For a Government that’s “playing dumb” on the Access Card we seem to be pretty open about how it’s going. We’ve appointed Professor Allan Fels to run the Consumer & Privacy Task Force and you would have noticed yesterday that former Microsoft executive Marie Johnson will be the Chief Technology Architect.

Professor Fels was brought in at the onset to advise the Government and the Office of Access Card on privacy issues. Johnson will advise on technology and IT.

So far we’ve had 111 meetings with interest groups and Government agencies and over 100 written submissions in response to Professor Fels’ first discussion paper.

We’ve made it very clear that the access card won’t be an ID card. In fact it will display less information than your driver’s licence. The cost has been estimated at $1 billion which is a lot less than the expected $3 billion in fraud reduction (over ten years).

And we’re sorry you had to read the entire KPMG report on the website but we’ve found people who made it through the document without doing a text search. We didn’t put the report on the website in a text searchable form as a protection against manipulation.

 

Christian Kerr writes:

Joe and I have been mates for an embarrassing length of time. Even more embarrassingly, we’ve spent most of it carrying on like George and Mildred – bickering, but under the same roof. So Joe won’t be surprised if I have a bit more to say.

The KPMG report on the smart card is a typical consultant’s report for government. It says what the person commissioning it wanted said.

Joe shouldn’t be surprised that anyone with any experience in government would be wary of it. The phrase “Sentence deleted for Cabinet in confidence reasons” is never reassuring.

Some sections are deleted for in-confidence reasons – commercial and/or cabinet. True, the only really contentious issue is the strong recommendation in section 3.7.1 that registration for the card should be compulsory, whether or not you currently access any government services.

But despite Joe’s comments his own Budget media release on this subject  should still have us concerned that the Access Card will be a de facto ID card.

And the tech angles. You can’t search the KPMG report on the smart card on Joe’s Department’s web site because it’s a scanned image, not a text based document.

But make sure you take a close look at some of these sorts of things. Private Eye recently reported on a hilarious case in the UK where some papers were released in response to a freedom of information request as PDF files with parts of the text blanked out. A wonk discovered that if you cut and pasted the material into Word, everything was readable.

And there are always some low-tech slip ups, too – as opposition accountability Kelvin Thomson revealed:

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and his colleague the Treasurer, as last week’s High Court decision showed, are the Boston stranglers of freedom of information…

But sometimes not everything goes according to plan. The copy they sent me of a briefing note prepared by the department of foreign affairs for a meeting scheduled with Andrew Lindberg, Managing Director of the AWB, on 20 January 2003, shortly before the invasion of Iraq, had most of the paragraphs blacked out, as usual, but the blacking out was—how shall I put it?—half-hearted or half-baked. It is in fact possible to read many of the words underneath the blacking out…

Joe might be smart on smart cards, but bureaucracies tend to be dumb. And if they’re dealing with our personal information, that’s a cause for concern.

Peter Fray

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