Mention: “That’s all we’ve got time for”: Mydex on R4 Today
The BBC’s John Humphreys interviewed Mydex’ co-founder William Heath on the Radio 4 Today programme Friday 6 August, the day the government’s controversial ContactPoint database of 12m childrens’ record was switched off. The short interview brought us on the stroke of 9am to the question of the new user-driven model of personal data, but the answer was left tantalisingly hanging… More on ContactPoint over at William’s blog IdealGov. Interview transcript below…
BBC Radio 4 Today Programme (John Humphrys)
Broadcast at 08.56 Friday August 6, 2010
Starts at 2:56:10
JH: At noon today a government database which holds the records of all the children in England will be switched off. It’s called the ContactPoint system and it was set up in the wake of the Victoria Climbie child abuse affair. It highlighted the need to improve the exchange of information between different agencies working with vulnerable children. It was highly controversial, well now it has come to an end – or it’s about to come to an end.
William Heath is the founder of Mydex – that’s a company that specialises in the control of personal data. Are you pleased about this Mr Heath?
WH Definitely cause for celebration today, and congratulations to Terry Dowty and everyone who campaigned against this sort of brick wall of prevailing wisdom to get rid of it. Yep.
JH: So why did it happen?
WH: Why was it brought in in the first place? [JH: Mm] I think it was muddled thinking. I think there was the idea that huge technology systems, huge centralised databases would solve all society’s social problems. I mean it met the politicians fallacy of ‘something must be done, here is something’. But it was profoundly ill-conceived.
JH: Ill conceived because it wasn’t secure or because it wasn’t necessary or what?
WH: Well, the problem exists, but you can’t keep a database of 12m children to which 300k people have access secure.
JH: Not even with modern technology and all the firewalls and all the rest of it?
WH: Well no, because the human element will always fail.
JH: Will it?
WH: I think that with those numbers of people it will. I think we should see it in terms of a problem of data logistics. You know, the idea that all the organisations we deal with can gather ever larger amounts of personal data about us and that this will somehow determine our needs and preferences and keep us safe is a fallacy.
JH: Well, yeah, I mean one’s knee-jerk reaction is to say of course it is and we don’t like the idea of all that data out there, but it’s out there anyway in all sorts of ways. We volunteer huge amounts of data or we allow people to take data from us and store it without making a fuss. Whether we actually volunteer it or not we know it’s going on. That’s the age we live in isn’t it?
WH: Well I think you’re on the right point when you ask about whether we actually volunteer it and whether we truly understand what happens. I think there are absolutely colossal volumes of personal data about us out there being traded and shared. What doesn’t happen is that we exert any form of control over how that information is looked after. And indeed if that information came from us in a formally permissioned and structured way it would be much more valuable. It would be richer, it would be more accurate and it would be more up-to-date.
JH: What about the old cliche that if you’ve got nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear!
WH I think that those who think that they have nothing to hide aren’t living life properly and ought to be ashamed of themselves.
(JH laughs ) Well that’s another matter. I’m sure we all have something to hide. But you take my point. There is an awful lot of information out there. I mean if you or I were knocked down by the No.27 bus today and someone found out that we had whatever it was wrong with us it would help our recovery. That would be good.
WH: John, the point is that we need to build a bridge between the individuals who are going to participate in reformed public services and the organisations that will provide them. All the efforts have gone into providing one half of that bridge – the organisation’s end. We now need to put some effort into building the individual’s end.
JH: How do you do that?
WH: You need to kit out…most of us are online. Martha Lane Fox is getting many of us who aren’t, on line and most of us have phones. We simply need to be equipped with an element of structure so that we relate to these large central databases – some of which do have a purpose – in a constructive way.
JH: Well, I was going to say a lot of people wont be able to deal with that but there’s not time to get your answer on that except that we’ll see what happens with it now. William Heath, thank you very much indeed.