Friday, November 24, 2006

Stranger danger...

Having let all the genies out of all the bottles without ever asking permission or thinking through the whole consequences, we are still assured by most witless politicians that cheap travel and mass migration is good for us all, and that to think otherwise is xenophobic and racist.

Likewise the transfer of all our personal and private data to computers in a wave of globalisation and efficiency that means the foreign call center operators have access to your innermost financial secrets, has happened without anyone asking the right questions. I have no doubt that part of the much discussed computerisation of the NHS involves crucial data passing through hands we don't know about.

Globalisation is good for the sort of large companies that politicians like to "work with", since large companies generally have enough to lose that they will tend to be pragmatic and try and suck up to the parties in power. Heavens, they've even been known to donate cash to politicians and political parties.

Latterly the news that a vast amount of private data has been compromised by the loss of laptops in the hands of companies who make a fat living from "managing" this data, has reminded us to think more carefully about what is going on.

So as a result or carelessness at many levels, secure management of identity is now one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century, and politicians are predictably attempting to devise ever more convoluted legislation to tackle the security implications and issues of fraud.

Not content with taking DNA samples whenever they feel like it, the police have now been empowered to initiate roadside fingerprinting - because Mr Plod is fed up being told the driver of a suspicious vehicle without any form of identification is George Bush. Anyone offering a false identity in such circumstances clearly "has something to hide", so the chances of nabbing a previously convicted and fingerprinted felon are pretty good.

But when anyone expresses concern at the broader scope of this overwhelming invasion of what was once was known as "personal privacy", Home Office ministers respond "So what have you got hide?"

I just wish someone would reply "no more than Tony Blair, Tessa Jowell, Patricia Hewitt and Lord Levy" at such moments.

TMP policy decrees that just as with most things "personal", the only person you can safely trust with your personal information is yourself. Systems can be devised that require the consent and direct permission of the data owner to be involved (or at the very least advised) in any transactions where private information is involved.

Ironically, we are heading back to the same sort of situation of suspicion of strangers that existed in the good old days when everyone knew everyone, and people rarely moved more than 10 miles from where they lived or worked. The League of Gentlemen may have got it about right.

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