- Date published:
7:11 am, April 22nd, 2016 - 85 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, bill english, class war, human rights, Spying - Tags: data, no right turn, privacy, Spying, surveillance, Surveillance state
Not content with granting more and more powers to spy agencies, National is now planning to database and spy on the poor:
Bill English — Finance Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and now prospective Big Brother; he wants to bring together the data held by 10 government agencies so that more can be known about Kiwis.
The agencies include health, education, social development, justice and Inland Revenue. It will create what he calls a “data highway”.
He’ll give government workers access to it, even on their smartphones, so they can draw information on people from multiple sources before making decisions that affect them.
The data has already shown New Zealand’s 10,000 most vulnerable people will cost taxpayers $6.5 billion over their lifetimes.
English says this is about helping people by “sharing” their confidential, private data – but we all know that it will really be about shitting on them, cutting their benefits, throwing them out of state houses, making it more difficult to access government services. Because National sees everything as a way of cutting costs and reducing government services. So, they’ll give ACC access to your medical records, WINZ access to your police file, Housing NZ access to your kid’s school reports, your kid’s school teacher access to your sexual history, and the SIS and their foreign “allies” access to everything, all in the hope that someone, somewhere, will find a reason to cut your funding or jail you (or, in the SIS’s case, finally find the “terrorists” their budget is predicated on).
This is, of course, illegal – the Privacy Act prohibits information sharing between government agencies except for statutory purposes and according to externally approved information-sharing agreements. And that’s for good reason: because people won’t tell government agencies what they need to know if they think the information will be widely shared. But English is clearly planning to change the law – in fact, there’s an ominous little footnote in the government’s ICT Action Plan which says they plan to:
identify and address aspects of various pieces of existing legislation that constrain interoperability of information and data through an omnibus Bill
Or, in English, repealing Privacy Act protection against the government to allow open slather and snooping into your private life.
But this isn’t just a matter of mass surveillance through big data – its also a matter of your security. Because the wider your information is shared within government, the wider the pool of people who can abuse it, profit from it or lose it. We already have persistent problems with police and WINZ staff abusing their access rights over the huge databases those organisations have built up to snoop on friends and partners or run profitable side-businesses corruptly selling their access. And we have constant stories of how deeply personal information – even stuff on abused kids – was left lying around for anyone to look at, left on a train, or emailed to the wrong person. Bill English will make those problems bigger. And we will all pay the price for that.
(And that’s not even getting into the risk of serious theft. Concentrated data is more valuable data, and this database, combining police, educational, medical and income data would be a gold mine for blackmailers, criminals and identity thieves – or just bored teenagers. In a world where we read about a major website hack on a weekly or monthly basis, and where people knock over databases for shits and giggles, this sort of data concentration is simply asking for trouble).
But we’ll also pay another price, in trust. Because the natural response to organisations asking things they don’t need to know, or sharing information more widely than required, is to lie. We already do this on the internet, giving disposable email addresses, fake phone numbers, and false demographic data to nosy American corporations when all they need is a credit card number and a shipping address; Bill English will give us an incentive to do that to the government too. And when he wants every random public servant who meets you to be able to look on their phone and see instantly where you live, what you earn, who you fuck and whether you’ve been burgled or raped, that seems like a very good idea.
Yesterday, we learned that Bill English wants to end your privacy, opening up government information sharing so that any public servant can see any of your private information (where you live, what you earn, how often you get sick, whether you’ve been raped) on their phone. The underlying driver for this is the government’s ICT Action Plan which includes as one of its action points a revision of privacy laws. I’ve been looking at the Cabinet paper on this, and its a scary document. As with their recent intelligence “review”, its apparent that privacy simply was not a consideration. For example:
Although it is important that the right balance is struck between innovation, security, and privacy, the clear focus will be on innovation and managed risk-taking that will deliver the public services expected by citizens. The GCIO will work in partnership with the security services to ensure the right balance is achieved and it is anticipated that the revised Strategy will be complemented by the forthcoming New Zealand Cyber Security Strategy, which aims to ensure that New Zealand is secure, resilient and prosperous online
While they talk of a “balance”, its clear that the “right balance” is to simply ignore privacy and let the government do whatever it wants. As for what this looks like in practice, here’s National’s desired outcome:
The public sector has a culture and capability that defaults to releasing, sharing, publishing and
re-using of information and has earned sufficient public trust and confidence from citizens (’social license’) to do this. Government-held information is made widely available to inform decision making, reduce effort and drive innovation.
Sharing by default sounds great, until you realise that its our most sensitive details they’re talking about, and they’ll be available to every shitty little call-centre prole (and anyone they sell it to, or mail it to accidentally, or anyone who hacks them) to spy and sell and perve and judge however they want. The fundamental point people like DPF overlook in this is that its precisely the personal information which is valuable here. To use Bill English’s example, you can’t gain useful insights into vulnerable families without knowing about vulnerable families and their members (their incomes, educational achievement, medical history, criminal victimisation, and so on) – in other words, if you open their lives up to scrutiny without permission (or with coerced “permission”) to others. And that is fundamentally intrusive and invasive.
And then there’s the kicker, buried at the end among the certification boilerplate:
This paper has no human right issues
Really? They’re talking about a massive, society-wide invasion of privacy amounting to mass data-surveillance, and they think it has no human rights issues? What the fuck are they on? Whichever policy analyst wrote that is clearly a muppet and should be fired for it.
To use the government’s terminology, this is a matter of “social licence”. The government wants to be able to effectively spy on and database everyone, so they can save a few dollars here and there. And that’s simply not something we should let them do. Our privacy is valuable, and we should not let the government take it away from us.