Friday 6 December 2013

The weekly diary that's full of omissions

GDS, the Government Digital Service, published their weekly diary yesterday.

Two items.

One about what their colleagues in Canada are up to. "They are doing something very similar", says Sarah Richards, in connection with GOV.UK, "it’s just like having a GDS ..., but on the other side of the water". No sooner is that clear than she adds "they do things quite differently over there and some of their processes are different".

Identical-but-quite-different is the theme of the other item, too, about the Digital Services Store.

The Store offers "all the services you would need for transformation of your online service, everything from development services, through to design, user research and system administration". It is "open to the whole public sector and it allows buyers to find suppliers with specific capabilities to help them build digital services that are Digital by Default".

Sound familiar? "The CloudStore will be the catalogue of services and suppliers on the G-Cloud Framework and we've been working on designing it for the past couple of weeks. The aim is to make it into a type of “e-marketplace” which contains details of the services, accreditation levels and enable buyers to make comparisons between services to facilitate intelligent and efficient purchasing for buyers and suppliers."

That's what we learned on 6 February 2012, 19 22 months ago.

Since then, 4 May 2013, we have lived under Cloud First: "Central government departments are now mandated to consider public cloud first in any IT procurement and the wider public sector is strongly recommended to take the same approach. In practice this means that when considering procurement of new or existing services, public organisations must have considered and fully evaluated potential cloud solutions before they consider any other option".

Why we now have a Digital Services store as well as CloudStore is a mystery. Something to do with the Canadians?

No room in the diary to welcome Dan Bates, the midata refugee from BIS, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills.

Nothing about GDS's new Universal Credit rôle.

And still no news about the identity assurance project, on which digital-by-default depends. Including midata and Universal Credit. Not to mention individual electoral registration.

First promised for autumn 2012, the word now is that we might see signs of life in the spring of 2014 emanating from the HMRC trial that was meant to be completed in October 2013.

But then identity assurance was also meant to be "fully operational" by March 2013. To avoid any more disappointment, just assume that the project is dead.

Is ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, chief executive of GDS and senior responsible owner of the pan-government identity assurance programme, devoting too much thought to education in Brazil becoming digital-by-default thanks to Google?

Or is he warning us that Google is the solution to his identity assurance problems?

Google know all about us. They record our web browsing. They provide our email. They've got a huge cloud services operation. Many of us log into our bank accounts using their web browser. Soon we'll be wearing their glasses. And maybe being driven by their cars. They could translate that into PDSs for all, personal data stores, for natural people persons and for legal persons. They're beefing up security on their networks, providing end-to-end encryption, in response to Edward Snowden's NSA and GCHQ revelations – they could provide the "identity hub" that has so far eluded GDS.

There would be privacy problems. Google's business model depends on selling our personal data to the highest bidder as many organisations as possible. They've made a fortune out of it. GDS have promised to consider the privacy rules by which digital-by-default should be bound but the result of their deliberations is unknown.

Certainly there's nothing about privacy in the weekly diary.

GDS might be prepared to tolerate Google's personal data practices. They might get Francis Maude to make another one of his speeches and charm us all into the belief that it is our social duty to share all our personal data. And Mr Maude might call on Stephan Shakespeare to help to get us all to "embrace the change".

Three of the original "identity providers" have already pulled out. For the remaining five, their exclusivity period (20 months?) must nearly be up. And nothing to show for all their work. Enter Google. Problem solved. At a stroke.

GDS probably won't make a diary entry about this revolutionary Google decision. But don't be surprised if it happens.

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