Saturday 21 September 2019

RIP IDA – Johnson and Cummings are in for a shock

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, now known as "GOV.UK Verify (RIP)",
is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme.
And it's dead.

"If Verify is the answer, what was the question?"

The Law Commission: "Verify does not currently ensure that the person entering the information
is in fact the person he or she is purporting to be;
rather it focuses on verifying that the person exists" (para.6.67/p.119)

Boris Johnson Secretly Asked For A Massive Amount Of User Data To Be Tracked. Dominic Cummings Said It’s “TOP PRIORITY”.

That's what it says in 24-point bold capitals on the relatively public Buzzfeed website. So much for "secretly".

"In a move that has alarmed Whitehall officials, the prime minister has instructed departments to share data they collect about usage of the GOV.UK portal so that it can feed into preparations for leaving the European Union at the end of next month". These Whitehall officials must exist in a permanent state of alarm – GOV.UK usage data is already collected and shared on the Government Digital Service's rickety performance platform and has been for years:

The performance platform tells you for example that there were 44,300 pig movement reports submitted between June and September 2017. Nothing alarming about that, surely. What has upset the Whitehall officials? Is it possibly the fact that the performance statistics are two years out of date?

Not according to Buzzfeed it isn't, no. Buzzfeed are worried about “targeted and personalised information to be gathered in the run-up to Brexit" on the say-so of Boris Johnson, our current Prime Minister, and Dominic Cummings, his mastermind.

This is more sinister than pig movements.

Or is it?

"Johnson said centralised data was also necessary to accelerate his ambitions for a digital revolution in public services". Can you think of a Prime Minister in the past 20 years who hasn't said the same thing? No. And the revolution still hasn't happened. There are entire blogs devoted to this matter. Have been for years. It's not news.

Nevertheless, according to Buzzfeed "some officials in Whitehall are concerned about such an enormous transfer of data being done at speed, behind closed doors, at a time of national crisis". What data? Buzzfeed don't say.

But according to a government spokesperson "Individual government departments currently collect anonymised user data when people use GOV.UK ... No personal data is collected at any point during the process ...". So what's the problem if no personal data is collected at any point?

You've got to get up pretty early in the morning to fool "Privacy campaigners, policy experts, and opposition politicians", they're not falling for this no-personal-data-is-collected line and they say that "Pooling the user data [that isn't collected] from across government would give GDS [the government digital service] a detailed picture of people’s online interactions with government".

What they're thinking of perhaps is the enormous databases of health information, work and pensions information, education and tax information that Whitehall have always maintained. Various dreadful people have suggested over the years that this information should be shared almost without limit all over Whitehall in the hope that this sharing would improve government services.

"Smash the silos", say GDS, please see above, share personal information widely, we know what's best for everyoneall personal information should be shared by default, says David Gauke MP, and only withheld in exceptional circumstances. Thank goodness, for years, Whitehall officials have been alarmed by these initiatives and somehow the silos remain, and personal information remains officially confidential and reserved to the purposes for which it was collected.

"How does profiling citizens help with no deal preparation?", asks Tom Watson, Labour's Deputy Leader at the time of writing, "Given Dominic Cummings’ focus on data science in the Vote Leave campaign this sudden urgent need for big data collection is extremely concerning".

Extremely concerning? Not at all, it's positively thrilling, it's an effervescent cocktail of evil Bond villain Cummings and two shots of credulous science fiction.

It's childish fantasy. It may well be that Messrs Johnson and Cummings themselves believe that they can design persuasive material to control people's opinions by analysing all their personal information. But, as the Prime Minister himself says, "At the heart of that is our approach to UK digital identity ... XO has tasked GDS with developing – in cooperation with others – a digital identity accelerated implementation plan".

XO is a secret world domination committee the existence of which the Prime Minister has foolishly revealed. But the real tomfoolery is to believe that GDS are capable of delivering on an accelerated implementation plan for anything to do with UK digital identity. Just look at their record.

It probably hasn't occurred to Johnson and Cummings that GDS could spend so long on GOV.UK Verify (RIP) and come up with so little. But they're about to find out. And they're not going to be pleased.

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