I wish there were an emoticon for <slaps forehead with one hand whilst lightbulb goes on over head>. I was pondering Coroners & Justice on the flight home last night, when I realised what the Bill is really all about (although I’m sure I’m not the first). Click through for the answer…
Coroners & Justice isn’t about public service efficiency, enhanced medical research or protecting the public good (although these would all be great things). If that’s what we wanted to do then we’d simply put in place the necessary legal gateways for sharing. No, I reckon that someone in the government believes that Coroners & Justice is part of a strategy to get us out of the recession.
HM Government is the largest data processor in the UK (and with the number of cameras and databases, probably one of the largest in the world). Every aspect of our lives from cradle to grave is recorded in a government database somewhere. The thing that protects our privacy is the fact that these data silos aren’t joined up – partly because of the technical complexity of doing so, and partly because of the legal gateways that would prevent them from doing so. What’s more, the government has legal powers to gather data that would be unthinkable for private organisations – tax, health, education, criminal records.
So imagine how much that data might be worth to private organisations? The likes of Experian and Acxiom already have multi-billion pound business models for aggregating and selling personal information, but they have to restrict their information to that which they can legally process with valid consent and in compliance with a host of regulations. The richness of HM Government’s data resources would be incredible, and despite the credit crunch, there would be deals to be cut with private companies that would want that data. After all, DVLA already sells driver data to clamping companies, so the business model has been proven. Once the Information Sharing Order is signed, health data can be sold to drug companies, criminal records data to security firms and vetting agencies, and the richest possible profile of our lives can be aggregated by the private sector.
The biggest clue is in Part 50A, Power to enable information sharing, which defines an “appropriate Minister” as:
(a) the Secretary of State,
(b) the Treasury, or
(c) any other Minister in charge of a government department.
Why is the Treasury singled out from all other government departments? What makes Treasury special, other than its responsibility for raising revenues? This seems to support the idea that Coroners & Justice is all about gathering money.
The potential profits to be made would be huge. The legal justification is in the Bill – after all, making revenue money would be both a policy objective and in the public interest. And once passed, everything could be set in motion by the signing of a single Information Sharing Order.
Is that what Coroners & Justice is all about? I hope not, but I’m probably in a somewhat jaded mood and the cynic in me can’t dismiss this idea. Am I being too cynical? I hope so.