back to article Give up your privacy so Big Data can FIX GOVERNMENT

Edward Snowden's revelations about government snooping mean it is very hard to make a case for governments collecting and using information about their citizens. But in New Zealand, giving one agency the right to use more information has quickly paid off, saving millions in the short term, billions in the future and reducing …


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  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Your data in their hands

    What could possibly go wrong with this plan?

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Your data in their hands

      As compared to the fact that the government (AND the corporations) of your (and mine) country already has all your data and does nothing to help you? In fact, they actively use it AGAINST you?

      Yeah, I'll take the no benefit option every time.

  2. ecofeco Silver badge

    An Ounce of Prevention Equals a Pound of Cure

    What a crazy commie socialist concept! It will NEVER work!


  3. andro

    Government agencies sharing relevant data to other government agencies where relevant and under a privacy policy is a very different thing to sniffing collecting and analysing citizens communications and internet traffic. The first I think does make sense with the right protections and oversight in place to prevent abuse of the system. The latter however has no oversight as it is all secret and has no place.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      The problem is preventing regulatory creep. Perhaps in countries like New Zealand where there's at least a decent history of government management, people may feel more relaxed around the issue. The problem is that America has always had an undercurrent of government DIStrust since its founding, and this distrust has bubbled to the surface in government scandals over the last few decades.

      Plus, as a side note, the privacy of a community (and/or the desire to be private) seems to be directly proportional to the population of a community. Tiny villages and so on where everyone knew everyone else? Probably close to zero

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Perhaps at least some of the distrust in modern times stems from the fact that your government is actively, unashamedly, contemptuously, proudly evil.

        Other than that, they're a pip.

  4. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Secrecy is the keystone to all tyranny

    Digital Rights? You have no digital rights, they just want you to think you have rights so that you think you have something to lose, and are willing to grant your "rights" to them for your own protection...

    "Secrecy is the keystone to all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy and censorship. When any government or church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, 'This you may not read, this you must not know,' the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives." - Robert A. Heinlein

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Secrecy is the keystone to all tyranny

      So what happens when a secret is ALSO the only thing keeping your country in standing (secrets like the Manhattan Project or stealth fighter technology during the Cold War)? I'm pretty sure the writers of the Constitution and related documents knew there WOULD be times when a secret MUST be kept or the knowledge could be used to destroy the country.

      Which means, taking Heinlein's words to their logical extreme, tyranny is the ONLY stable form of government. Anything else either evolves into tyranny or devolves into anarchy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Secrecy is the keystone to all tyranny

        > So what happens when a secret is ALSO the only thing keeping your country in standing (secrets like the Manhattan Project or stealth fighter technology during the Cold War)?

        Tyranny against its own populace isn't the only tyranny a government can inflict.

        The manhatten project may have shortened the war, but it may not have reduced overall casualties and deliberately hitting a civilian population with a bomb even in time of war is generally considered bad form. It makes 9/11 seem a little trivial.

        Certainly, there are things which should be kept secret. But the analogy remains: sending someone to tail a suspected spy or criminal is ok with just cause. Keeping tabs on everyone as a matter of course just because you can, is not.

      2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: Secrecy is the keystone to all tyranny

        Any idiot with a few kg of uranium 235 can build a nuke. You place a sub critical lump on the left side, you place a sub critical lump on the right side and you ram them together at high velocity. Boom. A few kilotons of explosive force and "salt the earth" radiation that sticks around for a few hundred thousand years.

        Also, stealth bomber technology was used during the cold war. The fighter tech wasn't brought in until the very end. Frankly, by the time they had the B2 prototypes out it didn't matter anyways. Everyone had enough nukes on land and at sea to reduce everyone else to a sheet of glass anyways. MAD was far more important than any other technology. Stealthy fighters and bombers serve no purpose except when fighting some proxy war in some godforsaken jungle or hellscape of a desert.

        You also forget that both the Germans and the Japanese had their own nuclear programs. (Actually, the Japanese had two separate programs, one of which may well have suceeded in detonating a test device.) The soviets also had a program at the time and the Japanese were convinced they already had the bomb. (Which, frankly, they may well have. There's some evidence to indicate they may have detonated the first device, but wiped the design team out in the process.)

        So I will grant you the requirements of tactical secrecy. A short term use of secrecy to obtain or preserve a military advantage. Strategic secrecy, however - especially against your own people! - is insane. Security through obscurity is a terrible, terrible plan.

        I ask you, sir, exactly how many civilians have visited Area 51 without clearance? We all know where Nellus is. What about White Sands? Los Alamos? You don't need secrecy to be secure. Indeed, secrecy just makes people even more curious!

        Secrecy is something to be used sparingly, if at all. Certainly not with the paint gun of "classified" that the yanks of today use. If you need to keep something hidden, hide it in plain sight. Don't make eveyrone interested by keeping it hush hush.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Secrecy is the keystone to all tyranny

          "Also, stealth bomber technology was used during the cold war. The fighter tech wasn't brought in until the very end."

          The F-117 (a stealth fighter) was innovated BEFORE the B-2 (a stealth bomber).

