbie? Michael: this is rhetoric.

Or stop doctors accessing vital medical records?

Doctors can have it with my permission. I choose not to share it with bureaucrats and the forces of law and order. That preference will not endanger society.

Or fetter the provision of welfare entitlements, such as free school meals, for the most vulnerable?

Just get your act together. Deliver the services to which people are entitled, without hoovering up their data when they are at their most vulnerable and brewing it up into HMG’s patent toxic soup.

Basic principles for protecting the use of data are that it should be proportionate and necessary

Indeed. Furthermore, that in the absence of a specific and lawful purpose there should be informed consent. Assuming that 12 year olds understand this and are cool about it is not sufficient. Allowing hundreds of thousands of officials access to childrens’ records or to identifiable medical data is unlawful, just as taking and retaining the DNA of innocents has proven to be.

But you acted all surprised when you lost the Marper case. And you’re behaving as if we had a proper implementation of the EU data protection directive, and are acting all surprised that Europe is taking enforcement action against the UK.

We don’t live in a database state as much as a database society.

Yes, but we’ll sort ourselves out with the Twitterverse. Government runs the state part of it. That’s what you’re screwing up, because of the history of groupthink and the poor dialogue you rightly point to. That’s what we want whoever wins the next election to sort out. Hey! It could be you! Maybe.

They deliver real benefits for the public and it skews debate about the challenge they pose to all of us if anyone ignores this or pretends otherwise.

Let’s see if we can find real evidence for these benefits, because there’s a strong case to be made that the database state is designed to serve an unholy alliance of administrative convenience and security fears.

Meanwhile it is becoming everywhere apparent that a wholly organisation-centric “CRM” approach to life is nothing like as advantageous to the public, or indeed to large organisations, as it was sold as being by the management consultants which Alistair Darling has just banned.

What’s it costing you per data subject to keep records up to date in WUYJ, MIAP, BusinessLink, ContactPoint, eCAF, CfH? How accurate are the data? How complete? And how much duplicated? How much is explicitly permissioned by the data subject? Is it proven to a legal standard that in every case government is holding only data which is necessary and proportionate in a democratic society? Can you demonstrate clear auditable and informed consent?

But, like all technologies, databases can do damage if misused. The issue is not whether to have them but how they can be deployed without damaging privacy.

Ah! Phew! Hooray!

It’s a question of balance and the challenge is how to strike it.

No it’s not! It’s not about balance, any more than climbing to the moon on a ladder is a question of balance. I don’t care how good your balance is: it’s the wrong way to go to the moon.

You get accurate data at lower cost and personalised services without privacy intrusion by putting people back in charge of their own data. The Internet works at both ends, you know. You just can’t have every part of public services grab every piece of data they can about everyone, take away the barriers to data sharing, then hope to create an accurate picture of everything such that you can eliminate fraud, keep the public safe, and provide personalised services. Try doing the maths.

You know all that great “Power of Information” work the government has done on opening up APIs and letting public data out? Sometime soon a Secretary of State or a PM will announce, in a second such major policy shift, that the really big prize is in how we work with personal data. Government will relinquish the desire to own and control it. You will open up government APIs and let people’s structured, scalable private data in, under thier control. You will leave people in charge of their own lives, which is how reality is because we have to put all the pieces together anyway.

I repeat: this is not a question of striking the right balance. It’s about creating a secure platform for personalised services and new value. Getting it wrong, which we described in our report Database State, wastes vast amounts of money and of people’s time; it fails to deliver good customer services and breaks the law. We the taxpayer are thus intruded upon, failed by public services, caused to waste endless time sorting it out. We’ll have to pay to get it wrong and then pay again to see it all put right.

But where we should have a constructive dialogue, we have all too often an impoverished discourse where slogans substitute for evidence.

Too true. I’ve seen so much of that from government politicians and officials. I’m so weary of it. So many of us are so weary of it. But it cheers me up when NGO-world gets creative and cheeky. I love the pertinent art, the campaigning. Not just because it’s often witty, but also because it’s based on a deeper truth, coupled with a better sense of human nature, than your officials have served you up with.

