Putting ef­fi­ciency be­fore pri­vacy

Kapi-Mana News - - CONVERSATIONS - BRIAN COLLINS Pa­pakowhai GLO­RIA HA­ZLE­WOOD Pa­pakowhai GOR­DON CAMP­BELL

the re­cent Kapi-Mana News sur­vey of coun­cil­lors’ per­for­mances (didn’t we see him of­fer the same rea­sons in re­sponse to a pre­vi­ous sur­vey)?

To all three I ask: which of you will own up to the fact that the faulty busi­ness case for the Bernie Wood Turf was clearly spelt out to the mayor and coun­cil­lors be­fore they ap­proved the deal?

They nev­er­the­less still pro­ceeded to spend more than $1 mil­lion of pub­lic money – with more promised – de­spite all the ev­i­dence that coun­cil of­fi­cers had done a poor job eval­u­at­ing the propo­si­tion.

It’s about time Porirua was not rep­re­sented by peo­ple who think buy­ing prop­erty is the only game in town.

SHOPS CLOS­ING IN ME­GACEN­TRE

It is sad to learn that the Postie shop in the Me­gaCen­tre is to close soon.

This shop has served our city so well in many ways – prices, shop set-up and friendly staff, to men­tion some. Also Dick Smith is also clos­ing. Is this a start in the Me­gaCen­tre of what has oc­curred in the CBD?

There we have lost some more shops, and there is an empty Post Of­fice site, bought by our city coun­cil in 2015.

What plans have the coun­cil got for this build­ing – it has cost us ratepay­ers a lot of money.

The orig­i­nal McDon­ald’s shop has been va­cant for many years and oth­ers have been left va­cant for long pe­ri­ods, but still our next pro­jected rates rise is to be more than 5 per cent.

Next year, are we also to be with­out an in­for­ma­tion cen­tre too?

Many vis­i­tors and lo­cals use this out­let for in­for­ma­tion about ser­vices.

It was well op­er­ated by friendly staff and will be a sad loss for our city.

Maybe this sit­u­a­tion arises from our coun­cil try­ing to save money on one hand while spend­ing at will with the other.

This is now a very sad look­ing city.

There is not too much to be proud of for those of us who live, work and shop here, let alone for those who are vis­it­ing.

If the 5 per cent rates rise was used to show some of the pos­i­tive things hap­pen­ing in Porirua, then we would once again be proud of our achieve­ments, in­stead of go­ing to other, bet­ter places to shop.

The only thing we can do is live in hope for the fu­ture of our on­ce­proud city.

Be­fore it was co-opted by politi­cians, ‘‘ef­fi­ciency’’ used to be an in­no­cent lit­tle word.

At its best, it con­jured up images of health and econ­omy, of things whirring hap­pily in place as men and women in suits strode con­fi­dently to­wards their des­tiny.

In that guise, ‘‘ef­fi­ciency’’ is the en­emy of waste, the friend of pur­pose. At its worst, though, ‘‘ef­fi­ciency’’ has a ruth­less qual­ity, and is eas­ily ir­ri­tated by hu­man frailty.

In the hands of politi­cians, ‘‘ef­fi­ciency’’ and its evil hench­man, ‘‘af­ford­abil­ity’’, have be­come the Aryan Twins of fis­cal aus­ter­ity. Means have be­come ends, and what be­gan as a quest for the wise use of re­sources ap­pears to have to­tally jumped the shark.

So it seemed last week, as Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Bill English un­veiled the Govern­ment’s plans to in­te­grate the data held by 10 ma­jor govern­ment agen­cies – in­clud­ing Health, Ed­u­ca­tion, So­cial De­vel­op­ment, Jus­tice and In­land Rev­enue – so that more in­for­ma­tion could be read­ily ac­cessed about peo­ple who hap­pen, for what­ever rea­son, to cross the Govern­ment’s radar.

Of­fi­cials would even be able to ac­cess this new ‘‘data high­way’’ from their smart­phones be­fore mak­ing de­ci­sions.

The ef­fi­ciency gains, English in­ti­mated, would be con­sid­er­able.

No-one, of course, wants to stand in the way of progress. Yet the prospect of pub­lic ser­vants – many of them now on short-term con­tracts where they move con­stantly be­tween the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors – be­ing able to flick on their cell­phones and ac­cess the most pri­vate in­for­ma­tion about vir­tu­ally any­one (from their in­comes to the sta­tus of their in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ships) is not a vi­sion to be em­braced with­out qualms.

English seemed to grasp that there could be pri­vacy im­pli­ca­tions, be­fore briskly brush­ing them aside.

‘‘We’re us­ing the same tools that ev­ery other busi­ness in the world is us­ing to un­der­stand much more about our cus­tomers,’’ he claimed.

Why, just as Face­book uses smart al­go­rithms to place ad­ver­tis­ing, so too could big data bet­ter in­form the de­ci­sions made on so­cial pol­icy.

‘‘We’re not look­ing at re­duc­ing pri­vacy or con­fi­den­tial­ity,’’ English added. ‘‘We’re look­ing at shar­ing it.’’

To which his crit­ics would re­ply, when pri­vacy gets ‘‘shared’’, surely it isn’t quite so pri­vate any more?

The sup­port­ing Cabi­net pa­pers also paint the new world of in­for­ma­tion in­te­gra­tion in utopian fash­ion: ‘‘The in­creased avail­abil­ity of govern­ment-held in­for­ma­tion and data an­a­lyt­ics and pre­dic­tive mod­el­ling…[has] the po­ten­tial to…help solve com­plex prob­lems and gen­er­ate in­no­va­tive ideas.’’

Ev­i­dently, this will hap­pen across ‘‘mul­ti­ple agen­cies and their part­ners’’ at the same time as ‘‘part­ner­ships with the pri­vate sec­tor are in­creas­ingly be­ing used to drive in­no­va­tion and en­cour­age greater risk tak­ing’’.

Any pri­vacy im­pli­ca­tions here? Not ac­cord­ing to the au­thors.

‘‘This pa­per has no hu­man rights is­sues,’’ they flatly claim. So far, this sys­tem of mass-data sur­veil­lance is be­ing im­ple­mented with­out any pub­lic dis­cus­sion of the safe­guards re­quired to pre­vent hack­ing, im­proper data shar­ing or on-sell­ing, the trans­fer of in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion, or the level of ac­cess that or­di­nary citizens should have to the data be­ing held on them. Only a decade ago, Big Brother was in­voked when the Govern­ment merely wanted to reg­u­late the size of show­er­heads to conserve en­ergy. Since then, we’ve be­come so much more ef­fi­cient.

Talk­ing pol­i­tics

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