LDV Campaign: stop the big, mad database

You may have seen the news that the Home Office is thinking of putting together a database of every phone call and email in the UK.

Well, don’t get angry – get campaigning! We’ve decided this is a good topic for The Voice’s first campaign, but a campaign is only as good as its participants, which is where you come in…

But first – why do we think it’s a barmy idea?

Here are our top four reasons:

1. It would be a huge intrusion on our privacy and civil liberty.

2. It would present a massive risk of misuse – either hacking from the outside or abuse from staff on the inside.

3. It would involve spending millions on a big government IT project: now, what’s the chance that turns out to be a really really inefficient way of spending money?

4. If you’ve got that amount of money and IT expertise to deploy, is this really what you’d put top of your priorities for improving the country? Improving the NHS’s IT records would bring far more benefits (and save far more lives) for example.

So what can you do about it?

a. Help refine the campaign’s message: have you got a better reason? can you word one of these more effectively? have you got some good evidence to illustrate any of these points? Just a post a comment and help improve the message. Oh, and how about giving us a good slogan too?

b. Contact your MP: just visit www.writetothem.com and ask your MP to raise this issue with the Home Secretary. You can use the four points above as the basis of your email, but remember the more individual the message the better its impact.

c. Blog about this campaign on your site and link through to https://www.libdemvoice.org/category/database and help spread the word.

Got any other ideas for spreading this campaign? Just pop a comment below and let us know.

To the barricades! (Or at least – to the keyboards!)

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23 Comments

  • Your four points could be copied and pasted without any alteration whatsoever into the thread on road pricing!

  • If they need to, they can already (difficult to get permissions needed) so why waste money?

  • Norman Scott 4th Jun '08 - 11:50am

    Slogan “Who’s reading your e-mail?”. Visuals… mock up of inside of GCHQ or an individual dubious-looking civil servant etc. The e-mail viral campaign could contain particularly hard hitting images, or a varient “Who’s reading your children’s e-mail?”.

    For back-up find some statistics or case studies on the number of employees of large database houses arrested for selling sensitive data.

    My motivation for this campaign though is somewhat confused by the party’s support for the big, mad, database that would be required to support road pricing announced yesterday. No2ID means No2ID in my book, not except for when you drive.

  • Hywel Morgan 4th Jun '08 - 12:24pm

    “ID Database that store names, addresses and finger prints: Against”

    Not entirely true. We backed the creation of a national database of names and addresses that it was compulsory to register for when we supported provisions for a national electoral register (AKA CORE). From what I read at the time it seemed to go through Parliament virtually without debate – at the time we were opposing ID cards for (among other things) creating a national database.

    The way the legislation is written additional functions can be added to core by the Secretary of State in a pretty wide way – “which he thinks is necessary or expedient to facilitate the effective operation of the scheme.”

  • Hywel Morgan 4th Jun '08 - 5:20pm

    How about a fake Data Protection disclosure form with a variety of tick boxes.

    I give permission for this information to be used for [benig purpose – ie standard text]

    I also give permission for this data to be shared with any organisation the government things is necessary whenever they want.

    Please ensure that my information is put on an unencrypted CD and lost in transit to another governemnt department (HMRC)

    Please send my information in an unencrypted format to the USA (DVLA)

    After use please ensure this information is disposed of by leaving on a roundabout near Exeter (DSS(?))

    Etc

    Finally ending with – The best way of keeping your privacy is not allow the Government to collect whatever information it wants, when it wants.

  • David Heigham 4th Jun '08 - 6:46pm

    A Road Pricing system does NOT need to set up any sort of data base of where people have driven to. See Iain Coleman’s comments on that thread.

    As for the “mega data-base”, if the Government is proposing to set it up themselves, our campaign is simply against wasting large amounts of money: the odds for a Government IT scheme of this size working must be around 100 to 1 against.

    However, the data are now in the hands of telecoms and internet suppliers, and they are often pretty competent. If the Government merely proposes to rely on them, the scheme might come to something. So we need to oppose it on its demerits.

    If any such project is announced, I suggest a series of oral PQs. These might include, for starters:

    “Will any messages or conversations on this data base relating to the funding of political parties receiving public funds be made available to the media and the public? and if not, why not?”

    “Will all messages and conversations by Ministers of the Crown not relating to officially classified matters be made available to the courts as evidence? and if not, why not?”

    “Will all written and other communications sent through the Royal Mail and other licensced carriers be automatically opened, copied and resealed? and if not, why are these communcations treated differently from electronic communication?”

  • Jennie, being against the collection of data and being against a central database of collected data are two different things – our policies is perfectly consistent once we start remembering to separate the two.