The Rowntree Report on what the authors called the Database State is a good example of how the public discourse is flawed.

It shows how bad things have got. It’s pretty shocking that the fact that much of what you’re constructing falls outside what it is legal to do in Europe should come as such a surprise. It has taken you a full NINE MONTHS to reply to it. Did you really not consider these questions before you embarked on Transformational Government, and mixed up the security agenda with the public-service agenda? Was that wise? Don’t shoot the messenger here.

This could have made an important contribution towards meeting the challenges of new technology. The subject matter was important and its academic authors have a distinguished provenance.

I think you’re building up to shooting the messenger.

However, a detailed reading of the report reveals it was riddled with factual errors and misunderstandings and reached conclusions without setting out the evidential base for doing so.

Argh! You just shot the messenger!

So opaque was its methodology that it has taken months to work through it to respond in detail.

Stop shooting! Remember, this is the new era of respectful dialogue!

The methodology is clear as day. We wrote up 46 large databases (with precious little help from government). We discussed them against European criteria for legality. During the course of the work the Marper judgement confirmed that the DNA database was indeed illegal. We gave all our references.

I’ll get on to the government’s response in due course. It has taken their however many dozens of staff nine months to reply, so working at the same pace I should be ready to reply by around 2030-2050.

I hope that all those who read the original report and provided publicity for it will do similarly for today’s response to it.

I’m sure they will if it’s interesting, credible and passes the Mandy Rice-Davies test.

It is important that we now move beyond rhetoric

I think I may find myself quoting this again, perhaps frequently We may need a new acronym to go alongside Wibbi: IMBR.

new and detailed dialogue between all concerned to ensure that we seize the opportunities of this new information age while protecting ourselves against its risks. So when government is considering how data might be used for the public good, the voices of users and practitioners can be heard. That requires an open, constructive approach on both sides.

Yup, we all sign up to that. High bloody time.

To that end, I am announcing today that the Ministry of Justice will host an event early in the New Year to consider how we approach the data sharing aspects of reforms to the electoral register.

Alright then. But not in Feb; I’m in Iran.

He goes on to talk about cross-referencing the electoral roll with the NI number. Well, you need to do something to make this process more secure. Not so sure about the NI number: it might suddenly look as if we have 80m registered voters in the UK.

Those identifiers will not be available to the public, for obvious reasons – they are solely for the electoral registration officer’s use.

Not obvious to me at all Michael – I think you have organisation-centric assumptions engrained so deeply you’re not even aware of them.

I also intend to jointly host an event with Delyth Morgan from the Department for Children, Schools and Families which will focus on ContactPoint.

Clearly it would have been helpful to have this dialogue before you specified the system and started spending hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on it with Cap Gemini. So when we say “better late than never” it is with quite a heavy sigh.

We can never be complacent about databases – the challenge in getting the balance right

No it’s not about balance! It’s about getting it right!

But we can only do this on the basis of a rational and mutually respectful dialogue between all concerned. I hope the measures I have announced today can be the start of such a dialogue

Indeed. IMBR. I think you, your speechwriters and spin doctors will find this a major cultural adjustment. You’re clearly not there yet. But we will support and uphold you in your attempt to do just that, and for my part (I cant speak for anyone else) I shall try to do the same.

Was this whole long rambling post worth doing? Is Mr Wills going to get his act together and sort this out? I checked out his currency with one of Westminster’s most effective and reliable lobbysists. The verdict: “I wouldn’t expend too much effort on trying to enlighten him.” I find that harsh. He’s still a Minister after all.

Let us give Mr Wills credit for officially ushering in – if not yet himself exemplifying – the era of mutually respectful and courteous dialogue about the right way for government to work with personal data in public services. From the moment I click on “Publish” on this post I undertake to exemplify it myself. Hurrah!

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