Harry's Home on the Web
I just listened to this week’s File on 4 (available till the 15th), which was about the “marketisation” of the forensic science services used by the Police.
It began fairly predictably as critique of the privatisation of the Forensic Science Service, which led to the system we now have — where multiple companies bid for contracts to provide forensic services to the Police. The usual criticisms were trotted out: that markets are amoral, and that everything was rosy before the capitalists came along. But the program fairly swiftly moved on to more interesting and familiar territory: procurement.
It was the same sorry old story. Heavy-weight tendering processes. The granting of long contracts for huge sums. Contracts managed by staff with little specific expertise in forensics. Commoditisation of services where expert analysis is key to success. Bureaucratic intermediation between the staff who need things and the contractors who get things done. Sound familiar?
It seems that many of the problems that beset IT procurement affect forensics as well. I can’t say I’m surprised — the problems are, after all, endemic — but somehow it’s a lot scarier to hear these things said about forensic science.
I wonder how many people have been imprisoned as a result of barmy procurement rules?
Being an unabashed Schneier fanboy, I think I’ll just come right out and say it: yesterday was cool.
It was a talk and Q&A with Bruce Schneier, organised by the Open Rights Group and attended by over 100 fellow geeky people. Bruce spoke about the future of privacy, from the current prevalence of data in all forms to the future ubiquity of devices and technologies that could severely reduce the privacy of the individual.
I was familiar with a lot of the things that Bruce was talking about, so there were no major technological surprises or revelatory principles in the talk — but I was struck by how optimistic he was. He said that, though these technologies have serious potential to cause harm, he was confident that lawmakers would get things right within a generation or two.
Central to the talk was the idea that privacy vs security is a false dichotomy, that the real struggle is liberty vs control, and that that’s a problem only good lawmaking will solve.
Among the highlights:
“Data is the industrial pollution of the information age”
“The real dichotomy is liberty vs control, not security vs privacy. Real security is liberty plus privacy”
“I see this era as heralding the death of the ephemeral conversation”
And on the idea that security inevitably erodes privacy — and that the underlying assumption that all security is information security:
“I don’t want to know who the guy sat behind me is, I want to know if he’s going to blow up the plane — if so, I still don’t care who he is”
Which, assuming you’re the airline operator, is very much the case.
Very excitingly, Wired UK got in touch a few weeks ago to ask if I’d write a piece for this month’s feature, Reboot Britain. I wrote about open interfaces to government services: essentially, APIs for the government systems that underlie public services.
Unfortunately, the article didn’t make it into the magazine because there wasn’t enough space. Disappointing, but it was still great to be asked, and they’ve published it online. From the article:
Many of us have been campaigning for open government data for a long time, and I think we’ve won the argument. By the time you’re reading this, data.hmg.gov.uk – a central listings service for government data – should be live. But data taken alone rarely creates real, tangible change in the world. Data alone doesn’t get your rubbish recycled or your prescription filled. You need data to find out how or where to do those things, but actually doing them requires you to use public services – and wherever there’s a public service, there’s an IT system supporting it.
The Government’s leaked draft of their new IT strategy is now online, and among its delights is this graph:
Wondering what on earth it could possibly mean, I tweeted for some ideas:
Delightful graph fail from gov IT strat. What, I wonder, is 90% sophistication!?
And, well — people had some excellent ideas:
90% of Brits wear smoking jackets while they browse the web. Exmosis
It’s when your little finger sticks out while typing LilianBarton
Whatever it was, it seems to have stopped in 2007, so maybe we can relax. Or assume we must now be at at least 106.74%. pubstrat
Doesn’t matter – we’re kicking Europe’s ass by a whole 14%!! Yay us!! simond
All my answers are just too smutty to tweet paul_clarke
Got a good one? Add it in the comments…
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