Feeds

Tory Grandee puts boot into NHS Google plans

'I wouldn't trust Google with my data' says David Davis

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

Conservative MP David Davis this week slammed the idea of using Google as part of the NHS IT solution as "naïve" and "mad".

Writing in the Sunday Times yesterday, he said: "I could only hope that it was an unapproved kite-flying exercise by a young researcher in Conservative HQ. If not, what was proposed was both dangerous in its own right, and hazardous to the public acceptability of necessary reforms to the state’s handling of our private information."

The kite-flying – if such it was – was reported by Times Online about three weeks ago. An article stated: "Health records could be transferred to Google or Microsoft under a Tory government."

It went on: "Patients will be given the option of moving their medical notes to private companies after the Conservatives said that they would replace Labour’s 'centrally determined and unresponsive national IT system'."

There is a superficial attractiveness to this proposal. Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault are both packages that are capable of taking inputs from medical systems and managing patient records in such a way as to give patients a far greater degree of insight and even control over their own healthcare.

The difficulty is that the systems are clearly structured around the idea of patients accessing views of their records. It is likely that major re-structuring work would be required to make it conform to the requirements of current NHS practice and bureaucracy: to turn it from a patient-facing system to an admin system.

At this point, the advantages of a pre-existing system would sink beneath an avalanche of new systems requirements essential to make the packages conform. It might be as easy – and safer in design terms – to go back to the drawing board and build a system up from scratch.

In his article, David Davis recognises clearly the benefits of giving patients access to their own records. He sounds as though he may well be an advocate of a future government, sweeping aside any red tape that might prevent patients from copying their medical details to Google – if that is what they wish.

However, he is seriously alarmed at the thought of Google (or Microsoft) getting their hands on such sensitive data. He writes: "Google is the last company I would trust with data belonging to me".

In part, that is because Google has a "history of ignoring privacy concerns", citing their "amoral" stance over China. It is in part, too, because the state is not very good at managing megalithic commercial concerns of this kind. There are enormous issues around the anonymisation, management and use of personal data – and without cast-iron guarantees on this front, no deal should be possible.

There are also question marks over where the data is to be hosted – Conservative spokespersons imply in the UK, which may not be Google's preferred solution – and the ownership of such data once it is on Google’s machines.

On the other hand, he suspects that Google may be seeking such a deal for reasons that no UK government could possibly allow: as a research base for data mining and opportunity spotting. In that case, the commercial case for a deal is seriously reduced.

As on previous occasions, Mr Davis appears to have identified and highlighted the key points where IT and privacy issues overlap – and continues to prove himself one of the few MP’s who speaks about technology from a position of genuine comprehension.

In this, he seems at odds with many of his fellow MP’s, whose approach to IT is more akin to buying a toy for its shiny bells and whistles, rather than asking any serious IT questions - like what is its purpose? What objectives is it meant to fulfil?

The only significant omission from Mr Davis' piece was any reference to the embarrassingly close ties that have been documented between David Cameron’s Conservative Party and Google.

According to the Times: "Steve Hilton, one of David Cameron’s closest advisers, is married to Rachel Whetstone, the company’s vicepresident of global communications and public affairs. Mr Cameron flew to San Francisco to address the Google Zeitgeist conference in 2007 at the company’s expense.

"Five months ago, it was announced that Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, was joining a Conservative business forum to advise on economic policy."

These are significant political criticisms of any proposal along the lines quoted. Maybe Mr Davis is right, however: perhaps all such proposals should be considered solely on their IT merit. ®

SANS - Survey on application security programs

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Don't let no-hire pact suit witnesses call Steve Jobs a bullyboy, plead Apple and Google
'Irrelevant' character evidence should be excluded – lawyers
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
Jack the RIPA: Blighty cops ignore law, retain innocents' comms data
Prime minister: Nothing to see here, go about your business
Banks slap Olympus with £160 MEEELLION lawsuit
Scandal hit camera maker just can't shake off its past
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.