Should government own our data?


I know when someone first started to describe to me the concept that the government should not hold data about me, but rather I should hold it instead – it took me a little while to understand why this was a good thing.

A paper has been released by the Centre for Policy Studies (an independent right wing think tank) entitled “Its ours – Why we, not government, must own our data” by Liam Maxwell that takes you through some of the arguments in this area.ItsOurs

In its summary it points out:

In 2009/10, the UK Government will spend about £16.5 billion on IT, equivalent to 1.4% of GDP. However, much IT spending is currently wasted. Only 30% of projects succeed.

A clear choice is emerging for the future of government IT:

− Either to continue with the Transformational Government agenda. This relies on the State holding, in the words of the Treasury’s adviser, a “deep truth about the citizen, based on their behaviour, experiences, beliefs, needs and rights”, with huge centralised databases directing public services to the point of need (as judged by the State).

− Or to abandon expensive and failing centralised IT projects and yield control of personal information to individual citizens. This is the approach that has been increasingly effective in the private sector.

Having worked in this sector for a while now, both in the UK and worldwide it is terrifying to see the money that is thrown a huge doomed IT projects.  As you go into the report there are some other staggering statistics.

when the DWP analysed its communications with customers, it found that the take-up was tiny. More than half of the “customer base” (51%) were able to access services online by mid 2008. But out of the 142 million contacts with the public, only 340,000 (about 0.25%) used the online services.

and also

The high cost of government IT provision – £16.5 billion this year, and growing – is equivalent to £700 for every household in the country, or almost £300 for every man, woman and child. To put this in perspective, the State spends approximately 60% more every year on administrative IT than it does on drugs for the National Health Service.

No other organisation spends anywhere as much on IT, even though they process similar amounts of data on each individual. For while central government spends £300 per person per year, Google, MSN and online banks spend between £10 and £60 per person per year.

The quotes like this keep on rolling out for the first 21 pages, before it starts to look that the alternative.  The paper is quote good, however I would prefer something with less of a party political bias.  One other area they do not touch on, and I think is one of the most interesting is around cost.  How does the private sector make money on holding your data – is it through advertising or even selling data to third parties?

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