Privacy 101: Introducing the Laws of the Bleedin' Obvious

The Register is reporting that a number of prominent Scots – including Gordon Brown – had their medical records accessed by a doctor without authorisation:

The files were part of the Emergency Care Summary system database, which was established three years ago amid guarantees by the NHS that it was protected using the “highest standards of security.”

The Register, 2nd March 2009

Whilst completely unsurprising that such a breach could happen, it seems a shame that it’s happened in Scotland, where the Scottish Government appears to be clued in to the implications of gathering databases full of personal information. It’s patently simple to understand that where a big database exists, it doesn’t matter how many security controls it has, or how carefully vetted the users are, sooner or later it’s going to become porous. I therefore wish to propose a new First Law of the Bleedin’ Obvious which states:

“The risk of the loss or misuse of personal information is directly proportional to the product of the number of records in that database and the number of authorised users of that database.”

I think that might be a bit complicated for some of the policymakers who have been engaged in designing public authority databases, so the Simplified First Law goes as follows:

“There is a direct link between HAVING a massive database of personal information with thousands of authorised users, and then LOSING that data, and NOT HAVING a massive database of personal information with thousands of authorised users, and NOT LOSING that data.”

Clearly some policymakers do understand this law – it’s why, for example, ContactPoint will have ‘shielding’ exemptions to prevent the details of their own children appearing in the database. This is a living example of my proposed Second Law of the Bleedin’ Obvious, hereafter referred to as the ContactPoint Paradox:

“The effectiveness of any database information security system is inversely proportional to the product of the number of records in that database and the number of authorised users of that database.”

Once again, this needs to be explained as a Simplified Second Law that policymakers can understand:

“Information security controls reduce the risk that data will be lost or misused. No database is completely secure, and anyone who claims otherwise is lying.”

We need to build up at least seven of these Laws of the Bleedin’ Obvious, which (possibly subject to a more complex and expensive name) could be used to inform policy development in this area. That’s laws number one and two proposed. I’d like to hear proposals for the other five please.

Join the conversation

3 comments

Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.

"Whilst completely unsurprising that such a breach could happen, it seems a shame that it's happened in Scotland, where the Scottish Government appears to be clued in to the implications of gathering databases full of personal information." And yet, this happened in Scotland to a Scottish database put in place by the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government is opposed to ID cards. That doesn't mean that it yet understands data protection or the dangers of the database state.
Cancel
Try: The more a database solution costs the more likely it is to cause future embarrassment. This may come from lost data (since cost implies size and complexity and hence vulnerability) or from the headlines about it being a waste of money.
Cancel
How about, "The desire to snoop is inversely proportional to the sensitivity of the information held." Or "The amount of times a government official states that everything will be fine is directly dispropotional to the safety of the system being developed."?
Cancel

-ADS BY GOOGLE

SearchCIO

SearchSecurity

SearchNetworking

SearchDataCenter

SearchDataManagement

Close