Who do you trust to rebuild confidence in the on-line world?

The Data Sharing Review from Richard Thomas and Mark Walport brings a breath of fresh air to a feotid debate. Now comes the campaign to prevent the recommendations from being obfuscated and watered down by those who do well out of the current confusion as well as those making serious money from the acquisition, aggregation and resale of personal data without informed consent, let alone choice, on the part of the subject. . 

The effective implementation of the recommendations threatens multi-million (perhaps even multi-billion) pound businesses, legal as well as illegal. One one side are those trading one-off material on the rich and famous (or anyone else whose personal problems will help sell newspapers) or whole databases to aid impersonation and fraud. One the other are those who want access to “aid” law enforcement, consumer protection or medical research. Then there are all those  who make a living out of the lack of clear guidance as to what is good practice.
Recommendations 18 (for an enquiry into online services that aggregate personal information) is particularly interesting, given the business models of the on-line advertisers let alone the aspirations of law enforcement (forthcoming legislation) and legitimate business to catch up with the techniques used already by global malware supply, with a similar lack of choice or informed consent.
Recommendation 19 (ending the sale of the edited electoral register) is similarly interesting, given the need for the validation and maintenance of the register to be reformed in the face of systemic abuse that calls in question the democratic process in some parts of the UK. Perhaps the main reason that local government has welcomed the change is that legitimate sales of the edited register have been a major disappointment – because it is of so little value for marketing purposes compared to other, less inaccurate, sources.
As well as reading the report and recommendations I suggest you also dip into the Annexes, especially Ian Gambles’ summaries of the points made is the workshops and submissions.
I particularly liked the caution of his response to calls from groups like the normally fairly sensible Open Rights Group, for the powers akin to those of the Health and Safety Executive. One can imagine the consequences – given how the billion pound HSE steamroller destroyed whole tiers of local enterprise (voluntary as well as commercial), with a myriad of expensive but meaningless ritual and demands to use new and occasionally lethal technology, (e.g. slippery modern plastic in place of traditional wooden chopping boards .      
But the report be read alongside the crop of reports into recent data leakages on which I blogged last week, the less publicised  “Understanding the Public Services Industry“, the report of the review led by Dr DeAnne Julius and the  Cabinet Office’s Strategy Unit paper “Excellence and Fairness: Achieving world class public services“. T hen take a look at the reports from the EURIM Transformation Dialogue sessions .
The final EURIM report is expected to be released this week and is expected to recommend a radical change of approach towards meeting the challenge of moving from rhetoric to action in achieving culture change,


But who can we trust to do this?


I recently blogged on the Economist fieldwork on civil liberties and have just re-read their  survey on “Anglo-Saxon Attitudes” : comparing the results from parallel exercises in UK and the US. Among the areas of similarity are that we both distrust local politicians (54% UK and 57% US) considerably LESS than we mistrust national politicians (72% UK and 76% US), or Journalists (76% and 62%). By contrast 2/3rds trust judges and 4/5 trust doctors. But nearly as many Britons mistrust public officials (54%) as mistrust those running large businesses (60%). The gap is consderably narrower than in the US (52% and 67%) but is a corrective to  those who believe we Briton trust our bureaucrats operate in our interest, not theirs. 


There are other interesting differences, including on religion and foreign policy, but one of  the most relevent is the high concern of Britons over Crime (49% place it amng their top three concerns, beaten only by immigration at 60%, compared to only 13% of Americans). Terrorism comes fifth, behind the Economy and Health Care.


Juxtaposing such data with the recent rash of reports on infotmation assurance and service delivery, my personal conclusion is that Governments will survive, but those in the private sector who wish to still be in business when the recession ends must be seen to be in the forefront of implementing the recommendations in the Data Sharing Review review. They must also do so in ways which make good, profitable, business sense..


Being seen to help lead the way into a world in which data is shared in accordance with the wishes of well-informed customers should be seen as a matter of competitive advantage, perhaps even of corporate survival, not one of “mere” corporate social responsibility, let alone a regulatory compliance overhead.


And if the customers do not care and put their msot personal infomratin on an insecure social network, that should be their choice – but it must be an informed choice and they should have the opportunity to change their  mind – even if it means losing “free” services and a complex data deletion exercise.  


And for those who say that you cannot change your mind once your data has escaped – I would point to the increasing use of name changes in order to “slough off” compromised identities and reputations – corporate as well as personal. And that raises the plight of that 20% of the UK population with criminal records that are trivial and time expired – unless they wish to run a play group or visit the United States.


The debates over identity management and privacy wil run and run, and at heart is the question of who we can trust to manage the issues politically – including regulatory structures and legal responsbilities and liabilities.


Those who stand in the way of speedy and effective implementation of the recommendations of the Data Sharing review on Data Aharing should be judged accordingly..