So, the Home Office has announced plans to create a new government database storing details of every text, email, and phone call for at least a year.
While I object to the invasion of privacy and yet another infringement of civil liberties, my main concern is that once again our government is taking on an IT project that it is not prepared to cope with.
Since Labour came to power in 1997, we have seen repeated attempts to implement ambitious IT projects, many of which have failed spectacularly costing the taxpayer billions of pounds.
In 1998, problems with the Passport Agencies new computer system were estimated to have cost over £12m as well as causing misery to people whose travel plans were ruined. A more recent example involved the Child Support Agencies new IT system overpaying 1.9 million people and underpaying 700,000. This ongoing situation has cost the taxpayer over a billion pounds. And of course, after these disasters, we’ve got biometric ID cards and the proposed communications database to look forward to...
Why the Government seems to have such a voyeuristic obsession with our private lives is beyond me. It claims these projects will be essential in combating terrorism, but it is hard to see how measures like these will have any real effect. Email accounts and mobile phones can be used without proper authentication of identity and the 7/7 bombers were all living in the UK and would have had ID cards under the proposed system.
Many people argue that, rather than protect the public, these proposals will actually make us more prone to incidents of data loss and ID theft.
Recent reports state that the biometric ID card scheme will be particularly vulnerable to fraud committed by the contractors chosen to operate it. The new text/email/phone call database will also cause problems due to the sheer scale of the proposal that is being undertaken. With three billion emails sent every day and approximately 57 billion text messages sent every year, this project is a challenge of massive proportions.
The question is, will they really be able to cope with this volume of sensitive information? Critics argue that storing this much data in a centralised system is just increasing the risk of attack. The recent HMRC lost disks incident is evidence of what can go wrong when large volumes of personal information are stored in one place.
IT done right can be a truly valuable asset – but when it goes wrong, it can often end in a complete, and very expensive, disaster. You’ll forgive my pessimism when I say that this government’s track record speaks for itself...