Big brother gets Web 2.0 makeover

Information sharing for the people

That's fair enough, as The Guardian newspaper reported. But it did all sound rather like Armstrong was trying to catch some of the Web 2.0 magic dust and sprinkle it over the government's more controversial ideas for information sharing.

But are we putting two and two together to make five? Steinberg himself prefers to call the web phenomenon social media rather than information sharing. He told The Register that his review wouldn't touch on the government's Information Sharing Vision: "I know these are really important issues, but this report's not about them. It's about information that's public."

Yet Guy Herbert, general secretary of the NO2ID campaign group said he believed the Cabinet Office's wider use of the term information sharing was no coincidence: "The DCA and the PM's delivery office have decided they want to abolish confidentiality, data protection, and ultra vires, as regards official use of information, and the attack is on several fronts."

Part of its method was to sell the benefits of information sharing in general. Then further, by aggrandising the idea that information sharing would create an omniscient state that could use its extensive knowledge of ordinary people's lives to make helpful interventions. Bad people would be stopped before they would do anything wrong.

It is a utopian vision, indeed. And certainly science fiction, no? Perhaps not. NO2ID's parliamentary briefing on the Serious Crime Bill noted how this philosophy had already been worked into policy.

"In common with other data-sharing powers recently brought forward by the government, there is an attempt to vitiate data protection, rights to private life and common law confidentiality by legislative sleight-of-hand. Some of the regulatory powers granted make a mockery of ultra vires and parliamentary oversight. This is consistent with the government's Information Sharing Vision statement, if not with the rule of law," it said.

Steinberg's review, as Armstrong put it, will not consider how the government might tame the web, but how it might encourage certain parts of it. The government wants to see how it can make the web better.

"The key question might be, in relation to the health and vibrancy and effectiveness [of the web], is there anything the government should be doing," said Steinberg.

Leave well alone, perhaps? ®

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