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Social investment meets the surveillance state

Written By: - Date published: 11:14 pm, March 4th, 2017 - 45 comments
Categories: accountability, Annette King, benefits, bill english, child welfare, discrimination, employment, equality, Ethics, families, human rights, poverty, Social issues, Spying, unemployment, welfare - Tags:

First they came for the budgeting services. Now we know that every social service agency  has to provide clients’ private personal data to the Ministry of Social Development or get no funding. Apparently it’s  essential to Bill English’s much-touted and little understood “social investment” strategy, which is sounding more like something out of Orwell’s 1984.

The Ministry says that it needs the information to make its social investment work. But it doesn’t join the dots to explain why it is so necessary. Brenda Pilott who was an experienced policy adviser says she can’t see the line from information to outcome, and Kathryn Ryan, fast becoming a national treasure, could not get an answer out of  Ministry Deputy Secretary Murray Edridge about why anonymised information would not do as well.

There are serious privacy issues and the Privacy Commissioner is investigating. Brenda Pilott raises the obvious concern that requiring agencies to collect personal data, which means they have to notify the person concerned, will drive people away from the help they need, creating a bigger problem.

We’re way past the nanny state, this is the big brother state. Big data is all the rage, as Facebook, FiveEyes and Waihopai hoover up and use all our personal communications.

I tried to find out the Labour Party’s view on all this. A website search revealed three passing mentions, the most detailed from from Annette King. Googling “labour party social investment” produced “Decrypting social investment” from Rob Salmond last year in his blog Polity. Rob Salmond is a big data man, and he is generally in favour of investment, but I don’t think his definition was the same as the government’s.

Salmond referred to a study done by Deloittes on social investment. Deloittes priority as usual was to head off tax raises and government spending, but they did avert to some problems with the idea. Their first principle  was to have “clarity on key measurable outcomes.” The measurables  on the Ministry’s website could be met without personal identification it seems to me. It looks like the private information will only be useful for tracking purposes which is intrusive.

Back to big data. Successful political parties are moving away from over-reliance on data to “having conversations.” Might be a good idea if MSD did the same.

 

45 comments on “Social investment meets the surveillance state”

  1. Antoine 1

    > Kathryn Ryan, fast becoming a national treasure, could not get an answer out of Ministry Deputy Secretary Murray Edridge about why anonymised information would not do as well.

    I don’t know much about this but I guess anonymising the information reduces its value as you can’t then crossreference between multiple datasets?

    A.

    • Muttonbird 1.1

      By crossreference you mean know who to throw into the new prisons National is building.

      • Antoine 1.1.1

        By crossreference I mean merge two or more datasets based on a field common to both.

        A.

        • Once was Tim now no longer 1.1.1.1

          By cross referencing, they mean to identify a common ‘primary key’ so that they can provide a government (small g) ‘wrap around services’ security blanket. It’s a blanket that enables a mummy and daddy knows best mentality.
          Kind of like CYFS. and when it all goes tits up, well – we’ll just spend millions on a ‘re-brand, re-image – rather than spending on adequate resourcing of front-line staff and monitoring.
          Sweat? next….next…next

    • weka 1.2

      “I don’t know much about this but I guess anonymising the information reduces its value as you can’t then crossreference between multiple datasets?”

      Or to put it in plain language, it would stop the govt from sharing your personal information across all departments, and probably eventually across all NGOs that have contracts too.

      That’s the intention here, and they’re starting with poor people because they don’t deserve privacy right? (if you want help there are obligations, quid pro quo). When they get to the middle classes, what you will find it is it’s already been done in Health via framing of this improves health outcomes for individuals, so everyone won’t mind giving up some privacy (i.e. if you object you are selfish and costing people their lives).

      We are already well down this path.

      • dukeofurl 1.2.1

        I see it that way too
        Its a national ID as a ‘digital card’ for the poor.

  2. adam 2

    Wow, I’ve been saying this government is done for a while now, how is this for a nail, in the coffin.

    Makes light bulbs and shower heads look like a bit to much wigwagging.

    Uproar starts 3,2,1…

    • Antoine 2.1

      Don’t hold your breath

      I’d say the Stuff comments threads are about 2:1 against the Government on this, but I’ve seen much more widely engaging topics for sure.

      • Antoine 2.1.1

        PS Don’t get me wrong, I probably agree with you that I oppose what the Government is doing here because of the potential for abuse

  3. dv 3

    Just wait until the LABGreens get in and start chasing down the wealthy elite with the data.

  4. yep this process is well underway and MSD is just the start…

  5. weka 5

    The thing that worries me (well, after the whole 1984 thing), is that a L/G or NZF govt probably won’t roll back these things because it will be too cumbersome once in place and the departments involved will be seeing some benefit.

