24 April 2008

The Lords

I suggested in a comment at Tim's that unicameralism would be OK, so long as it means getting rid of the House of Commons.

I was mostly joking. But maybe it's worth thinking about.

On the anti side, there's this amendment by the Lords to the Criminal Justice bill creating penalties for "Recklessly disclosing" personal data.

In order to rule that something is reckless, you need to have some idea of what normal practice is, to contrast against recklessness.

But in handling of data, there practically is no normal practice, and what there is is mostly terrible. We in the IT industry just make it all up as we go along. That's what being such a young, fast-moving profession is all about. The high-profile failures that we've seen have been notable more for bad luck than for being worse than the rest of the industry.

I'm not saying that the current situation is satisfactory. But slinging around vague terms like 'reckless', outside of the context of the Data Protection Act which, for all its faults, at least tries to define the concepts it deals with, will not improve anything.

Business IT does not work to a level of reliability adequate for protecting confidential data, or for other critical functions. If we were to operate on a similar basis to the people who write software for planes or power stations, costs and delays would increase to the point where 90% of what we now do would simply not be worth doing.

And that has to be the answer for confidential personal information. If it really needs to be secret, it shouldn't be on commercial-grade IT systems in the first place. If the state or a private business collects it, don't be surprised when it leaks. Most of the time, the recklessness is in collecting it in the first place.

Back on unicameralism, I think the reason for this mistake by the Lords is a desire to defeat the government, to make them look weak, to get more votes. So if we didn't have a Commons, we wouldn't have had this bad amendment.

Perhaps.

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