Friday, 28 February 2014

midata, mimegalomania

"Ernst Stavro Blofeld is a fictional character and a supervillain from the James Bond series of novels and films, who was created by Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory. An evil genius with aspirations of world domination, he is the archenemy of the British Secret Service agent James Bond. Blofeld is head of the global criminal organisation SPECTRE and is commonly referred to as Number 1 ..."

Thank you, Wikipedia, that's quite enough of that.

Bond, Blofeld and SPECTRE are all in another dimension. Fantasy. Let's get back to terror firmer ...

... terror firmer, and midata, the realistic and meticulously planned initiative thoroughly thought through by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) to empower the consumer, to nudge everyone into a better lifestyle and to make the UK economy grow.

How will midata empower the consumer?


No need to say it, it goes without saying, it should be obvious to all but, just in case it isn't obvious to all, IDA is dead.

IDA is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme. And it's dead.


The initiative is marketed on the basis that it would support medical research. As long as you only look at that aspect of HSCIC's initiative, it looks unimpeachable.

There are other points of view:
  • The Health and Social Care Information Centre are said by some to want to make money out of selling our previously confidential GP medical records. Is the objective health? Or wealth?
  • The claim that these records can be anonymised or pseudonymised is false. Why are HSCIC pretending that we can't be identified by our medical records when, in fact, we can?
The picture becomes more complicated. Our automatic trust in HSCIC begins to be undermined. MPs on the House of Commons Health Select Committee said on Tuesday 25 February 2014 that they didn't want their medical records to be bought and sold like a commodity and that they didn't trust HSCIC, so much so that they had already opted out of

Can you opt out? There is some doubt, identified by the tireless Professor Ross Anderson. HSCIC may still take your records from your GP even if you have opted out. They will pseudonymise the records before filing them. But that doesn't work. See above. You can still be identified.

At which point you start to ask yourself why there is this rapacious desire for our medical records. Is it just the research? There's already lots of research going on. Do we need more? Why wasn't a priority ten years ago? Why now?

Monday, 24 February 2014, midata & PSI/open data

Whitehall's Misfeasance in Public Office (MiPo) Express hurtles on.

Once again the UK's NHS (National Health Service) is in the news, this time as a result of its initiative. is a threat to medical confidentiality. The campaign to protect medical confidentiality has been conducted by medConfidential, among others. The other day they were able to celebrate one battle won – the introduction of has now been delayed for six months:

Congratulations to medConfidential. And also to the BMA (the British Medical Association) and to NHS England:
Tim Kelsey, national director for patients and information at NHS England, said:

“NHS England exists for patients and we are determined to listen to what they tell us. We have been told very clearly that patients need more time to learn about the benefits of sharing information and their right to object to their information being shared. That is why we are extending the public awareness campaign by an extra six months.”
The NHS already has access to patients' hospital records, which can be used to measure the performance of hospitals. That data is also an invaluable resource for medical research. The idea of is for the first time to add patients' GP records to the hospital data to make an even greater resource for audit and for research.

An Englishman's relationship with his or her family GP (General Practitioner) is very personal and the thought of scores of strangers sifting through all our currently confidential records is bringing a lot of us out in spots. Few of us can make the case for the prosecution cogently. So let's hand that job over to Ben Goldacre, a doctor, the author of Bad Science, a journalist and public speaker, and an enthusiastic advocate of

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Weight Watchers: try the new low HB diet

What is weight?

You know the answer to that one. You went to school. It's a force.

And what do we know about forces?

They're something to do with acceleration. F=ma. Force = mass times acceleration. That's what Newton said.

When DMossEsq was at school, 300 years after Newton, we were taught that here on planet Earth the rate of acceleration due to gravity is 9.81 metres per second per second. It's fixed. So how come different people have different weights?

Answer, because they have different masses, obviously, so if you want to reduce your weight, you need to reduce your mass.

But what is mass?

