Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Bill English wants to end your privacy

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.