Skip to main content
No Thought of Gattica

As 2002 moves towards its festive close, I've been asked to gaze, once again, into my crystal ball for the coming year. This week then, in my last three columns before Christmas, I'll try and make some predictions about the industry. In a year's time, you can look back and laugh at how far off-target I was.

Let's start with government. Not the continuing saga of Carole Caplin, the conman and No10, but rather with the progress of e-government towards its 2005 goal of universal everything.

Britain may be ranked second in the world as an e-economy, according to a recent report that focused on the G7 economies plus Australia and Sweden. However, there are small Middle Eastern states that you can find on that are streets ahead of the larger economies with many of their online projects.

Of course, they have certain advantages. They have tiny populations, lots of money and no emotional objections to the idea of every citizen carrying an ID card of some kind.

And there's the rub. Identity remains the key to the development of a successful knowledge economy because of its powerful joining-up effect. The UK government will either have to produce a universal identity card or face being left behind, very quickly, by other nations.

Contrary to popular belief, a digital identity card or entitlement card doesn't have to carry behind it information on a person's criminal record or sexual preference. Like a bank card or a passport, it has to support your claim to being yourself for the purpose of a single transaction or series of linked transactions between agencies.

The government is doing a great deal of work exploring SmartCard and Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) options. But this coming year, more than halfway into the prime minister's joined-up government by 2005 agenda, some decision will need to be made or larger pilot project will need to start towards the goal of giving each one of us a digital identity which might, in turn, save some of the £10bn lost in identity fraud each year.

Having spoken with a great many people, including the e-envoy, on the subject and with the battle against illegal immigration "lost", in the words of a Foreign Office friend of mine, I don't believe that the great British public would seriously object to the introduction of an ID card of sorts. But here's the catch.

The UK government is, apparently, trusted less by its own citizens than any of 12 countries featured in a recent survey. This is, after all, the government that tried to force through its "Big Brother" Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill (RIP).

If government attempts to issue "entitlement cards" or ID cards, then the rest of us will, rightly, be suspicious of its motives. Better perhaps for the government to encourage the banks to issue strong identification as part of the fight against fraud and then for government to cross-certify against your "customer ID" at the building society or some other institution.

It's an idea that removes the hidden threat of a citizen database and goes a long way towards protecting transactional anonymity, which is what most of us would want.

So, my first prediction has government moving quickly towards a technical and political solution to the digital ID problem.

I suspect, that with the working parties already in place, we may have some kind of digital credential scheme in limited circulation before Christmas 2003.


Popular posts from this blog

Civilisational Data Mining

It’s a new expression I haven’t heard before. ‘Civilisational data mining.’

Let me start by putting it in some context. Every character, you or I have typed into the Google search engine or Facebook over the last decade, means something, to someone or perhaps ‘something,’ if it’s an algorithm.

In May 2014, journalists revealed that the United States National Security Agency, the NSA, was recording and archiving every single cell-phone conversation that took place in the Bahamas. In the process they managed to transform a significant proportion of a society’s day to day interactions into unstructured data; valuable information which can of course be analysed, correlated and transformed for whatever purpose the intelligence agency deems fit.

And today, I read that a GOP-hired data company in the United States has ‘leaked’ personal information, preferences and voting intentions on… wait for it… 198 million US citizens.

Within another decade or so, the cost of sequencing the human genome …

The Nature of Nurture?

Recently, I found myself in a fascinating four-way Twitter exchange, with Professor Adam Rutherford and two other science-minded friends The subject, frequently regarded as a delicate one, genetics and whether there could exist an unknown but contributory genetic factor(s) or influences in determining what we broadly understand or misunderstand as human intelligence.

I won’t discuss this subject in any great detail here, being completely unqualified to do so, but I’ll point you at the document we were discussing, and Rutherford’s excellent new book, ‘A Brief History of Everyone.”

What had sparked my own interest was the story of my own grandfather, Edmond Greville; unless you are an expert on the history of French cinema, you are unlikely to have ever hear of him but he still enjoys an almost cult-like following for his work, half a century after his death.

I've been enjoying the series "Genius" on National Geographic about the life of Albert Einstein. The four of us ha…
The Mandate of Heaven

eGov Monitor Version

“Parliament”, said my distinguished friend “has always leaked like a sieve”.

I’m researching the thorny issue of ‘Confidence in Public Sector Computing’ and we were discussing the dangers presented by the Internet. In his opinion, information security is an oxymoron, which has no place being discussed in a Parliament built upon the uninterrupted flow of information of every kind, from the politically sensitive to the most salacious and mundane.

With the threat of war hanging over us, I asked if MPs should be more aware of the risks that surround this new communications medium? More importantly, shouldn’t the same policies and precautions that any business might use to protect itself and its staff, be available to MPs?

What concerns me is that my well-respected friend mostly considers security in terms of guns, gates and guards. He now uses the Internet almost as much as he uses the telephone and the Fax machine and yet the growing collective t…