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The science of political strategy

Public service reform: credible treatment requires bold diagnosis:
... imagine a centre which saw its role as based not on power, control of money and regulation but influence, expertise and networks. What a happier, more attractive, more open and mroe effective place Whitehall would be.
Digital Efficiency Report
Cabinet Office
November 2012 (p.19):
If the proportion of savings estimated to relate to staff costs (from Fig. 6) is applied to the total estimated annual savings and then divided by an average cost per FTE [full-time equivalent, what we used to call a "person"], this amounts to a total FTE savings estimate of at least 40,000.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Skyscape – the Surprise as a Service company

It was such a surprise that everyone can remember where they were the day that Skyscape Cloud Services Ltd won the contract to host GOV.UK.

Skyscape was so young then that the company hadn't even submitted its first set of accounts to Companies House. One man alone owned all the shares in the company. There was plenty of competition from long-established cloud services companies with measurable track records. How did Skyscape beat them?

How did Skyscape go on to win contracts with the MOD? And HMRC? And the Home Office?

How did they qualify for pan-government accreditation?

Thursday, 13 February 2014

G-Cloud – Animal Farm

Tony Singleton is the Chief Operating Officer of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and, since GDS took over on 1 June 2013, he is also the G-Cloud Programme Director. This morning he published Taking G-Cloud forward on the G-Cloud blog:
G-Cloud has the potential to reach an estimated 30,000 buyers across the public sector. Yet research carried out by the 6 Degree Group suggests that nearly 90 percent of local authorities have not heard of G-Cloud.
30,000 prospective customers. There's supposed to be a "cloud first" policy. 27,000 customers haven't even heard of G-Cloud. That's a problem.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

RIP IDA – if you've got nothing to say, say it

No need to say it, it goes without saying, it should be obvious to all but, just in case it isn't obvious to all, IDA is dead.

IDA is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme. And it's dead.


17:09, yesterday afternoon, Monday 10 February 2014, an email arrives saying that the Government Digital Service (GDS) have published a new blog post, Striking a balance between security and usability.

Read it, and one question keeps asking itself – why? Why did they publish this interview with James Stewart, the director of technical architecture at GDS? What was publication supposed to achieve? What is the message they're trying to convey?

A number of messages do come across. But unless GDS is trying to undermine itself these messages can't possibly have been intended. Mr Stewart's topic is the balance between security and usability. That's the question. And his answer is – you have to balance them.

Yes James, thank you, we know that, that's the title of the blog post, the question is how? How do you balance security and usability? And since he doesn't answer that question, the inference is that he can't answer it – GDS don't know how to balance security and usability. That's the message that comes across.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

RIP IDA – JFDI and the Black Pencil

... every transaction you ever undertake should depend on Mydex.
No Mydex, no transactions ...

No need to say it, it goes without saying, it should be obvious to all but, just in case it isn't obvious to all, IDA is dead.

IDA is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme. And it's dead.


If you're a creative, there's nothing like winning a D&AD award for your work. And as DMossEsq readers know, the Government Digital Service (GDS) won a prestigious Design and Art Direction Black Pencil last year in a specially-created category for UK-government-websites-called-GOV.UK.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

RIP IDA – JFDI security

No need to say it, it goes without saying, it should be obvious to all but, just in case it isn't obvious to all, IDA is dead.

IDA is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme. And it's dead.


It's that speech again, the speech that won't stop speaking to us, the speech given by Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE to the CfA Summit 2013 on 16 October 2013. Just a 39-second clip this time, starting at 19'35", and the topic is security:

Monday, 3 February 2014

JFDI, Agile People

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has everything. Bunting and mascots. Cake and stickers (27'00"-27'20").

Everything except a corporate song.

Until now, when – thanks to the inspiration of Francis Maude's speech at Sprint 14 – that lacuna can at last be filled.

The lyrics below are now ready for beta release. An instance of song as a service (SaaS), it is based on a disco classic of 1978 which sold over 10 million copies when the world still had singles and, who knows, after a few more iterations, perhaps if GDS can sing it with enough gusto and enough pure mindless disco-style enjoyment, maybe they can add the equivalent iAccolade to their already groaning shelvesful of awards:

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Francis Maude: "We’re the JFDI school of government"

Last week saw a major congregation of central government computer persons at the London Film Museum.

Computing isn't that exciting. There's not a lot of news. You'd expect this event – Sprint 14 – to have been covered by all the computer media.

It wasn't.