Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Data Rapists

I’m feeling awfully smug today. After three decades of people staring at me incredulously as I announced, ‘I don’t go to the doctor. I don’t like doctors’, I feel totally vindicated. This is not because I have discovered I am an immortal and will live forever like Duncan McLeod of the Clan McLeod – although that would be nice - it is rather because I have learned today that the medical records of over 50m Britons will to be uploaded onto a central government database early next year.

According to today’s Guardian, this information will be made available to the police and security services on a ‘need to know basis’. That’s simple. They seem to need to know everything there is to know about you at any given moment. ‘Details of mental illnesses, abortions, pregnancy, HIV status, drug-taking, or alcoholism may also be included, and there are no laws to prevent DNA profiles being added’, warned The Guardian.

Well hardy-ha-ha. Guess who doesn’t have any medical records for them to get their filthy little scanners on? Me!!! No blood or urine tests or weights to tip them off about my ‘lifestyle choices’, no conditions - congenital, acute, terminal or self-inflicted. Nada. As far as the medical profession goes, I do not exist. Not so much as an ingrown toenail. I got a wart once but you can get stuff at the chemist for that. I don’t believe in preventative medicine. If something wants me badly enough, it can have me. End of.

The information will appear on a new super computer called The Spine. The project is described in the media as the largest ‘civilian’ IT project in the world. This obsession with gathering our personal information makes Orwell’s ‘Telescreen’ look as harmless as a lava lamp. What is with these guys? The system should really be called Spineless, after the peeping toms that thought it up. Given that we already have 4 millionCCTV cameras following us about and our mobiles and credit cards snitching on us when we stay at the pub for an extra pint, how necessary is it for the NHS to fulfill the role of father confessor?

I am aware that we, as a culture, suffer from an obsessive desire to know obscure personal details about perfect strangers. I, for example, am incandescent with rage if I open a new novel and the writer has omitted to include a biography. I must see the words ‘Lucrezia was born in Walton-on-the-Naze in 1973 and lives in Highgate with her husband Tim, twins Auberon and Delia and cat Debussy. She writes full time’, on the inside cover of a book. I may well chuck the novel aside if the author can’t be bothered to lay a tiny morsel of herself before me. I do not, however wish to know if Lucrezia has epilepsy or suffered from post natal depression when the twins were born. This information could be very easy to obtain in future. It could show up in a bin bag outside the hospital where she had her D&C or the chemist that dispensed her Temazapam. I may even be able to bid for it on ebay which I would obviously do if I had a mind to blackmail her or sell her out to News of the World.

You won’t get any say in whether or not your medical information is held on The Spine. The data will be automatically uploaded whenever you interact with the medical profession, no matter how personal or how sensitive the consultation. The only thing you can do is make a formal request in writing that your information is not passed on. Health officials have warned that such action ‘may make diagnoses difficult and treatment dangerous and prevent research’. In other words you will be ‘flagged’ as a trouble maker and left to die which is no more than you deserve you selfish bastard for wasting everyone’s time and inhibiting statisticians’ vital work. Anyway your request can be overruled at any time in the interests of public health. So there smarty continence pants!

The fact that everyone, including doctors as well as patients is against it, as usual, makes the Government even more determined to push it through. In fact they’ve already engaged a PR firm to work up publicity proposals to persuade people not to object to their details being passed on. The threat of withholding treatment might not be enough to persuade those of us whose civic-mindedness does not stretch to giving up all of our rights to privacy thank you very much.

You could have drawn this story from Scripts Central, in fact I think they might have already covered it on Spooks. Any all encompassing system with this level of sensitive information in the hands of an organisation with as poor a record for competency as the NHS is sure be a magnet for abuse. The Guardian reported today,

‘The information commissioner, Richard Thomas, warned this year that private investigators were already raiding government and company databases, because the penalties are so weak. Investigations by his staff and police had uncovered "evidence of a pervasive and widespread 'industry' devoted to the illegal buying and selling of such information".’

Message to Government from ‘Unknown’ of Hackney (tee hee) – People before Government. Feel free to take that quite literally. Please insert a contra-flow on the information super highway. Stop collecting information and start dispersing some like what you intend to do about curing the sick people for example or do you just plan to eliminate them to save money?

Anyone who has a ‘medical history’ should write to the Secretary of State for Health to protest. There’s a pro forma in The Guardian which you can cut out and use. My advice? Don’t go to the doctor and if you do, just sit there and let them guess what’s wrong with you. They’ve had six years of training, they ought to be able to work it out without knowing where you live, your age or whether or not you’ve had a heart transplant. I raise a glass of medicinal Chardonnay to you and your very good health – long may it remain your little secret!

Picture from

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