Data disaster

The data disaster that was revealed yesterday is all over the headlines. Sometimes problems seem less dramatic the day after; not this time. A strategic error – ‘let’s put all the information in one place, that will be safer’ – combined with operational incompetence – ‘I’ll bung a disk in the post, should be OK, let me know if it doesn’t turn up’ – has led to what the Guardian today calls “the most fundamental breach of faith between the state and citizen”.

The way we use & abuse data and comms is changing for each generation. In this web2.0 world, we access information and services easily, entering our personal info online on a daily basis, and sharing more of ourselves than ever before. That can be empowering, when we’re in control. But what about when we have to trust our data to the state?

At one end we have employees becoming casual with the data they use every day: familiarity breeding contempt. At the other end we have the mandarins, from a pre-PC generation, apparently ignorant of the systems they command: contempt breeding unfamiliarity.

In my day-job as an information professional, I work with hundreds of client organisations to whose systems my colleagues & I need occasional access. Quite rightly, the security we have to go through is demanding; individual fobs; standalone terminals; voice recognition; daily passwords; and the rest. Yes it’s a hassle; but it’s showing respect for people’s data, and therefore for the people themselves.

The same Government that has been telling us that a National Identity Register will make us more secure has now demonstrated the opposite, in dramatic style. They must drop plans for ID cards; then at least some good will come from this.

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