New CPS paper lays out possible Conservative ID policy

Centre-right think tank the Centre for Policy Studies has published a new paper that sets out a vision for IT policy under a Conservative government. Written by technologist and Conservative counsellor Liam Maxwell, the central theme of “It’s Ours – Why we, not the government, must own our data” is a transition away from current policy of large, centralised databases towards more empowered individuals who retain control of information in smaller, user-centric applications.

The paper isn’t just about ID cards or data ownership, but explores issues of procurement with an argument for greater use of open source software and better opportunities for SMEs to contribute to government IT. Arguing that the continued reliance on a small number of major suppliers fails to create a constructive competitive tension, the report calls for major projects to be broken down into chunks no bigger than £100m in a single procurement.

In an interview with Government Computing, Maxwell also reflects on the central theme of data ownership. “It’s my choice, it’s my data. The government thinks it owns the data. It’s like Amazon coming to me and saying ‘I own your data’, but they don’t, I allow them to access my data to send me the stuff when I buy it. That ownership of data will be the key change in the structure of public services in the future, we hope.’

Conservative thinking on IT doesn’t appear to be fully joined-up yet; for example, there’s still confusion about what our ICAO commitments on passports really are, and no coherent policy on ID beyond ‘no ID cards’ – but this is a valuable step towards a formal IT strategy for the Tories.

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Hmmm. Mr Maxwell's thoughts about Amazon are sweet, but probably not that accurate. Sure, he has disclosed his address to Amazon 'in order for them to send him stuff', but does he really exercise meaningful control over anything else they might decide to do with it? (Not that I'm suggesting that Amazon would do anything underhand with Mr Maxwell's address). And what about the other data he has 'disclosed' just by virtue of visiting their site? Which sections/pages he visited, how long he spent on each, which products he looked at but didn't buy, which products he ended up choosing, and so on. Of course, the beneficent side of this is that he's probably been pleasantly surprised, on occasion, by the accuracy and timeliness of their recommendations. But useful though the Amazon example is, it doesn't really flush out the key consent and control issues to do with public sector ownership and sharing of citizen data. After all, you don't have to buy books at all; if you do buy them, you don't have to buy them online; and if you buy them online, you have a choice of retailers. If you're a consumer of government services, you may well have no choice but to interact, and to do so with a single service provider who is your only means of accomplishing the transaction. That said, I entirely agree with Mr Maxwell that current delivery of public services is still far too heavily based on the idea that the data is the service provider's, to do with as they see fit, rather than the citizen's. Also on the plus side - the CPS' Privacy Policy statement is a model of brevity and clarity. Hats off to them for that.