March 4th, 2012

breaking bad

You got your wish, ID sceptics

There was a massive fuss about secure online identity at the last election (the ID card debate). I argued that there was an unavoidable need for a secure transferable personal identity to allow people to access online services, without giving their personal data repeatedly to a wide range of commercial companies. British people should have an assured identity, our details should be entered once only, kept behind a firewall. In my opinion this should be managed on a public basis, not commercially. The alternative is to be tracked by large companies like Google and Microsoft, which have no democratic accountability.

In my opinion the 'anti-ID' techies were stupidly misguided in opposing this. Classic example of people with good specialist knowledge but poor political judgement. They got hysterical about 'Government ID card scheme'. At the time I argued over and over again - mainly with Lib Dems - that they were over-estimating the dangers of a public service, and under-estimating the dangers of privatisation. The point is that your ID will be tracked, if you exist online at all (for example make payments or take a phone call). The questions remain - how many organisations will hold your core details, and what safeguards are in place. Putting it in the public sector was safer, with greater checks on exploitation.

Now the current government is ready to tender for exactly the same thing. There was always going to be ID scheme, because government IT can't work without it. Now it is going to be handled for commercial gain by Google.
"The federated identity model is really the next government answer to the ID cards that have gone before. It's open, it's federated, it's market-led"... The identity assurance service will essentially be a market of competing private sector identity providers that will sell ID assurance services to the public sector, enabling organisations to identify who they are dealing with during government transactions.

I will concede that the communication of the need for ID was mismanaged by the previous government. I think that's because politicians were as ignorant about IT as the Lib Dem techies were about the realities of politics until it hit them in the face. There was a gulf between them which prevented them from communicating.
breaking bad

Books I am reading

I am going to get my mum's cat today, to look after him for two or three weeks. I do that at this time of year as they always take a holiday in early Spring.

What I am reading at the moment:

On audio - Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds. It's quite a nicely done SF story, set in a near-future trans-solar almost-utopia which is dominated by Africa. It's a working-through of what universal online access means to humanity, as the printing press transformed the world in two hundred similar years. I think there may also be an alien contact story coming up in the second half. The reading is nicely done, I think by an Anglo-African actor, who does not use a bland generic 'African' voice but varies his delivery well with age and gender and class. All it lacks for me is that compulsion to return to it. I will probably finish it but I am not compelled to.

On Kindle - The Winter King by Thomas Penn. This is an account of the reign of Henry VII. This is about the world being transformed by the printing press and by centralised power. As far as I can tell it was developed by reading a lot of correspondence, mainly between the Spanish and English courts. It's quite an interesting and bleak story, as Henry basically uses the law as a way of grabbing money. It combines well with Wolf Hall as an account of the years immediately before and after Henry VIII's happier interlude, before he went out of control.

In a Book - Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft. It's a Nordic crime drama. I finished it very rapidly. It's sad, violent and a bit yucky. I would not like to judge Kallentoft's ability as a writer by this English version, but this writing is rather crude and clumsy. I think the translator worked too fast, and it's got the feel of being churned out to meet demand. I think that will be a big risk for this genre, and the publishers run the risk of alienating readers.