Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Wither the Privacy Hero...

The Hero in computing is a well known phenomena - think of the lone programmer, sysadmin or hacker for example. However the hero also occurs in all domains including privacy. The privacy hero is the one who has hand crafted the privacy policy, set down in stone a lengthly list of privacy requirements and compliance activies without consulting the engineers and users who have to implement and use these.

As many disciplines, especially that of medicine, have discovered, the hero is the most dangerous person there is. By working against the odds, he (or she) usually creates a victory where all is solved [1]. Be it uring a patient or creating the rules by which the company is saved from an inglorious admission of a data breach. Even if there is a breach or the patient later dies, it can't be the hero's fault, but the others such as the failed care of the nurses or the engineers who never listened. In reality the nurses and the engineers are usually patching the damages caused by the hero.

Our current cultural setups in privacy, and especially now we're starting to get engineers actively involved in the privacy debate, needs to change from the Privacy Heros to a much tightly integrated team of experts.

In [2], Atul Gawande clearly states that the nurses, technicians and other personel "work for" the hero doctor. In privacy we still have the same attitude, software engineers "work for" the Privacy Officers.

We suffer from a huge lack of teamwork - the privacy hero's word is the Truth and that's it. Within the current culture of privacy, the engineers who are battling to implement or even comprehend privacy requirements written and explained at a completely different level of asbtraction than is necessary do not play any major part in those requirements.

Consider the defintions of personal data or PII for example, have these even been properly grounded in the undelying mathematical theories of what information is; or even for that matter in terms that can be properly understood by software engineers in their domain. Even within the legal domain, these terms have been defined in such a way that they are underspecified and open to legal interpretation.

In order to move from a highly ineffective privacy priesthood to a true, all encompasing and all relevant discipline based on a mutually supporting combination of legal, scientific and engineering principles we must change our culture from that of the Hero to that of the Team.


[1] Suzanne Gordon, Patrick Mendenhall and Bonnie Blair O'Connor. Beyond the Checklist
[2] Atul Gawande, Better
[3] Ian Oliver. Privacy Engineering: A Dataflow and Ontological Approach.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Finland's Privacy Niche

From last month, but now it is safe to post this more publicly: an article I was interviewed for by the Helsinki Times:

Finland finds niche in privacy and information security
21 Aug 2014
By David Cord
"FACEBOOK can send SMS messages on your phone, record your photos and track your location. The National Security Agency is reading your emails. Cyber criminals are trying to snatch your credit card details. In an era where we are rapidly losing all privacy online there is a demand by consumers to protect and control their personal information. As this demand grows, Finland has an opportunity to become the global leader in privacy and information security..."

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Scotland, Independence, Wales, the UK etc...

Well, what ever happens today in Scotland, I think that Salmond has won: the concessions that have been offered Scotland by the leaders of the main parties in the UK are generous to say the least. In effect a no vote will trigger practically everything but independence and full financial autonomy, while a yes vote will lead to much protracted negotiations and to be honest I'm not sure either side in this has a good idea of how these will turn out.

The questions of economy, currency union and EU membership are academic to a point. Firstly Scotland's economy will probably do quite well, though the independence vote is not specifically about the economy but rather the right of a people to decide their own future - democratically. Currency union might well become a moot point - if Scotland enters a currency union with the UK pound then there isn't really much the UK could do about it; there are alternatives such as pegging a Scottish currency against the EU in much the same way as Montenegro has done. Even if Scotland's currency did devalue then this could be a good thing for inward investment.

EU membership is interesting, especially as Spain and quite probably Belgium has vested interests in quelling their own internal independence movements - even then the pressure from their local voters and even smaller EU nations which might feel threatened by over dominance by larger members might sway this. EU membership also solves the currency issue.

Border controls and the like? Well Scotland couldn't become a Schengen country unless the UK joined too and I strongly doubt that we'd see passport checks at any time in the future other than in the more fanciful predictions.

My main issue however is - regardless of yes or no - is what happens to Wales and to a smaller extend to Northern Ireland and England. Certainly some Welsh politicians seem blissfully unaware or even naive of the implications. Even the Conservative Party in Wales has come out much more in favour of devolution of powers to Wales than Labour.

Politicians always has vested interests anyway: the Conservatives know that their only chance of any power in Wales is through the Senedd while Labour can always sit back and count on votes from their heartlands both in Wales and England. If Scotland leave, or even in Westminster is reorganised to solve the West Lothian Question this might change as Welsh MPs would have little influence even if they did vote on English specific legislations. There's an interesting discussion about this on the TrueWales web site in an article written by Rachel Banner (24 Jan 2012): The West Lothian Question.

Ironically it has been Welsh MPs who have probably made some of the most important decisions regarding England the UK: Nye Bevan and the NHS, Lloyd George and Home Rule (which unfortunately didn't come to pass due to World War 1) and even back to the Welsh advisors to Queen Elizabeth the First who promoted the idea of naval supremacy.

If we come back to what has been offered Scotland now and since the 1998 devolution votes one must seriously ask the question of why Scotland gets so much at the expense of the rest of the nations of the UK. I'm still unsure why every change to devolution in Wales requires a referendum such as that back in 2011 which granted Wales the power to make laws specific to the needs of the nation. Are politicians so weak and afraid of their decisions? Surely the populace voted those MPs into power to make such decisions for the good of the people and so they should take the responsibility themselves rather than pass it off to often under informed voters?

So on Friday, will Wales be offered DevoMax? I doubt it - no politician is that brave.