    If we get confused over vital distinctions such as this it is no wonder that our policies come across as confused.

  • David Heigham

    (1) Perhaps a road pricing scheme doesn’t _need_ to record details of individual journeys, but the one proposed in this policy document clearly does, because it talks about a mechanism for separating “personal details” and “journey details” in the database.

    That kind of separation sounds wildly implausible to me, but in any case the document is clearly proposing explicitly that “journey details” should be recorded. That shouldn’t be acceptable to this party.

    (2) On this other database, why do we need to oppose it on expenditure/efficiency grounds? Do you not think people object to their private communications being intercepted and stored by the government as a matter of course? The only reason I can think of why there hasn’t been an uproar about this is because people are so cynical and distrustful about the activities of politicians anyway.

  • Oranjepan

    You reckon it’s fine for someone in GCHQ to read all my private emails, so long as the data aren’t entered in a central database? Bizarre!

  • Anonymous, your example is at odds with your conclusion, so, no, it’s not a bizarre position to take.

    GCHQ is the principle product of various centralised databases and is the weakest link in the ‘intelligence’ chain primarily because of its centralised position in our national ‘intelligence’ network.

    I think the ‘separation of powers’ argument is the best and only grounds for believing in the security of any system and therefore also the only way in which I would find it acceptable to support proposals of such great significance as this.

    I’d also add that by sticking to this position we aid our case as being more balanced, more trustworthy and less open to influence by different pressure groups.

  • MartinSGill 5th Jun '08 - 1:59pm

    Germany has already introduced such a scheme where they retain simply the fact that a conversation took place, not the content, for 6 months.

    It’s changing the way people behave.

    I seems a recent survey suggested that people are less likely to use phone or email for sensitive issues.

    If your phone calls are monitored would you anonymously call crime-stoppers? Would you try to arrange drug counselling?

    The police could easily trace that back to you… so anonymity goes out the window and that would greatly discourage certain actions we already take for granted.

    It’s even more in danger if people, based on previous government IT incompetence, don’t think that the database is secure and that possibly organised crime has access to it, even if just through a corrupt database admin or cop.

    Say good-bye to whistle blowers… the risk becomes too great.

    Source:

    http://www.kreativrauschen.com/blog/2008/06/04/data-retention-effectively-changes-the-behavior-of-citizens-in-germany/

  • David Heigham 5th Jun '08 - 3:08pm

    Anonymous

    With road pricing, journey and personal details need to be separated. Iain Coleman and I were pointing out on the other thread that the best and most practical point to separate them is before they get into a national data base. In some conceptual sense they would both be part of the design data base for the system, but the only point at which they could be related to one another is in the case of an appeal against a bill.

    The chance of a government run data base of the complexity of the “mega data base” actually working seemed and seems to me so low that opposing it on the grounds that it would make a practical difference to our privacy is a bit ridiculous. Nevertheless we should oppose it because they might contract it out to someone competent for the job. Sorry I did not make that clear.

  • David Heigham

    It seems we agree that we don’t want journey details put into a database.

    But the point of view of the policy document is different. It is suggesting instead that the journey details merely be separated from personal details, and there is some arm-waving in a footnote that suggests this could be done by means of “cryptographic signatures and a range of other security measures”. So clearly they are not thinking that the journey details will be stored only in the hardware in the car under the motorist’s control.

    I would suggest that the party should not be proposing this unless it is already safisfied that it can be done without journey details being stored in a database accessible to the government. And if that is the case it should be saying very clearly “no details of your journey, other than the cost of it, will be transmitted to the authorities”.

  • John Abrams 14th Jul '08 - 9:23am

    Just put this as a thread on OUTeverywhere – one guy thinks that all these calls and emails are recorded anyway! Perhaps we need to find out that they are NOT ie by the state (not by ISPs) otherwise some people will think it’s a redundant campaign and we should be stopping the supposed recording going on at the moment!

  • henley constituent 14th Jul '08 - 9:58am

    The argument about all the oppressive measures already introduced and in plan by this government ought to be: What use do you imagine would be made of this by the worst government which might be elected? The BNP, the Fascist League, whoever your particular bogeyman is. Once the database is built anybody you don’t like could get hold of it. The same goes for all the little salami slices from our liberty, imprisonment without charge, chips in bins, whatever. New Labour seem to think that they, honest honourable well-meaning they, will only use these things for the public good. Can they not imagine some future tory leader selling the data to the US? Or locking up an inconvenient journalist for 42 days?. And car journey data (as well as the iniquitous idea of road pricing) are equally as private as the email and phone records. Make them justify it every time they ask, with a court order, and publish the list of court orders after a reasonable time, too.

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