Monday, 27 February 2012

The collection of people's biometrics is akin to the old-fashioned schoolboy hobby of stamp-collecting

A courtier asked the Prince [later King George V] if he had seen that "some damned fool had paid as much as £1,400 for one stamp". "Yes," came the reply. "I was that damned fool!"
George V loved stamp collecting.

The attractions of stamp collecting may elude you and me but there's something touching about the enthusiasm of a grown man for this harmless pursuit.

Harmless, at least, as long as it's not being funded by public money. That can rankle. You don't need to be a republican to find the thought distasteful that people's hard-earned money extracted from them in taxes should pay for one privileged man's hobby. Certainly, nothing like that would be acceptable today.

Except that, apparently, it is.

In the first 18 months of the coalition government, £140,023,212 was paid to Computer Sciences Corporation and £67,416,851 to VF Worldwide Holdings to collect the fingerprints of non-EEA visa applicants abroad.

Can anybody explain why? Is this a justifiable use of public money? How can it be? Note to the Home Office: justify it; either that, or please stop.

The belief in the efficacy of biometrics is akin to the belief in astrology

Warning. In the following paragraphs approximately half the world will be insulted. Please stay your hand revengewise. In no time at all, the other half will be equally insulted.

Why is it, our ancestors asked, that the children in a given family aren't identical? Some of them are boys, others girls. Some of them are outgoing, others repressed. And yet they have the same parents. What can explain the difference?

UIDAI and the textbook case study of how not to do it, one for the business schools

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) came under attack. Its very existence was threatened. Naturally enough, UIDAI decided to defend itself.

It's worked. UIDAI survives for the moment.

But theirs is a Pyrrhic victory. The UIDAI defence could undermine the credibility of every public authority in the world which has nailed its colours to the mast of biometrics – which is most of them – and could destroy the multi-billion dollar mass consumer biometrics industry.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

How to fly a kite, I am told

You're a senior politician. Or you have real power, you're a Whitehall official. There's something you want to say, but you can't be the one to say it. What do you do?

John Vine report published

John Vine CBE QPM is the Independent Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency (UKBA). His report on the Brodie Clark affair was published on Monday 20 February 2012. Like the Home Affairs Committee report Inquiry into the provision of UK Border Controls published a month earlier on Thursday 19 January 2012, it is a historic document. It criticises the Executive and yet, there it is, in a brave move of the Home Secretary's, it’s been published by the Executive.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Digital by default – the Government Digital Service, Digital Delivery Identity Assurance, Digital Engagement and Assisted Digital

Amazon.  eBay.  PayPal.  Google.  Facebook.  The Cabinet Office looks at these phenomena and sees a lot of hugely efficient money-making machines with global reach and a high-volume, popular, voluntary and growing take-up.

Then the Cabinet Office looks at Whitehall's tax-farming agency, HMRC, and at its big spenders, DWP and the NHS, and it sees ... something different, something sadder, something old-fashioned, halting and with a big hole where the dynamism and the optimism ought to be.

Martha Lane Fox, one of the unwritten bits of the British Constitution

Whitehall say that between nine and ten million people in the UK have never used the web. They also say that they intend to provide all public services over the web, and only over the web. How can they possibly have argued themselves into this position?

Monday, 6 February 2012

Universal Credit, the Whitehall computer game in which real money is used to provide imaginary services to a virtual public

There was Nick Robinson the other day, on BBC Radio 4's Decision Time, asking how policy is made by ministers and their officials. And there was Rachel Lomax, telling him.

Ms Lomax was Deputy Governor of the Bank of England from 2003 to 2008. The poor regulation and ultimate collapse of the UK banking system was nothing to do with her. With immaculate timing, she picked up a non-executive directorship of HSBC on 1 December 2008 and another one subsequently at BAA, the airport operator that cancels half its flights when three inches of snow fall.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

John Vine report delayed

Hat tip: Anonymous

Home Office Publications:

Report by the independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency - WMS

This written ministerial stement (sic) was laid in the House of Commons on 31 January 2012 by Theresa May, and in the House of Lords by Lord Henley.

Secretary of State for the Home Department (Theresa May): Following the resignation of Brodie Clark, a senior UK Border Agency official, last November, I asked John Vine, the independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency, to carry out an independent investigation into border checks conducted by the UK Border Agency. Mr Vine has asked for more time to complete his investigation. Once I have received his final report I will update the House after constituency recess on both the findings of the report and on the action the government will take.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

GreenInk 5 – The Economist magazine publishes a surprising article

Unpublished:
From: David Moss
Sent: 17 January 2012 15:26
To: 'letters@economist.com'
Subject: ... seeing what/the man will do/unbribed, there's/no occasion to.

http://www.economist.com/comment/1208953#comment-1208953

Sir

With their suggestions that only the dimmer Indians have stayed at home, and that Indian men are all ne'er-do-well drunks, and that the blandishments of the snake oil salesmen of the biometrics industry are all credible, last week's articles on India's Unique Identity scheme (14 January 2011: Reform by numbers and The magic number) didn't read like real Economist articles. Were they unflagged advertorials, written by its desperate management, trying to save the fast failing UID project?

Yours
David Moss

For information on the Unique Identification of Authority of India and their Aadhaar project, please see India's ID card scheme – drowning in a sea of false positives.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Economist magazine's chickens, now on their way home to roost

Normally hard-boiled, The Economist magazine chose to publish a glowing soufflé of a report on the Unique Identification Authority of India in its 14 January 2012 edition. Not surprisingly, this article, The Magic Number, now takes pride of place on UIDAI's website:


UIDAI website, 1 February 2012

UIDAI does have its detractors.

"Some of the resistance", The Economist said, "is principled, but much comes from the people who do well out of today’s filthy system. Indian politics hinge on patronage—the doling out of opportunities to rob one’s countrymen. [UIDAI's Aadhaar initiative] would make this harder. That is why it faces such fierce opposition ...".

The resistance to UIDAI at government level comes from the Home Ministry and the Finance Ministry. Are these "the people who do well out of today’s filthy system", as The Economist put it? Are they the ones "doling out of opportunities to rob [their] countrymen"?

The Economist may or may not be wise to jump into bed with UIDAI. But they run the risk – surely quite unnecessarily – of putting some very powerful noses out of joint. No more juicy stories coming their way from the Home Ministry and the Finance Ministry for The Economist any more.

Which is a shame, because there are some good stories around:
  • UIDAI are fighting a turf war with the Home Ministry, who have a rival identity management scheme of their own, the National Population Register (NPR).
  • And the Finance Ministry were opposed to funding any more work by UIDAI, who were about to run out of money – until the Prime Minister sorted out a (slightly ham-fistedtruce.
  • Not only that, but the statutory basis for UIDAI's work is questionable. The National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010 still hasn't been enacted.
Why did The Economist do it?


NB For anyone who reads the articles linked to:
  • 1 crore = 10,000,000. 1.2 billion Indians = 1,200,000,000 Indians = 120 crore Indians = 12,000 lakh Indians, because
  • 1 lakh = 100,000. 100 lakh = 10,000,000 = 1 crore and
  • £1 = 78.7618 Rupees