The government will not snoop on your every move

James Brokenshire, Security Minister in the Home Office, writes in the Spectator, defending the Communications Data Bill and saying there would be safeguards to protect the data collected:

And finally, the Bill contains clear safeguards around our proposals. Any public servant who misuses information will not go unpunished. A number of offences already exist on the statute books to address situations where public officials, and other individuals, abuse access to personal data.

Misuse of communications data is likely to be part of criminal activity such as misuse of computer systems and hacking, all of which are offences and carrying heavy repercussions. Knowingly or recklessly obtaining or disclosing personal data, for example, carries a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine, while misconduct in public office can lead to life imprisonment.

More broadly, oversight of the use of the powers will be provided by the Interception of Communications Commissioner and the Information Commissioner, both of whom will report to Parliament each year on the use of the powers. These senior figures have shown in the past their independence and their willingness to hold public authorities to account.

However Mark Pack, writing in the same publication, raises doubts:

What do you do if a regulator has failed? Leave them unreformed and instead give them greater powers? That is the line Home Office Minister James Brokenshire is arguing.

The regulator in question is the Interception of Communications Commissioner and the powers relate to online monitoring. For the Draft Communications Data Bill would not only give the government far more scope to monitor what we do online, but Brokenshire also argues we should be reassured that a large part of these new powers would be monitored by that Commissioner.

However, take a look at the record and what you see is a failed regulator. Most damningly, in 2011 the New York Times published strong prima facie evidence that the current interception rules were being regularly and systematically broken, with journalists getting illegal access to the very data the Commissioner is meant to protect. The Commissioner’s response? To do nothing. No investigation, no action – not even a brief passing mention in his report on what happened in 2011.

In defence of Big Brother: I want more snooping, not less

Dan Hodges writes on his blog on the Telegraph web site:

I want to live in a surveillance state. Big Brother, come cast your watchful eye over me and mine. I love you, bro.

Seriously, when I saw the outcry over Government plans to gain access to telephone, email and internet, my initial reaction was: “You mean they can’t do that already?”

I assumed, somewhat stupidly, that everything we said, typed or viewed was routinely monitored, and then filtered by some giant, super-secret computer tucked away in a heavily guarded subterranean basement of GCHQ: “Hodges has just said he wants to shoot another Liverpool player, sir.” “Oh, he’s always saying that, Jones. Ignore him.”

I don’t want less surveillance, I want more of the stuff. My idea of the perfect society is one where every street corner has a CCTV camera, everyone has a nice shiny ID card tucked in their wallet and no extremist can even think of logging onto a dodgy website without an SAS squad abseiling swiftly through their window.

For one thing, I have a relatively benign view of the state. There are some things it does much better than others, and I realise it’s high time it learnt to cut its coat to suit its cloth. But on balance I view the state as a force for good, rather than some giant, menacing monolith, and that’s especially true when it comes to stopping myself, my family and my friends getting blown up by crazed terrorists.

Why SCRs are a long-term plan for long-term conditions

Dick Vinegar writes on the Guardian web site:

Who would have thought it, the Department of Health is encouraging NHS organisations “to accelerate creation of summary care records (SCRs), with the aim of having them in place for most patients by 2013-14″. And 9m records have already been uploaded. This is a miracle.

At the general election 18 months ago, both Conservatives and LibDems were equating the SCR with the satanic identity card as a monstrous unmanageable database, and were vowing to abolish it. (And when they came to power as the coalition, they did abolish the identity card.) For some years before, Dr Ross Anderson of Cambridge University had been campaigning against the SCR on security grounds, and had won the ear of the British Medical Association. A bit later, Dr Trisha Greenhalgh wrote a magisterial academic report on the SCR’s shortcomings. With the government, academia and the BMA against it, the SCR was clearly doomed.

Yet, here we are, 18 months later, with government ministers saying how important the SCR is to patient care. And 70% of out of hours doctors say it enhances patient safety. What has happened to create this U-turn?

The cynics will say that the SCR project has cost so much that it has to be continued. Another version is that the nay-sayers have not come up with an alternative to the SCR – as nay-sayers habitually fail to do – and so ministers have decided to go with the devil that has already been paid for, rather than launch a whole new scheme from scratch.

A charitable interpretation of electronic health records

Dick Vinegar writes in his “Pateient from Hell” blog at the Guardian:

I sometimes feel I am on my own in arguing that the Summary Care Record, handled properly, would increase my own safety and that of most other patients. I see myself as a gallant little fighter against the serried ranks of clinical SCR-naysayers, security obsessives and 19th century-style doctor/patient confidentiality ostriches.