The revelation that thousands of innocent people were labelled as criminals by the Criminal Records Bureau may not do much to damage politicians’ already basement-level credibility.
But it may erode public confidence in the ability of the IT industry to provide solutions to pressing social problems without creating unacceptable distress elsewhere.
The days are long gone when IT was simply about invoicing and other routine business processes.
Now IT plays a fundamental role in identity management, a bland phrase behind which lie human dramas such as the right to remain in this country, keeping or losing a job or promotion, and loss of reputation, self-confidence and personal relationships.
Standards of accuracy and effectiveness which may have been acceptable in a different era are no longer enough. An extra nought on a bill may be a shock to the recipient, but it bears no comparison to the trauma of being labelled a criminal.
The Home Office claims that there were no mistakes in the CRB’s disclosures because the affected individuals’ details were “similar or even identical” to criminals’ data. It makes one wonder how rigorous the criteria for matches are.
The Home Office also points out that such mis-identities account for only 0.03% of the cases handled by the CRB’s systems. A fine statistic, but it fails to impress if you have been wrongly labelled a criminal.
With the planned introduction of ID cards, these issues of accurate data, efficient systems and rigorous identification criteria assume even greater importance.
These days the well-being of every individual depends on the humane and effective implementation of IT. It’s a new age, and we cannot afford to live by the standards of the past.