Aaronovitch David Aaronovitch has a pretty typical column in today's Times, where he claims that, Believe it or not, Big Brother is your friend.

I have had this argument before with David.  Whilst quite the wit and personally charming, he is a slippery fish to debate against, principally because he ignores his opponent's arguments when they don't suit his own.

So, as he sets about berating "libertarian thunderers," he weirdly focuses only on the year-old Rowntree report into our Database State.  So he ignores the new NICE homes health and safety database, the EHRC's sexual equality database, and the Intercept Modernisation Programme, under which details of all e-mails and phone calls are to be recorded.  He ignores the ongoing ID cards scheme, rolling out "voluntarily" for workers in some sectors and now obligatory for foreign nationals, under which all uses of the card (and details of those using it) are recorded on a database too.

All of these schemes are openly planned, and none of them are addressed by Aaronovitch, whilst he labels those concerned about such things as "hysterical".  Well, if one pretends that such things don't exist, or don't appreciate that they do, then such concern might indeed seem over the top…

By Alex Deane

*UPDATE* Aaronovitch gets the fisking this rather lazy column deserves in a very good piece by William Heath

Posted by on Dec 8, 2009 in Databases | 2 Comments


  1. alastair
    8th December 2009

    To be fair, there *is* quite a bit of hysteria and exaggeration in this area, mostly derived from ignorance.
    At least half of the problem people have with databases is the notion that all and sundry will have access to all the records held on file, or that government will put them on a CD or DVD and then lose it. Neither of those things should ever happen, nor could it if the people in charge of implementing the database were in any way competent.
    Nor is the notion of an identity card necessarily inherently wrong in and of itself. It would be nice to do away with the profusion of separate identity cards that we already carry (bank cards, credit cards, passports, driving licenses and so on), *and* to have a means of verifying someone’s identity that didn’t just rely on keeping certain “personal details” (which are usually already public information, and thereby easily obtained) from getting into the wrong hands.
    It isn’t even necessarily wrong to log uses of your identity card, though if such logging was centralised then clear access controls should be in place to prevent officials from snooping without a court order from a judge. For instance, access to the data could require two separate keys, one held by the Lord Chief Justice and another held by an elected politician. Neither could access the records on their own, and it would require both of them to agree to grant access for e.g. prevention of crime.
    The point, I suppose, is that while some of the schemes are certainly intrusive and unnecessary (EHRC’s in particular), it *is* possible to address many of the concerns with some of the other ones (identity cards being a very good example, and medical records being another) if sufficient thought is given to the problem.

  2. anonymous
    8th December 2009

    Alistair – I disagree about the “hysteria” and exaggeration. I have experienced a ton of stuff in my life, and people and expoerts are on the contrary, often naive of the coming chaos and badd efects on indiviuals and society. I hope you never experience the downside of databases and loss of privacy. They can happen to the innocent. Nothing to fear because you have nothing to hide is a lot of rubbish.
    I am also sure that Britain’s competitors and enemies are waiting to see what happens. Holding so much info about British residents including businesses (indirectly) and knowldege will lead to a vulnerability which will harm the economy, as well as society. I bet Britain”s enemies are quietly happy.
    Those who advocate loss of privacy and holding too much data should quit having their heads in the sands, and thoe of them who are profiting from it should be ashamed. They should find out how it will harm people, societa, business and country. I suggest they find people who aren’t scared to lose money, career, etc if they tell the truth – people who truly care about people and their country.
    Surely thre are ways to increase security without harming people and stifling life and business, and opening up vulnerabilities to competitors and enemies. Perha some people could spend Christmas thinking rather than electioneering.