Information ShearingSatire by Lyndon Hood
Finance Minister Bill English has highlighted his plan for expanded information sharing
between government departments. This includes, among other things, increased data sharing
within the existing rules and reviews of tax legislation and the privacy act.
Scoop was able to construct the following interview with Mr English based on a weighted neural multivariate analysis of
Scoop: So this is about government departments telling each other more stuff about people?
English: Yes. Big data.
S: What does that mean, exactly?
E: It's like normal data, but big.
S: More than one spreadsheet?
E: Huuge. A data highway. If there's one thing we like more than data, it's data AND highways.
S: Given the state has so much power to extract information from people, shouldn't it be cautious about the purpose it
uses that information for?
E: You have to remember we're talking about the most vulnerable people in society.
S: Using the information so you can help them?
E: Or so we can put the boot in, yes. If you look at our welfare policy that's often the same thing.
S: In principle though, the changes would apply to everyone?
E: But we're talking about poor people. It makes it so much simpler to get policy done.
S: It's easier to erode privacy if it's pitched as being aimed at to poor people?
E: We're not looking at reducing privacy or confidentiality. We're looking at sharing it.
S: Sharing private information is literally reducing privacy and confidentiality.
E: That's one way of looking at it. I like to think the confidentiality gets bigger the more people know it.
S: Surely that's nonsense.
E: You're nonsense.
S: But shouldn't the Minister of Finance be above just making meaningless reassuring political noises?
E: Look, some people might think that, but one the other hand bobubwee oooo duhdibwuboo.
S: Mister English…
S: Point taken. So if we look, for example, at the IRD. It's generally assumed keeping people's tax information secret
encourages them to actually declare it all.
E: Well maybe, but on the other hand there's a lot of cool stuff in someone's tax records that other people would quite
like to know.
S: Other departments?
E: Yeah, maybe private contractors too. And we don't really seem to care that much about tax compliance so that makes
things pretty simple.
Look at it this way: the government has all this information, we're just putting it all in one place so it's easier to…
E: …work with. And as it happens there are plenty of people around here who how to handle confidential information.
S: Like the SIS?
E: No, I mean handle confidential information properly.
We're using the same tools that every other business in the world is using to understand much more about our customers.
S: The government is a business now?
E: Okay sure why not.
S: What are you selling?
E: Offshore trusts, mostly.
S: Do you know anything about those customers?
E: Well, no. The important thing there is we can ask if we want.
This is like how Facebook uses its algorithms to target adverts.
S: So my future relationship with a bunch of powerful state agencies hinges on a guess as good as when Facebook suggests
financial services I might like?
E: Well, again, I have to remind you we're talking about poor people, not interviewers. Anyway, I find Facebook can be spookily accurate.
S: Like that time you looked at a camera on Amazon and then Facebook 'coincidentally' showed you ads for that exact camera
for, like, weeks. Even though you'd already bought it somewhere else?
E: Well, yes.
S: That's not big data analysis, that's just eavesdropping.
E: Hey, how did you know about that?
S: Don't worry, I'm not compromising the security or physical integrity of your home computer.
E: I should hope not.
S: I'm just sharing it.
E: Well that's all right.
S: Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, thank you.