[Dave Birch] When I first heard about the government’s “Children’s Index” project, I was quite scathing about it (perhaps a little over the top in one or two places) because I felt that the basic concept was so transparently flawed that the management consultants should have been sent away with a flea in their before it ever got near a gateway review. It looks as if it’s turn out to be an even bigger waste of a quarter of a billion pounds than even I had suspected. It’s been delayed yet again and who knows when, and it what cut-down form, it will ever be used. If it isn’t delayed indefinitely until it is quietly scrapped.

A fundamental flaw with the scheme (now known as ContactPoint) is the idea that you can give upwards of a third of a million people access to a system and expect its contents to remain secret in any kind of cost-effective way. And, of course, any sensible person would reason similarly:

If you allow large numbers of people access to sensitive data it’s never going to be secure. You can’t protect it. ContactPoint should simply never have been built.”

[From Database delayed: Critics fear children may be in danger | Education | The Guardian]

The dangers inherent in this kind of system, that collects sensitive data and then opens it up, do not need to be repeated. Nor are the restricted to the public sector. In today’s Korea Times I read that:

Two CDs, containing the private information of more than 11 million people (including politicians and government ministers) were found in pile of rubbish in Seoul. GS Caltex, the oil company from where the data had leaked, said that they took private information very seriously and only 12 employees were authorised to access the database.

They can’t keep the stuff safe with only 12 authorised users, so goodness knows how ContactPoint is going to keep it safe with 300,000 of them. It would only be a matter of time before some minor functionary in local government left a laptop on a train, or a management consultant analysing the data lost a USB key, or whatever, and the whole database would be exposed.

There was one nice aspect of the Children’s Index that I would want to lose, however. It required the first ever open official government definition of who is a celebrity and who isn’t. This is because

The database won’t give you the address and phone number of every child: the government has said that people who are rich and/or famous will not have their children’s addresses and phone numbers stored in the index

[From Digital Identity Forum: Failsafe]

Now politicians and senior civil servants would have their “celebrity status” built into the system, but the rest of us would presumably have to apply to obtain it. Therefore, I deduce, part of the ContactPoint project must have been the application, management and appeals procedures around celebrity. It seems a shame to waste them, so why can’t we add that bit to the national identity scheme?

We could add a simple “celebrity” flag to the National Identity Register so that if anyone was unsure as to whether, let’s say, Amy Winehouse is actually a celebrity or merely transient notorious, they could do a quick and inexpensive lookup on the Register. But it could also add to the gaiety of nationif people with celebrity status were issued with Gold national ID cards so that they could show off at clubs, airports and job interviews. Who among us hasn’t craved a Gold British Airways card or a Gold credit card? Who wouldn’t want a Gold ID card instead of the plain one foisted on the peasantry? It would help make the scheme more fun, and that would go a long way toward making it more popular with the public.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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