The British Computer Society (BCS) is not an organisation I refer to much in these posts. That's because there's not really that much intersection between its interests and mine. BCS represents the computing establishment, if you like, while I'm just some crazy blogging about all this weird open stuff on the margins.
So it comes as something of shock to me to find myself not only in total agreement with the BCS, but actually in a state of some admiration for its views. And what, you may well ask, has occasioned this miraculous state? Well, our old friend, the Coroners and Justice Bill. The BCS is a little concerned:
The BCS' key points of concern centre on paragraphs 152-154 and Schedule 18 of the Bill and are as follows:
The Bill runs counter to the intentions and provisions of the Data Protection Act (DPA) 1998; in particular by devaluing the principal of informed consent which lies at the heart of the DPA.
The Bill severely curtails the independence of the Information Commissioner.
It is doubtful whether it would stand scrutiny under the Human Rights Act 1998, Article 8
It has the potential to heighten the distrust citizens have of government and central initiatives, and thereby set back the efforts of Government and its agencies to provide faster, more cost-effective public services using IT.
The Bill could have disastrous consequences in the hands of a less benevolent government.
Now, what's really interesting about all this is not that the BCS has suddenly discovered something appalling that no one else has: all the concerns it has raised have been pointed out many times before. What makes its statement important is (a) that it bothered to make it and (b) that it's the BCS making it.
If an organisation not known for rocking the boat and generally sticking its oar in (do I mix my metaphors? Very well, then, I mix my metaphors) concludes its statement with stuff like this, you know that things are very serious indeed:
"As past experience suggests, it is unwise to rely on the benevolence of a government to sensitively deploy such wide-reaching and general powers as these. In the wrong hands, it would permit the restriction - and ultimately the destruction - of the right to personal and corporate data privacy."
If we now have the pre-eminent establishment computing organisation raising its voice in protest against the unprecedented, transformative nature of this bill, isn't it perhaps time for the UK government to stop and think again? Who knows? - maybe it could even ask the BCS for some sensible advice.