Thursday, April 21, 2016

"No human rights issues"

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.