Saturday, 9 July 2016

Take care of the sense and the sounds would take care of themselves

"digital" v. "transformation"
Some of the Government Digital Service's time the other day was filled up with fundamental research into the correct name for the organisation, please see tweets below.

Nothing has come of it so far. Is "digital" a really unhelpful word? The jury is still out.

"data-sharing" v. "data-linking" v. "data access"
Next day, GDS, or whatever they're called now, published Data access legislation and data reform:
On Tuesday we published data access legislation as part of the Digital Economy Bill. The Bill is an important part of what we are seeking to do in GDS to transform our relationship to data and unleash the next decade of innovation and public service reform ...

Our clauses in the Digital Economy Bill are described as being about ‘data sharing’, although our preferred term is ‘data access’, because we think it better reflects the way technology and practices for handling data across government are changing.
Is data-sharing less controversial if the name is changed to "data access"?

You may remember a little spat between the Cabinet Office and the Guardian newspaper a few years ago. The Cabinet Office objected to the newspaper describing their plans as "data-sharing". They demanded an apology. They didn't want data-sharing at all and it was a calumny even to suggest that they did. No, what they wanted was "data-linking" and that's quite different.

That was four years ago in April 2012 and apparently the Cabinet Office, or at least GDS, or whatever they're called now, still think that they can overcome the problems of data-sharing just by changing the name.

"enhances" v. "impugns"
Further on in GDS's data reform blog, we read that:
... government's commitment to enabling a digital state that has privacy at its heart can be seen in the design of GOV.UK Verify [RIP]. This platform is a new way to safely and straightforwardly prove who you are online when accessing services like filing your tax return, viewing your driving licence or applying for Universal Credit. Besides being quick and simple to use it enhances privacy because information is not stored centrally, and there’s no unnecessary sharing of information. The company you choose to verify your identity doesn’t know which service you’re trying to access, and the government department doesn’t know which company you choose.
"The company you choose to verify your identity" could be any one of GDS's first-nine-then-eight-now-seven "identity providers". Sometimes they're called "identity providers", which is an odd, science fiction-like name. And sometimes they're called "certified companies" even though three of them aren't certified. GDS really do have problems with language ...

... and not just with the correct name for "identity providers". We noted over a year ago that when they're talking about GOV.UK Verify (RIP) GDS distinguish between the first time you verify your identity with an "identity provider" and subsequent occasions. The distinction is perfectly clear. The first time is when you register with an "identity provider".

But GDS didn't want to use the word "register". Because that would remind people of the National Identity Register on which the Home Office's failed ID cards scheme depended. And obviously GDS didn't want to be associated with that. Nevertheless, registering is exactly what you're doing if and when you open a GOV.UK Verify (RIP) account.

GDS would have you believe that GOV.UK Verify (RIP) "enhances privacy because information is not stored centrally, and there’s no unnecessary sharing of information". Is your privacy really enhanced by having your personal information stored all over the world with multiple companies beyond your control? That's what happens with GOV.UK Verify (RIP).

Is "enhances" the right word here? Surely "impugns" would be more accurate – GOV.UK Verify (RIP) impugns privacy because information is quite unnecessarily stored all over the world with massive and uncontrollable sharing or linking or access ...

"The company you choose to verify your identity doesn’t know which service you’re trying to access, and the government department doesn’t know which company you choose"? That may be true. But someone has to know. Otherwise there would be no audit trail.

That someone is GDS, and they know thanks to the GOV.UK Verify (RIP) identity hub.

"Government's commitment to enabling a digital state that has privacy at its heart"? That's not what it looks like. Never mind which words GDS use to describe it, their putative "digital state" is an utter stranger to any recognisable concept of privacy.

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