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Friday, 23 August 2013

No, Guardian, we can't have nice things

Oh, the irony.

In the Guardian Polly Toynbee argues for the new NHS database of patient records and the scheme whereby researchers can make us of it. (Toynbee is the Guardian's doyenne.)

She patiently explains that it will use anonymised data and people can opt out and there are layers of privacy protections. Any fears about privacy are overblown and we already see benefits such as identifying possible new cancer drugs.
The fear is that patients will be identified, losing control of their records and trust in their GPs. But the protections are many and thorough: patients records transmitted to the Health and Social Care Information Centre are fed through an automated anonymiser. The information commissioner has strict oversight over each stage. The Royal College of GPs and the British Medical Association back the project.

Is there any risk? Yes, some rogue researcher always might – with difficulty – trace back to the probable patient. But that's only the same risk as with previous use of patient data. Next week's leaflets and posters will tell patients they can refuse to let their records be used: under the present system 750,000 patients do opt out.
She rails against other newspapers for their 'scare tactics' that the data will leak and could be sold.

From the comments below her piece, which are already overwhelmingly negative:
I find it a tad difficult to believe, given the current access, scope, range, and sheer computing power that GCHQ posses that however the data is anonymised, it almost most certainly begins life as extremely personalised and private, is attached to a name and to an nhs number and GCHQ should it decide to, would be capable of digging down to the individual.
As I pointed out in my article about the Guardian's promotion of Glenn Greenwald's linkbait, hysterical, debunked 'revelations':
Once you get people to distrust government in one policy area it is so much easier to turn them off in another - like healthcare or economic stimulation. This lets in corporate control which those banging on about the evil government have either shown little or no interest in (see the stupid pat response I just dealt with [corporations don't arrest or murder people]) or have cloaked, bait-and-switch style, their real positions [namely, libertarian, pro-corporate].
Et, voila. We can't have an obvious good from Big Data because 'government is evil!'

Nothing, no level of accountability or democratic oversight, nothing will ever be good enough. People want the whole thing torn down, even in the socially positive situation Toynbee highlights.
But it is difficult impossible to explain how the left would manage policing and security, let alone how we would reform them, when the atmosphere is dominated by falsehoods and lies. How can you reform something which is thought to be terminally broken and which people are being led to believe cannot be managed by the people - us - through a democratic system?
And, of course, no one is pointing out or railing against very similar use of corporate metadata, which has the same technical ability to breach privacy, by health care researchers.

I wrote that:
No one has polled this in the UK but I would be shocked if Greenwald's work has not impacted trust in government here as well. At least in the US there are some voices challenging the falsehoods, in the UK who is doing this?
To be fair it hasn't just been the Guardian doing this but for a leftie Guardianista who sees the good government can do to be seemingly ignorant of her own newspapers' role in destroying that trust is beyond ironic.

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