What really happened
From the bbc story:
“He said the NAO wanted only limited child benefit records but was told in an e-mail from a senior business manager in March that to remove more sensitive information was too costly and complex.”
Right. Costly and complex – it’s a database right – so a simple query could have been written – may have taken time to run if it had to pull out all that information – actually the query might have been pretty complex given that im hoping the table structure was set up properly with all the correct joins and normalisation etc (though I wouldn’t hold my breath). Also – 2 cds? Whats that - about 1.6GB of data? Sounds a bit small for 25million records considering when I worked in the hospital the database I used that held the data for the patients that had been seen in the hospital – considerably less than 25 million I might add – was sitting at around 2GB when I left.
Im also assuming that they will have information officers whose job it is to respond to requests like that – who may be familiar with a little known application called crystal reports.
Though what happened probably went something like this:
Scene 1 - HM customs & revenoo office, basement where the IT people are kept
Non-Existent High Level Civil Servant (NEHLCS): “Ho there laddo! A mate of mine at the Audit Office,old school chum actually, jolly good sort [insert long winded anecdote about old pull-my-finger Smythe]… Well he asked for a bit of information that we have. I’ll have my secretary send you the details shouldn’t take a clever lad like you long eh?”
Scapegoat: “Umm… well maybe. Depends what it is they are looking for. Oh and could you sign the authorisation for me to access the data please as well – you know.. for the security audit thingy we are supposed to do…”
NEHLCS: “Well he did say its dashed urgent. No need to bother about that security tosh now – don’t worry I will do it later. You just get that info he wants and send it over to them toot sweet.”
Scene 2 – 20 minutes later
NEHLCS: “Well laddo have you managed to get that info I asked for?”
Scapegoat: “Umm… Just writing the query now. Its actually quite complicated because…”
NEHLCS: “Argh! Non of your technical mumbo jumbo! I don’t understand that rubbish anyway! Can you not do it faster?”
Scapegoat: “Not really boss. It all takes time, and because of the amount of data it will take a while to run when it is ready anyway”
NEHLCS: “Bugger. He did say he needed it soonest. I know,” (Self satisfied smile)”Send it all.”
Scapegoat: “Umm… All of it? Are you sure? I don’t think that we are allowed to do that…”
NEHLCS: “Nonsense! We are the Government! We can do what we like – it is just sharing information anyway. Will be a lot easier when we have that big central database” (Scapegoat shivers and turns pale) “Stick it all on a cd and send it down to them. Let that git Smythe get the stuff out of it himself. Always was a lazy bugger.”
Scapegoat: “Umm… send it how? And it will take time to burn it onto cd anyway”
NEHLCS: “The post you daft sod! How else! Actually better use that courier service we use – stick it in their bag – royal mail are probably on strike again. Ruddy socialist slackers!”
Scapegoat: “Recorded delivery right you are”
NEHLCS: “Oh no! we are trying to save money here. It will be fine in the normal bag”
Scapegoat: “Riiiiiight….lf you could just sign this form saying that you have authorised a copy of the ENTIRE SYSTEM….”
NEHLCS: “No time! Of to see the minister for a few ummm… policy thingies. Pop it in the post there is a good chap.”
Scene 3 – A month later
NEHLCS: “You there! What happened that bit of data you sent to the Audit office! They haven’t got it yet!
Scapegoat: “Umm… actually that was me. I posted it like you asked”
NEHLCS: “Well they have no record of getting it. Where is the tracking slip”
Scapegoat: “you instructed me to send it by normal mail”
NEHLCS: “Send it again – This time recorded delivery. Those buggers at the Audit Office probably lost it.”
NEHLCS leaves basement
Scapegoat: “Boss. The boss had me do something and it stuffed up so now im telling you – we’ve lost a copy of the database.
IT Boss: “*@!£%^&*&I*UO(*U”