Data protection

Ho ho ho, yet another story of missing government packages. Aren’t we glad the government isn’t organising Christmas?

But does this really reflect badly on the people who work for government? I’m not sure it does, because it’s IT companies and couriers that have been losing the data, not government departments or people. In this latest story the problem is with Pearson, a global media company (Financial Times, Penguin etc.) who run the test centres. I noticed this a few months back, and thought it was odd that they have this contract / that it’s contracted out at all. However, the Thatcher/Blair consensus seems to be that the private sector does things more efficiently so that’s what happens (efficiency being achieved by??? cutting corners?).

This means that the management of government is now done with contracts not directives. In the old days the minister and civil servant said X, and this got transmitted down the heirarchy into actions. Yes, it was subverted and translated, but in the worst case scenario someone got sacked or resigned. In the new world of contracting, the policy (X) gets drawn up into a contract, which is then interpreted, subverted etc. Same issue, different lines of accountability. When it comes to data protection, do we really know what each party really means. If you tick a box to say you don’t want data to go to ‘another organisation’ does this include subcontractors? No: the data being with Pearson is taken as still being with the Driving Standards Agency. The DSA retain responsibility and, as far as I can tell in the guidance, don’t need to ask permission of the data subject (i.e. us) to transfer data to a private and/or overseas company (see this too).

So instead of focusing on the little mistakes, shouldn’t we really be asking why a hard drive with UK driver data on it can go missing in Iowa in the first place. We didn’t ask for our government to be outsourced, we didn’t ask for our data to be transferred into private hands, and we didn’t expect the database state to be run by multinational IT and media companies. Ironically, if I want to copy a picture from a Penguin book (perhaps the cover of 1984) to illustrate a lecture on government and data, I have to ask permission from them.

P.S. These issues aren’t that new.

P.P.S. Another issue for later. Pearson produce textbooks for schools, and own EdExcel that produce the examinations. Is that not a conflict of interest?

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