Think Tank Thinking Needs a Few More Ideas

After nine months of research, Demos, an influential “think tank” originally founded my journalists from Marxist Today, has delivered a report on the societal issues associated with personal identity information, called “FYI: The New Politics of Personal Information”. It’s a useful read as it comes from a research group with a track record of influencing public policy. It’s also a good, simple primer on the subject, perhaps useful as a “Janet and John” introduction to the subject for your senior management.

But don’t hold your breath in anticipation of groundbreaking, imaginative recommendations. That’s something that think tanks (an archaic concept from the 50s) rarely deliver. In fact there’s nothing new here. The report vaguely recommends (a month too late for potential victims of the HMRC data breach) that people should take measures to look after their personal data, that Government should develop a more coherent strategy, and that the rights of individuals should be strengthened. And of course that they should sponsor a lot more research by think tanks into the subject. All fairly obvious and safe conclusions. There is one interesting idea about banks offering some form of no claims insurance for customers who successfully protect their personal information, but this sounds like something that would be better left to the banks to decide.

Yet there is so much that can be done now, starting with, for example, mandatory encryption of personal information and ISO accredited security certification for any organisation that deals with large-scale personal identity information. And stiff penalties for any organisation that fails to achieve this. But perhaps that’s all a bit too straightforward for a public policy think tank.