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Gordon Campbell on the MSD’s privacy problems

Gordon Campbell on the MSD’s privacy problems

First published on Werewolf

It seems there will be a brief respite for NGOs, and for the vulnerable people they help. Yet until the Privacy Commissioner intervened yesterday, the agencies doing the frontline work on welfare issues were being required to hand over (to the Ministry of Social Development) the sensitive personal details provided to them by their clients, as a condition of having their funding contracts renewed, come July.

As Anne Tolley, the Minister of Social Development told RNZ this morning there will now be some delay in implementing this policy – a few months, maybe longer - until MSD can devise a data storage and handling system that can keep the information safer than it is capable of doing now. Agencies that deal with victims of sexual violence will be exempted for a year from this demand for compliance.

This fiasco has been a perfect example of a bad policy, terribly executed – on a rushed timetable that appears to have been driven by an MSD desire to cut costs in the contracts due for renewal, mid year. Obviously, the real priority should be the people at risk. Yet this policy is likely to deter them from seeking help because (a) MSD has proven time and again, that it can’t keep confidential information safe and (b) the information they provide to an NGO may return to bite them if government chooses to use it against them by altering the terms of their access to assistance.

Such fears are well grounded. (Evidence has emerged this week of two recent privacy disclosure lapses by MSD.)

More to the point, Tolley has hinted that the compulsory-acquired data will be used against the clients of the NGOs in question… To RNZ, she talked about how this allegedly anonymised data will be used for “coverage” purposes, to detect if some people are accessing more than one agency – as if this was something that should be deterred in future. Nothing is more likely to destroy the relationship of trust between an NGO and its clients than a policy that forces the NGO to rat on its clients in this fashion.

The exercise is not about ensuring accountability. Already, the NGOs produce swathes of information on outcomes, to justify their continued access to state funding. If extending the coverage – and detecting multiple coverage – really was the point of this exercise then Tolley could have started with her own staff, to ensure that they are alerting the needy about the assistance that’s already available. For years though, MSD has underperformed when it comes to informing those in need about the assistance they could receive – presumably, so that MSD can cut costs.

Henceforth, the NGOs who do a sterling job in this respect are to be penalised if they point the needy to multiple sources of assistance. Frankly, its hard to see why Tolley is so surprised and/or worried if a poor person gets help on social housing from one NGO, advice on sexual violence from another and budgeting advice from yet another, given the expertise required. Instead, the aim of this policy seems to be to cull the clientele and limit the range of assistance they are accessing, and thereby cut the overall $330 million budget for the welfare assistance delivered by NGOs. To repeat: this is a data gathering/control and cost cutting process. If better targeting and better delivery really was the purpose, it should have been carried out in consultation, not at gunpoint.

To his credit, the Privacy Commissioner talked to RNZ about the need to ensure that the mandatory information supplied doesn’t come back to “haunt” the client – either directly, or via policy changes that impact on them negatively. There are wider concerns. As yet, the data gathering purposes of this exercise have received scant attention. Eighteen months ago, Werewolf sought to describe the globally pioneering work that MSD is actively engaged in, via its use of anonymised data to shape and target this country’s welfare policy. At the time, the strongest advocates within Cabinet of this approach were Bill English and Paula Bennett, who have since risen in the ranks.

Death From Above

Don’t tell the Labour candidate for Ohariu, but the state of Connecticut has just taken steps to authorise Police to deploy weaponised drones.

Details on how law enforcement could use drones with weapons would be spelled out in new rules to be developed by the state Police Officer Standards and Training Council. Officers also would have to receive training before being allowed to use drones with weapons.

Different rules apply in different states. Reportedly, North Dakota is the only state where police are authorised to use weaponized drones, but this extends only to stun guns, rubber bullets and tear gas. Five states - Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont and Wisconsin - prohibit anyone and everyone from using a weaponized drone, while Maine and Virginia ban police from using armed drones.

For its part, the Connecticut legislators have tried to impose some pre-conditions before Police can use weaponised drones to deliver lethal force. They’re not envisaged to be all that different from some of the current rules here on the use of tasers:

It would require police to get a warrant before using a drone, unless there are emergency circumstances or the person who is the subject of the drone use gives permission. It also would require police to report yearly on how often they use drones and why, and create new crimes and penalties for criminal use of drones, including voyeurism…., Several members said…they had concerns about police using deadly force with drones.

You think? Training in the use of deadly weapons hasn’t stopped Police from misusing their existing weaponry.
And besides:

The problem with tools like these is they lend themselves to mission creep and abuse…. We've seen plenty of senseless death and destruction stemming from overuse of vehicle pursuits. This is the next step: flying guns shooting at suspects as they flee through "civilian" traffic. Law enforcement officers aren't great shots with both feet planted on the ground. Giving them a gun in the air is a bad idea.

Rex Speaks

Back when Rex Tillerson was CEO of Exxon, the new US Secretary of State would let only a few trusted aides get near him. So its no real surprise that State Department staff have reportedly been instructed not to make eye contact with the boss.

Tillerson shuns the media, and seems to have surrendered the shaping of foreign policy entirely to the Trump operatives in the White House. This has left foreign diplomats and world leaders with a genuine quandary – what should we make of this guy and what he says, given how little clout he seems to have (or to want) with the White House? Earlier this week, Tillerson was in typically low key mode. In its own way, this press release in a minimalist classic:

Songs about coffee

Damn. It is really wet, daylight saving is over and winter cold is coming on. Solution: black coffee, served hot. Here are a few songs that celebrate the wonders of espresso, starting with Serge Gainsbourg:

From the 1950s, here’s the lovely Ella Mae Morse asking you out for a coffee date/makes her heart palpitate:

And here’s Ike and Tina Turner, giving their all for black coffee, freshly ground – and that may be a metaphor:

More recently, here’s lover man Miguel, offering up some early morning coffee:

In country music, they drink their coffee black, too. From the early 1980s, here’s the great, all but forgotten Lacy Dalton, with a sad song about black coffee:

In some saloon bar uptown, Bobby Darin matches Dalton with an even more melancholy song about black coffee:

And finally, here’s a terrific video by Sylvan Esso, in a song simply called “Coffee”… Stay warm, people.


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