Incompetence Shall Set Brits Free

The lesson of the Great Data Loss is not that the Brit government and the civil service are incompetent (although they are), but that in a market economy the government can’t hire competent IT people. That’s good for Brit freedom.

The scandal:

Searches were continuing for two CDs containing the names, addresses and bank details of 9.5million adults and the names, dates of birth and National Insurance numbers of all 15.5 million children in the country which went missing after being put in the post by HM Revenue and Customs.

It has since emerged that the National Audit Office, which had asked for the CDs, had specifically requested that bank details and other sensitive data be removed from them when it asked for other copies of the Child Benefit database in March, but a senior manager refused to do so on cost grounds.

On October 18 two unencrypted CDs were put in the post, unregistered and unrecorded, which never arrived at the NAO.

As a result the bank details of every parent in the country are now missing, and experts have warned that criminal gangs could use the information to commit fraud and identity theft for years to come if the information falls into the wrong hands.

Obviously culpability lies with the guy who exported & burned the data and mailed the disks insecurely, and responsibility lies with the management chain above him, including Brown.

But the real fault is with the design of the database, which any competent developer would have built so that only encrypted data could be exported.

A major government IT system has such an obvious fatal flaw because the people who designed, built, and maintain it are second rate.

The Brit government gets IT talent either through direct hires, or (more commonly) by subcontracting to big consultancies. But any first rate system designer or developer will avoid government work like the plague because:

1. The specification, rather than being rooted in the market realities of a commercial customer, will instead be set by pols, and they change with the wind, taking the spec with it. Spec changes make for bugs, low productivity, and frustration as good work has to be junked.

In this particular case, until recently data sharing between government departments was forbidden, but the Blair/Brown soft fascism reversed that, and now all sorts of private data gets sent between government departments – when I recently booked a flight with British Airways, they told me they had to pass all my booking data to the Brit Customs and Tax authorities, even though I don’t live in the UK.

So my guess is the export facility in this case was kludged on to an older system. But since data export is a hugely complex area, without first rate designers it was done wrong.

2. Good developers hate bureaucratic development methodologies, because they know they do much better and faster work in small tightly integrated teams. But governments prefer micromanagement and (apparent) risk-avoidance and mandate large teams of people, with each developer working on a tiny piece of functionality.

3. Still, money talks, and government would get quality if it paid good developers what it pays senior ministers. But of course it won’t.

So that’s why every Brit government IT project has been a disaster, and why the National ID system will quickly be compromised

More generally, this limitation blocks the Brit elite from ever getting the Orwellian control of citizens it so relentlessly seeks.

And when the Brits do finally decide to revolt, their government’s second rate IT systems will easily be subverted by a few smart hackers.

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