Big Brother's database

The Dutch government plans to create a database that will track its citizens from cradle to grave. That sort of thing makes me nervous.

The Dutch are building a central repository for information that will track every citizen from cradle to grave. The database will include health, family data, school and police records. Supposedly, privacy will be maintained by ensuring that each agency maintains its own records without access to information put in by any other agency. In other words, the claim is that no one person will be able to access anyone's entire file.

I'm sceptical. I've worked in datacenters, and I know there will likely be someone who has access to everything, or at least a way to access everything. Likewise, the tempation to access all records is going to be strong, and I wonder how government will manage to resist it. Last, what's the point of having all the information in one place if no one can access all of it?

Furthermore, it's possible to raise "warning flags" that will help social workers to deal with problem individuals, but could also serve as a Hawthornesque scarlet letter on the foreheads of individuals who haven't followed the straight and narrow. From the article at MSNBC:

...organizations can raise "red flags" in the dossier to caution other agencies of potential problems with children, said ministry spokesman Jan Brouwer. Until now, schools and police have been unable to communicate with each other about truancy records and criminality, which are often linked.

"Child protection services will say: `Hey, there's a warning flag from the police. There's another one from school. There's another one from the doctor. Something must be going on and it's time to call the parents in for a meeting,'" Brouwer said.

No need to discuss the security ramifications of such a repository in this forum, except to say that it serves as one heck of a lump of sugar that will attract all sorts of attention from the same insects that create spyware and viruses.

If I were Dutch, I'd be very concerned, but then again, I'm a crazy American with a suspicion of government, ironic as that may be given that the size of my government has grown dramatically under a Republican president. Still, there are benefits to be derived from such a system. Centralization can streamline many things. The US military has spent years trying to rationalize across its four branches IT systems that interacted about as well as a roomfull of Bloods and Crips.

It occurs to me, however, that such a centralized system requires extreme trust by citizens in their government.

Honestly, I find it easier to trust the Dutch government with this sort of information than the US government, simply because the Dutch don't seem to be striving for new and innovative ways to put its citizens in jail. The Dutch are pragmatic from a social policy standpoint, while the US government is, at least currently, highly ideological. If I'm going to entrust reams of personal information to my government, I'd prefer if they weren't using the criminal system to enforce a vision of morality upon its citizens.

I'd also prefer if American culture wasn't one of strict adherence to rules.  That's a strange thing to say, but my experience after four and a half years in Europe was that rules, for the most part, are flexible.  Granted, the flexibility varies considerably from country to country (reaching its apogee in devil-may-care Ireland), but my sense was that governments felt that their responsibility was the welfare of its citizens first, and adherence to the letter of the law second.  Compared that to a country with stories of citizens falling into the IRS grinding wheels.  We are a "rules are rules, damn the consequences" country, and I'm not sure if that's the kind of place which should be entrusted with my personal information.

But hey, that might just be me.