The Security of the State

Can the Government really be planning to link up all its databases while removing ever more public oversight? Yes, prime minister
Written by Leader , Contributor

Scene: The prime minister's office. The PM is frowning at his computer, while Sir Humphrey is discreetly checking his BlackBerry

PM: "Humphrey, what's this nonsense from the Home Office? People getting fired for hacking the ID database?"

H: "Not at all, prime minister. There's been no hacking at the Home Office. They were merely exceeding their authorisation. Besides, there were only five caught in five years. Nothing to worry about."

PM: "How do we know we've caught them all?"

H: "Anyone who evaded our controls would have to be an expert in IT, prime minister. They'd stand out a mile."

PM: "Yes, yes. But what happens if we follow the recommendation from the cabinet committee that every public department should be able to access data from other public departments? We can't possibly police all combinations of databases and civil servants."

H: "I can assure you absolutely there'll be nobody acting outside their authorisation."

PM: "How can you say that?"

H: "Simple. Everyone will be authorised to look at everything."

PM: "What, everyone? So the Milk Marketing Board could check the ID database? That can't be right."

H: "It's very efficient. But there will be safeguards. Have to maintain security. Privacy."

PM: "Privacy, of course. Very important that our citizens preserve their privacy."

H: "Not for them, PM! For us! We can't do our jobs if the public are staring over our shoulders all the time. It wouldn't be efficient. It wouldn't be secure."

PM: "So the public isn't allowed to see public data, nor what we do with it?"

H: "I do wish they'd stop thinking that it had anything to do with them. Between making the Freedom of Information Act too expensive to use and locking our database of laws up behind another paywall, they won't even know what they're not allowed to see. That way they won't worry, just like we don't worry about our non-existent hackers. Which aren't there."

PM: "Still, perhaps we ought to get John Reid to to start up some sort of internal regulator, called, say, the Office of UK Computer Security. But keep it out of his department."

H: "He's already on it, PM. I distinctly heard him say 'OFUCS — not the Home Office' when he got the job."

PM: "Certainly sounds like him. Oh, do stop fiddling with that thing, Humphrey. What's it saying now?"

H: "Er, it's not, PM. The system seems to have crashed."

PM: "I bet it's just been upgraded by EDS. Or perhaps it's just lost your ID. Shall I get the Milk Marketing Board to look for it?"

H: "No, prime minister".


Editorial standards