Feeds

1m French out of work thanks to dodgy data - UK next?

Get vetted and go... on the dole

The Power of One Infographic

As the UK prepares to put in place its shiny new vetting database later this year, analysis of a similar project in France reveals a devastating degree of inaccuracy, leading to real hardship for a very large number of people.

A report (pdf) issued last week by CNIL, the French Data Protection Agency, reveals that as many as a million people have lost jobs – or didn’t get them in the first place – because of inaccuracies in the police STIC database (Systeme de Traitement des Infractions constatés, or "criminal record check system").

Police databases have been very much in the news in the course of 2008, following the creation, by decrees published on 1 July 2008, of two new intelligence databases, EDVIGE and CRISTINA.

The purpose of CRISTINA (Centralisation du renseignement intérieur pour la sécurité du territoire et les intérêts nationaux) is the "Centralisation of domestic intelligence for homeland security and national interests". Because CRISTINA is classified as being for defence purposes, its contents are deemed to be an official secret and details of what is held on it remain a mystery.

But that's not the case with EDVIGE, which provoked such outcry that the government backed down in November 2008, agreeing instead to bring forward proposals for a modified system, known as EDVIRSP.

Objectors to EDVIGE were horrified to learn that it would have gathered information on any person having applied for or exercised a "political, union or economical mandate or playing a significant institutional, economical, social or religious part as well as information on any person, starting from the age of 13, considered by the police as a "suspect" potentially capable of disrupting the public order".

Opposition was swift and brutal, with thousands of people demonstrating in over 60 cities. Faced with petitions and up to a dozen separate legal challenges, the French government decided to cut its losses and back down. While detail of what will be held in EDVIRSP is still not known, it is believed that it will specifically exclude information relating to people’s health or sexual orientation.

But what then of STIC? The CNIL report reveals that STIC, created in 1995, but only officially acknowledged since 2001, is accessed by the police approximately 20m times a year. That alone represents a massive degree of surveillance and checking.

However, CNIL's President described STIC as "more dangerous than EDVIGE", because of the huge number of errors that CNIL has discovered recorded in it.

STIC now covers approximately half of the French population – without any age limitation. In this one detail, our own vetting database compares favourably, as current estimates suggest that, in time, it will hold data on no more than half the UK’s working population.

In other respects, serious issues over the provenance of data illustrate all too clearly what happens when the government starts to collect data on its citizens without putting adequate measures in place for updating and accuracy checking.

Thus, the police may register individual details on STIC after an offence has been committed. Registration should include not only suspect details, but those of the victim as well, and the records should be updated with the outcome of any court decision. "Innocent until proven guilty" works under French Law as well.

Unfortunately, CNIL report that not only are updates very seldom applied – but that on occasion victims are mistakenly registered as suspects. Overall, CNIL identified an error rate of 83 per cent on STIC records: not all errors were as serious as those suggested above; some were. This is "staggering": it also has major social consequences, since – anticipating the UK’s own law on Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups 2006 by three years, the French passed a law in 2003 which extended the role of STIC to checking the (criminal) records of anyone applying for a wide range of jobs – especially in the security field. Sounds familiar?

CNIL’s estimated 1m hired or fired "by mistake" include victims recorded as criminals, and suspects whose not guilty verdict was never added to the database. The single comfort for French citizens lies in the fact that unlike our own vetting base, STIC inflicts its damage through the simple mechanism of mis-recording actual verifiable data.

It will be left to EDVIGE to implement the second feature of UK’s new checking system – which is to add in allegations and accusations, irrespective of the accuracy of either. ®

HP ProLiant Gen8: Integrated lifecycle automation

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
Major problems beset UK ISP filth filters: But it's OK, nobody uses them
It's almost as though pr0n was actually rather popular
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
MPs wave through Blighty's 'EMERGENCY' surveillance laws
Only 49 politcos voted against DRIP bill
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.