Friday, August 22, 2008

Another Privatisation Cock-Up


Here we go again.

Data including the names, addresses and dates of birth of around 33,000 offenders in England and Wales with six or more recordable convictions in the past 12 months on the Police National Computer have been lost by the private company PA Consulting, contractors for the Home Office. Also lost were the names and dates of birth of 10,000 prolific and other priority offenders, and the names, dates of birth and, in some cases, the expected prison release dates of all 84,000 prisoners held in England and Wales.

Sounds familiar?

Back in December it was announced that US firm Pearson Driving Assessments, a contractor to the Driving Standards Agency, had lost the details of three million candidates for the driving theory test. Pearson reported that a hard drive was missing from a “secure facility” in Iowa.

And of course earlier this summer we had the news that thousands of British schoolchildren would have to wait until the autumn for key test results after the US-owned company brought in to administer the tests 'ETS Europe' failed to deliver on time.

Shadow Chancellor Dominic Grieve says, a propos of the latest loss of data by a private company: "What is more scandalous is that it is not the first time that the government has been shown to be completely incapable of protecting the integrity of highly sensitive data, rendering them unfit to be charged with protecting our safety."

Of course, Grieve doesn't mention that it's a private company, not the government, which has lost the data. He doesn't because he and his party are fanatical supporters of privatisation- and the process of sub-contracting government tasks to private, often foreign owned companies. In fact, it was the Conservatives who started this process when they were last in power. The biggest charge that can be made against the present government is that they have continued with such a disastrous policy. Back in the 60s and 70s, before the days of privatisation and sub-contracting government work to private companies, such loss of data never occured.

Once again, the British people are losing out due to adherence to neo-liberal dogma.

PS Any pro-privatisation fanatics out there who would like to argue that sub-contracting the work of government departments to private companies has improved efficiency?
After all, that's what you were telling us throughout the 1980s....

5 comments:

Roland Hulme said...

Utterly pointless article, Neil. Whenever you throw up examples of private contractors losing information, just as many examples of public agencies losing information can be cited in response.

The issue isn't public vs. private ownership. It's incompetence - which ignores dreary socialist dogma.

I don't think you could credibly argue that privatisation makes people's personal information more vulnerable. To be honest, I'd think it was the complete opposite (public, nationalized organisations are totally unaccountable, unlike private contractors.)

http://articles.latimes.com/2007/dec/24/world/fg-data24

http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/12/23/europe/EU-GEN-Britain-Disappearing-Data.php

http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/01/19/europe/EU-GEN-Britain-Data-Loss.php

Neil Clark said...

yeh, sure, Roland. The govt used to lose data all the time in the 'bad' old days before they outsourced and subcontracted much of the work of government departments, didn't they?.
It is logical to assume that the more outside agencies that handle govt data, the greater the likelihood is that it will get lost. The dogmatic ones are the neoliberals who believe that all these government tasks have to be outsourced to private contractors.

Roland Hulme said...

Priceless! Two points:

1: The public sector was just as/more prone to stupidity and el grande cock-up as the private sector. Loads of examples to pick from.

2: These vast information loses coincide with the popularity of computers and the like. Back before Maggie privatised everything, there were no such things as laptops and flash drives, so while the public sector had plenty of potential to 'screw things up entirely' they didn't have the resources to.

I think this whole line of attack is utterly daft. I've just given you examples of government bodies losing information just as readily as private ones. If your response is 'they didn't lose information like this in the olden days' it's because what can now be stored on a single (easily lost) floppy disk used to fill several filing cabinets. Not so easy to lose those on the bus, eh?

Neil Clark said...

roland: you're avoiding the issue. The more agencies that handle govt data, the greater the chance of that data getting lost. Why on earth is the Home Office subcontracting its work to private contractors? Other European countries don't do this. Why should we? Can you give me a single good reason why we shouldn't keep all the work 'in-house'?

Roland Hulme said...

Because 'in-house' is JUST as likely to lose data as anybody else, like the 'in-house' loss of the military laptop.