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Wednesday, September 02, 2020

A new digital threat to our privacy?

As if the government have not had enough problems with new technology, the Times reveals that Dominic Cummings' latest diabolical wheeze is to create online “ID cards” for British citizens. The paper reports that proposals announced yesterday will lead to each person being assigned a unique digital identity to help them with such tasks as registering with a new GP.

Just how much data would be attached to each 'digital identity' is unclear but there is a clue in the suggestion that legislation could be amended to remove the need for landlords to check tenants’ immigration documents. Witnesses would no longer have to attend signings on property deals in person, and bar owners would be able to digitally verify drinkers’ ages.

In other words this would not just be an identity number or bar code, but a digital gateway to every piece of information government holds on our lives, all gathered in one place.

From a government who could not make a test and trace app work, this seems very ambitious and I have very little confidence in their ability to make the technology work, to keep it within budget nor to properly secure the data they hold in the system. This is especially so as the work will inevitably go to the private sector (possibly to a friendly company, as has happened elsewhere) and that will create its own data hell.

As the Times points out the government has relied increasingly on the private sector to manage public data. Among the companies awarded contracts were Palantir, founded by the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, and Faculty, the artificial intelligence company that worked with Mr Cummings on the Vote Leave campaign. Ben Warner, the head of No 10’s data unit, has worked for Faculty and his brother, Marc Warner, is its chief executive.

And do we really want a government apparatchik to be able to access everything to do with our lives at a touch of a button? Totalitarian states have been built on less. This is a privacy nightmare that needs to be avoided at all costs.
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