Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Community agencies should not be forced to spy for the government

Last week, we learned that the Ministry of Social Development was imposing new contracts on community agencies such as women's refuge, requiring them to hand over personal information on their clients including names, addresses and dates of birth and information about the service they receive. The purpose of this was for "social investment". Over on The Hand Mirror, LudditeJourno points out what that actually means:

If you doubt this, think about whether you'd be ok with the STI tests you're having being linked to your name in a government database. The same database which has your tax details, benefit details, student loan, car ownership history - hell, there's no limit to what the Integrated Data Infrastructure might grow to include. Let's be honest, there's been next to no public conversation about the developing surveillance system this government has created, and what's appropriate to link and why.

But think again, about accessing services. Let's say you've got a gambling problem, and your relationship and home are both at risk if you can't change. But if you go ask for help, that will be linked to all your other personal information. Are you ready for that, or should you wait a little longer?

Or you've got an eating disorder and it's quietly killing you, but if you ask for help and it's loaded onto your system, will it mean you can't apply for that job you want in government?

And that's without getting into the horrors of the police potentially being able to access it (because police officers are abusers too).

What "social investment" means is mass data surveillance. And what it means in this particular case is that vulnerable people can no longer trust these services. Which directly undermines their ability to do the job they're contracted to do and help those in need. And where the services involved are rape crisis centres, women's refuges, and suicide prevention helplines, that will literally cost lives.

But MSD probably sees that as a feature, not a bug. After all, if people are deterred from using social services by the prospect of future data-matching, it costs less money. And that apparently is all MSD cares about now.

This is an appalling decision from MSD and it needs to be reversed - before anyone dies as a result.