          As for bombing Japan, recall that the Japanese attitude was to fight to the last and to defend the homeland with your lives. That attitude basically meant ALL residents were combatants. The big concern was preventing an invasion of the home islands would would've been bloody on both sides (they would make the casualty figures of Okinawa—which were steep despite its small size—pale in comparison). Plus there was the industry in those cities. People in the manufacturing industries were considered in the war industry: making them fair game. In addition, the secrecy was due to the Nazis ALSO working on an A-Bomb. They didn't want the Nazis stealing secrets OR accelerating their timetable in reply.

          And the thing with secrecy is that the only way to keep a secret is with MORE secrets. So how do you draw the line without "spilling the beans", so to speak.

  5. Scoular

    Cost benefit analysis lacking

    So to achieve an apparently desirable result gathering data on everyone is essential?

    Most people never are candidates for welfare and is it just possible that those who are could be identified in a much less intrusive way.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Cost benefit analysis lacking

      Not before they're ALREADY in the system according to them, and by then it's too late.

      They're trying to PREVENT them getting into the system, and the only way you can do that is to find warning signs. Unfortunately, warning signs aren't as obvious so you need a pretty wide net.

  6. Frankee Llonnygog

    Would never be adopted in the UK

    Our politicians favour faith over evidence

  7. cheveron

    During a sojourn in New Zealand I worked at the Ministry of Youth Development (, a sub-ministry of the MSD. I was impressed by the concerted effort to engage with young people and provide them with a better future. Other nations could learn a thing or two from New Zealand. The privacy concerns are reasonable, but if relecant data sharing can improve people's lives then it's hard to argue against it.

  8. Don Jefe

    Targeted Assistance

    Targeted, non monetary, Assistance programs are nearly always clusterfucks. They spend as much or more time and resources limiting the assistance to 'those who qualify' as they do on actual assistance. The smart money is in making programs like this available to any and all. No privacy concerns, less expense and it raises the bar for the entire country instead of a subset of the population.

    The assumption that only the poor and unfortunate benefit from guidance through 'the system' is extremely shortsighted.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Targeted Assistance

      You HAVE to keep out all and sundry because the include the LEECHES. They'd suck the programs dry and essentially kill them.

  9. Karl Vegar

    Just might work

    Add some proper anonymisation, and the privacy issues becomes less of a problem, and at the same time you get rid of any kind of racist or sexist BS.

  10. Christian Berger

    Couldn't this be just done by the schools?

    I mean the schools already have all the necessary information, they could just decide on a case by case basis to offer help to those people.

    You don't need to put centralized data gobbling systems in place when you can also do it just as easily in distributed systems.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Couldn't this be just done by the schools?

      Not necessarily. They only know what happens in school. Unless the police keep the schools informed all the time when children get in trouble with the law or they're called in because of a case of spousal or child abuse. Do they?

  11. tojb


    MSD has 20 years of data to inform its plans and the analytics tools to put that data to work.

    Most nations possess the latter two assets. The first may be in short supply in a post-Snowden world.


    Did you mean to have a list of three things in there? The "latter two" of a list of two is a bit of a silly construction to when using natural languages.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      The original post appears to have disappeared, but I believe he meant the latter two of trust, data, and analytics.

  12. Alan Brown Silver badge

    "Benefits" in New Zealand

    Include state pensions. It's worth being keenly aware that while 40% of the tax take is spent on benefits over 70% of that spend goes to people over 65, with absolutely zero discrimination.

    Additionally, New Zealand has a compulsary national no-fault accident insurance scheme, which means that people invalided out due to injuries are on a national form of "workers comp" (there's a lot of work in this to nail down fraudsters)

    The reason NZ is running down this (quite sensible) path is that they've TRIED things like targetting benefit fraud, with the quite embarrassing result that what was saved turned out to be less than 1/5 of what had been spent implementing the system of cross-agency reporting - and that 90% of benefit fraud was being performed by employees of the old Departments of Social Welfare - there was such a bad taste left that the ministry had to be renamed and repurposed.

    A lot of what they're doing is akin to rearranging the deckchairs on the titanic though. The Baby Boomer timebomb has landed and NZ's tax income is falling, while retirement benefit costs are set to rise to 80-90% of total social spending. The only long term fixes are means testing (deeply unpopular) and raising retirement age to 75 (also deeply unpopular) - no government which introduces such changes will survive a general election and no government which replaces that outed one will be able to reverse the change. (I did the math on this in 1986. It hasn't changed and it applies across most of the western world)

    FWIW, high levels of NZ govt employee corruption go uncounted by international standards because the _only_ measure classified by the NZ as corruption is Bribery. Cronyism is rife and perfectly ok. Widespread fraud and cases such as staff in nearly every DSW and Inland Renenue office engaged in selling off personal details to private investigators and debt collectors (something I inadvertently helped expose in the 1990s) is classified as "individual cases of employee fraud".

    Transparency International NZ itself is a deeply dubious organisation with an utterly opaque structure and 100% NZ government funding (The operative word here is "capture"). It's in the unique and uneviable position of having kicked out key transparency activists and hitting them with trespass orders which prevented some accepting 3rd party awards for their work at TI events.

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