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Archive for November, 2007

Apropos the ContractPoint database, (the database of every child in the UK), and the proposed ID card scheme: 

“If you are looking for a needle in a haystack, I am not sure it is wise to make the haystack even bigger” Richard Thomas, Information Commissioner 

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Further to the previous posting about the process of obtaining an Indian Visa, (Life’s Irritations…. passim), and the consequent identity fraud risk, I’ve now had a response from my Member of Parliament. I had asked my MP to take the matter up with the appropriate minister, and I was surprised therefore to receive a response, not via the Home Office and Jacqui Smith the Home Secretary, who is responsible for security matters, but from Lord Malloch-Brown who is apparently the Minister for Asia. (I’m not quite sure why we have a minister for Asia, when as far as I’m aware we don’t have a minister for each of the other 6 continents, but that’s by the by). 

Lord Malloch-Brown has written and said that “Officials have however contacted the visa section of the High Commission about this issue. The Indian High Commission suggested that nnnnnn contact Mr Arun Choudhary the First Secretary (Visas).” 

So there we have it so far. In translation the response from government is essentially they don’t think this is anything to do with them, and certainly not the Home Office. And if I think there is a problem don’t bother us, speak to the Indian High Commission. Perhaps I should not be surprised in this week, when we’ve had the debacle of the 25 million personal records of child benefit claimants, their children’s names and addresses and bank account details lost in the post, that the government continues to be so blase about identity fraud risk. I will of course be taking this further and will keep the blog updated.

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All over the UK millions are in the process of changing their pins & passwords. Now, every time they go to the ATM and struggle to remember their new number they’ll be reminded of the reason they had to change it.  Advertisers spend millions to achieve product identification like that. 

The Great Data Disaster, the gift that just goes on and on giving. 

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Latest update 16:00 GMT Tuesday 20 November.  Now we learn following a Commons statement from the Chancellor Alastair Darling, that it’s actually 25 million records, but more importantly, and in addition, 7 million individual bank account and building society records. This is surely about as bad as it could get for Alastair Darling, following his less than stellar performance in recent weeks over the case of Northern Rock. (passim). 

The question has to be asked why was it necessary to physically transfer these records from HM Revenue and Customs to the National Audit Office (NAO)? Can’t the NAO access these records over a secure government network? 

Is Darling’s resignation long off? 

Watch this space. 

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So only today do we learn, nine or ten days later than ministers were told, that HM Revenue and Customs have lost 15 million confidential child benefit records. See BBC web site.

No doubt more of this latest debacle will emerge in the coming days. Let us hope that this latest episode will help to persuade the government to ditch the proposed national identity card and its database. 

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I recently had need to apply for a visa to to visit India and was suprised to find that the Indian High Commission in London have dispensed with their postal application system, and require applicants to contact their appointed agents around the UK. These agents seem to be mainly travel agents, mostly Indian it appears, and other Indian community groups.

To obtain a visa it is therefore necessary to post your passport to these agencies, who then act as couriers, taking them to Indian High Commission offices in either London, Birmingham or Edinburgh, and returning with them two or three weeks later when they have been processed.

Passports are extremely valuable documents, and I am extremely concerned that organisations and people, over which the UK has no control or systematic knowledge, are handling UK passports. I believe there are significant attendant security risks. I’m sure that many of the agencies are no doubt perfectly genuine and risk-free, however there could be others who aren’t, and the bottom line is that UK passports should not be handled and treated in this rather lax way. It is not inconceivable that passports could be copied, or data lifted from them.

I therefore wrote to my MP expressing my concern, and asked her to take the matter up with the minister concerned. I was surprised therefore to receive a response from Lord Malloch-Brown, the minister for Asia suggesting that if I was concerned I should take the matter up with the Indian High Commission, and he indicated that officials would contact the Indian High Commission about this matter.

I was also surprised that my MP felt that the minister for Asia was the appropriate minister. It seems to me that since this matter is primarily concerned with potential identity fraud and hence security matters it should have been taken up with Jacqui Smith’s Home Office department. I have written to my MP again asking her to put this matter to the Home Office.

The Labour government talks tough on national security and the need to defeat terrorism, and is even and disgracefully wanting to double detention without trial for these matters from the current 28 days, but in this particular aspect seems remarkably laissez faire.

I’ll keep the blog updated with future responses.

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I’ve just watched a programme on BBC television, which neatly points out all that is wrong with the surveillance society, and the reliance placed on technology by the authorities, to the detriment of the innocent citizen.

The Liverpool police were having a crack down on uninsured cars one day, and deployed 40 + police vehicles with number plate recognition systems. One car was stopped because the police national computer indicated that it was uninsured. The lady driving it was accompanied by her children, and vociferously maintained that it was insured, yet the police showed that the system indicated otherwise, and seized her car. She was left to complete her journey, (accompanied by her children and a birthday cake and gifts for her mother’s 50th birthday party) without her car.

It turned out that the car was insured and that the central police national computer had not been updated with the relevant information from the insurance database.

We used to have a society where one was innocent until shown otherwise. In so many walks of life these days, this basic premise has been turned on its head. It seems to me that this has crept up on us and these powers have been seized by the authorities without any meaningful mandate from the public.

Is it any wonder that many of us are concerned about the government’s rush towards an identity card system. In so many areas we see a breakdown in technology and systemic failures of administration, sometimes tragically so in the case of Jean-Paul de Menezes.

It’s about time this government backed off and actually started to deal with the real problems in society.

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