UK.gov: You didn't trust us with your ID, so we gave it to private biz
But the very next day, it gave it away
But think of the children, minister!
Monetising public data about the nation is a huge policy in Whitehall that could soon turn into a nightmarish bedtime story for Britain's kids.
Education Secretary Michael Gove did the seemingly impossible recently by opening up a public consultation on plans, in his words, "to share extracts of data held in the National Pupil Database (NPD) for a wider range of purposes than currently possible in order to maximise the value of this rich dataset".
One such usage cited would involve creating a private-sector market that would be able to offer "innovative tools and services which present anonymised versions of the data".
What this means in practice is that sensitive information held about children across Blighty could soon be in the hands of marketeers who want to extend their data-scraping exercises beyond the likes of Facebook, Google and other well-known free-content ad networks. It would now seem that even a child's school life including exam results, attendance, teacher assessments and even characteristics could soon be scrutinised in the same way.
The only trouble is hardly anyone has actually heard about it, and privacy campaigners had very little time to battle the proposals. The consultation has been and gone, very few questions were raised in Parliament about it, and a revision to the current regulation guarding the NPD could come as early as spring next year.
Meanwhile, the government has claimed that it had been in talks with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) over the course of 2012 regarding its proposed opening up of the school database to allow private companies to develop apps that would exploit the datasets.
Here's what Tory MP Edward Timpson told the House late last month:
Officials have discussed proposals to widen access to extracts of data from the national pupil database under strict terms and conditions with representatives from the Information Commissioner's Office on a number of occasions over the last year. Information Commissioner Office representatives have said that they would support in principle the release of data under controlled access, as long as a proper system of governance is in place.
It's a statement that drastically differs from the one your correspondent got from the ICO about Gove's proposals, however. I was told by a spokesman at the watchdog immediately after the plans were mentioned in Parliament in the autumn that the ICO had not been provided with information about the proposals before the announcement.
While the government is not legally required to speak to the commission about plans regarding the handling of data, the ICO spokesman noted at the time that as "the regulator of the legislation at play, it is in their interests for them to do so".
Do the hokey cokey and then turn around
Besides from the Queen's Jubilee and the London Olympics, 2012 will probably be remembered by many as the year when internet trolling went mainstream with idiots making "grossly offensive" comments online and wasting precious police time.
It will also be defined by the Leveson inquiry drama played out often by Hugh Grant, who was last seen ashen-faced in an Eastenders-style black taxi exit after Lord Leveson delivered his report on press ethics. The rather expensive inquiry concluded with the judge calling for independent regulation of British newspapers underpinned by legislation, only for Prime Minister David Cameron to pooh-pooh the idea and then get on with his day.
Meanwhile, as Jimmy Savile's name was shortened simply to 'im vile, the debate about child safety online reached its height by the end of the year with Cameron backing away from any plan to force telcos to introduce network-level filtering to block websites deemed to be inappropriate for the prying eyes of youngsters. Public consultation had shown there wasn't an "appetite" for such a plan. Finally, some common sense appeared to come out of Downing Street, with the PM recognising that the best people to counsel children about sex, monsters, and, well, sex monsters was probably their parents. ®
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