    Good luck with getting either party to talk about it before the election.

    • garibaldi 5.1

      Of course they won’t roll them back, they are part of the problem. The Deep state wants all that information and no current political party will be able to stop them.

  6. weka 6

    The other issue is whether this will apply retrospectively to existing clients, and whether agencies will tell clients on their books that it is happening.

    • dv 6.1

      AND IS the data Accurate!!
      An example of a refugee child who came in with a couple, who were not related. Information was entered that they were the guardians – they did not understand the form.

      Then to get an allowance from WINZ was a nightmare cause the ‘child’, now an adult had a family in NZ.

  7. …requiring agencies to collect personal data … will drive people away from the help they need, creating a bigger problem.

    Not for the government! I’m seeing in our future a government press release about fewer people requesting help from social services, and how this demonstrates what a great success the government’s policy has been. If you were a sociopath you could almost find its cleverness admirable…

  8. Bill 8

    Depending on the agency or service, if proof of ID isn’t required by law or whatever, then throw them a rfalse name and bullshit details. Not a solution. But if enough agencies and services gave it a ‘nod and a wink’ where they didn’t actually need your bona fide details, then it could result in fairly effective monkey-wrenching.

    • Antoine 8.1

      Sounds like a risky approach tbh

    • weka 8.2

      That might work with organisations like Rape Crisis and Refuge. But any agency that has contracts with the MoH requires the client to provide the NHI number which is the way that the govt connects a person up across many services (and in some cases already gives access to files). I would guess the same with any agency that has MSD/WINZ clients (using their WINZ #).

      Would be interesting to see if one could access health services now without an NHI number. Probably, but most people aren’t going to stand up to the pressure to have one.

      As far as I know, people that are receiving services from an agency where that service isn’t govt funded but where the agency does have govt contracts for other services, those people shouldn’t have their information shared. But I will hazard a guess that whether or not that is respected will come down to the ethics of the agency and we cannot assume that because an agency is providing a social service that they will have good privacy ethics.

      People can start asking the agencies they are clients of what their specific policies are about all this. And get it in writing.

      • Sacha 8.2.1

        Some health agencies are already issuing multiple NHI numbers for vulnerable clients (eg: people have left family violence and gang situations).

        • weka 8.2.1.1

          Wow, I didn’t know that was even possible. Interesting.

        • dukeofurl 8.2.1.2

          many people have multiple NHI numbers for all sorts of reasons, sometimes just an error, most of them get linked back together on the DB. The most I saw was 3 or 4.

          From my time dealing with these things nearly 20 years ago, it was only a number for health services which listed the codes from , was it ICD ?

  9. patricia 9

    MSD claim they “want to know their clients better” so obtaining their names, WINZ reference numbers, iwi, dates of birth of youngest child, full addresses etc etc will assist. Apparently it will also help weed out people likely to abuse their dependent children. Not sure why they think that people want budgeting assistance are also child abusers. It will be retrospective if existing budgeting clients are still receiving assistance at the end of June.

  10. Sacha 10

    Tracking overall results can be done with anonymised data as is already done now.

    So tracking outcomes for a *particular person* over time is clearly the goal here – which would allow privatised contracting of social services with an actuarial insurance approach over time to manage risk exposure for ‘investors’. The US health system is a great example of how that works out in practice. Social bonds are just a way to test design features of broader programmes. English, Joyce and Bennett have been quietly working on this for years.

    The Privacy Commissioner’s report later this month will be fascinating.

    • Ahu 10.1

      Agree Sacha, except…

      “The Privacy Commissioner’s report later this month will be fascinating.”

      Prosperity maybe.
      I’ve always had the view we’ve lost more and more privacy since the creation of a Privacy Commissioner.

  11. RedBaronCV 11

    What a horrible idea. What we really should be collecting are the names of wealthy individuals (particularly those cheating on taxes ) and cross reference then for inter generational tax abuse.

    I suspect the opposition couldn’t go wrong in suggesting a large privacy review. it’s not just the government but employers looking at employees, looking at consumers etc etc.

    • AsleepWhileWalking 11.1

      Yes we should. Of course one of the benefits of having enough money is that you aren’t subject to things like widespread infonets.

  12. ian 12

    Maybe if people were able to live dignified lives without their parents, or themselves, or their kids, and their partners, having to work 60 hours a week at all hours just to stay afloat, none of this would be necessary.

  13. McFlock 13

    The nats have a totally fucked up idea of “big data”, and this seems to have spread to MSD.

    Tories seem to think that if they know everything about you and the, say, 15,000 people who were like you at one stage in their lives, then the tories can match where you are not with where the 15,000 people ended up, and therefore predict where you will end up. It’s complete bunk.

    What can be done is predict overall service needs, maybe give some pointers to things that might explain the differences in outcome for the 15,000, maybe offer cheap ads to you and 5,000 others with a slightly higher click rate than just a generic ad to everyone, but it can’t predict a damned thing about you. Yes, there are stories about husbands who started getting adverts for baby clothes from target based solely on their wives’ change in buying and search habits, and then their wife turned out to be pregnant. On the flipside are the thousands more who got adverts for baby clothes because their wife’s friend was having a baby shower, or she bought her pads from S-mart last month – but those cases never hit the news as “scary big brother”.

    The identifiable data is useless except for specific, predetermined research purposes to cross-reference over databases. And automatic cross-referencing doesn’t work because with 500 comparisons, your wee mining operation will produce 25 false relationships at a reasonable level of error, and maybe three genuine unexpected results, so you can’t keep mining and go “what interesting things have turned up?”, let alone then target individuals based on that research.

  14. seeker 14

    This was the ‘advertising’ article on the wonders of social investment which appeared in the Herald in March last year. It chilled me to the bone:

    https://home.kpmg.com/nz/en/home/insights/2016/09/social-investment-set-to-save.html

    KPMG’s website has been up dated with pretty little plant picturēs signifying growth I presume and a few extra details about agencies who might help.
    However I can’t help feeling their underlying truth is that they have no interest in other human beings apart from the money angle and profitability. which after all is the real and original business of firms like KPMG .

    .

  15. nom 15

    This blog from Idiot/Savant over at No Right Turn looks to be very relevant: https://norightturn.blogspot.co.nz/2016/06/we-built-big-brother.html

    He talks about the Integrated Data Infrastructure created by Statistics NZ and it’s many implications.

    Also, I’m wondering if Peter Thiel (via Palantir) is involved in selling the idea of using Big Data for ‘Social Investment’ to the government. I’m sure he has a few software packages available, and he’d give us mates rates of course…

    • dukeofurl 15.1

      Well they way he walked away with the lions share of the venture Fund makes you wonder who got a ‘finders fee’ for pointing him the way to the pot of gold.
      Who in the highest levels of the Beehive would have to financial background and be canny enough to read the background material and immediately know how profit could be maximised. Who indeed ?

      • dukeofurl 15.1.1

        Statistics IDI ?

        “The IDI contains person-centred data from a range of government agencies, Statistics NZ surveys, and non-government organisations.
        The Statistics surveys included the 2013 Census

  16. AsleepWhileWalking 16

    Remember that story with the chess board, and the grain of rice doubling every square?

    In 2014 the amount of data on an individual in the USA was doubling every 8 months. This is partially due to the ability to extrapolate and make logical conclusions based on data they already have.

    USA now penalises medical establishments that refuse to share digital data with the central government and there is also a shocking questionaire that all doctors are meant to survey patients with. Many of the questions are not health related, for example the question, “do you own a firearm?”

    NZ won’t be that far behind.

  17. Once was Tim now no longer 17

    “Successful political parties are moving away from over-reliance on data to “having conversations.” Might be a good idea if MSD did the same.”

    PLEASE…. NO! @Mike. Let’s just talk to each other, otherwise we’ll all be “wrapping services around us” (going forward). AND there’ll be more ammunition for various once were acid trippers to give us their expert opinion on as ‘panelists’ on free-to-ear venues like ‘The Nation’. There’ll even be more re-inventors of history upon which they’ll justify various “policy settings” (as well as their own comfort)

  18. Fritti 18

    I believe this is the precursor to their next ‘good idea’ – predictive modelling.
    They definitely have plans to bring this in. Looking at all the factors available, they hope to predict what children will be vulnerable and do something about it before it happens. Of course J Key and P Bennett could have fitted into this scenario from their early home circumstances.
    This is social engineering by a nanny state with no ethics.
    Also isn’t information or no funding – coercive? Finally without a doubt this private information will be shared over all government departments. Your life will be an open book. (Unless you are rich and can afford private help for your drug addicted children. You won’t then come into this scheme.)

  19. The government has clearly been looking for excuses to go big-data on us, for sure.

    It’s sad, too, as I followed their data futures project and even gave them some detailed advice about how to proceed- my first and most important two suggestions being make all data collection optional wherever possible and tell people what their data will be used for, clearly thoroughly and concisely, when it’s being collected.

    Clearly both those pieces of advice are long out the window despite them having apparently had “similar starting principles.”

    Go figure.

  20. saveNZ 21

    Shocking. Who trusts the government anymore? Who trusts the data enterer’s ability to get it right? Who trusts the government not to get hacked and lose the data?

    And most important – it is not morally right to invade someones privacy, let alone trust government agencies to do it, who seem to have their own agenda!

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