Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Shane Ward: Data Protection? Don't make me laugh.

Shane Ward: Data Protection? Don't make me laugh.: "I received a third letter through my letterbox. Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl was a complete stranger to me. I have never met him and yet, after 22 y..."

Data Protection? Don't make me laugh.

I received a third letter through my letterbox. Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl was a complete stranger to me. I have never met him and yet, after 22 years of living blissfully in ignorance of him it appears he lived with us. I never noticed him day after day. He did not have a bed to sleep in. He didn't touch my food. He never used any of my resources. And yet someone somewhere decided he lived there. It reminds me of the following poem.

As I was walking up the stairs
I met a man who wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
I wish that man would go away.

When the first letter arrived, from Barclays Bank. The letter contained a bank statement. As this was the first of such missives I can only assume that Barclays Bank made a mistake and got addresses mixed up. I can't verify that, of course, because now that Experian has (another assumption) Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl's details linked to my address, only Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl can request to see it. Why is that? Data protection. So where was data protection when I recieved Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl's bank statement then? Is this not breaking the law?

Barclays bank were less than civil on the phone. They said to my wife, 'Oh just send the letter back and we'll deal with it'.

My wife replied, 'Hang on a minute. I want to know if someone is trying to steal my identity or has access to my details. I want to know how this Mr Jabarkhyl's details got linked with my address'.

They said, 'don't worry, its probably just an error'.

My wife was not happy with this and asked to speak to the supervisor, who tried to take her down the same route without looking into the problem. My wife said, 'I'm not happy with this. I'd like the address to where I can send a complaint.

The supervisor said, 'What do you want to do that for? I've dealt with your complaint'.


Taking into account the level of customer service delivered here, it sounds like my wife was asking the bank to walk the length of the country without good reason. In other words my wife was making a fuss over some piddly, infinitesimal minor error. It was a little mistake alright?

Ten days later we got a letter for Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl from Barclaycard. This was not a good sign and the little mistake was beginning to look like it was going to have significant consequences. I wrote to Barclaycard to tell them in no uncertain terms to take my address and Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl and put them in separate rooms. He does not live here. He has never lived here. He will never live here and if I catch him and find he gave my address on purpose, he may not live in the future.

Another ten days elapsed before the third letter, which at this point I am now making a big fuss. This time it was a letter for Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl from a debt collecting agency called Red. It was precisely the sort of thing my wife wanted to avoid but it seemed that somewhere in the administration that linked Mr Jabarkhyl to our address, the credit rating agencies like Experian get the information that bailiffs and tracing agencies use.

I phoned Red in order to find out where they got this information from. They suggested phoning Experian. I phoned Experian. I told them I had no interest in my credit rating but I wanted to know if they were holding Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl's address as my address and if so, where did they get that misinformation from. They told me that, because I was no Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl they could not access the personal details because of data protection.

Data protection my foot! I now had details of Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl's bank account, card account and knowledge that he owned a 3G mobile for which he had not paid £20.93. I can say this because Barclays Bank, Barclaycard and Red Debt Collection Services made Mr Jabarkhyl's personal details public domain the minute they sent the information to the wrong address. Sending his details to my house is a breach of data protection and it appears that the law does not support any rectification of such a breach.

I was frustrated and angry. The guy at Experian was very nice and supportive. He said that he had personal experience of this too and so had thousands of others. In other words it is a significant enough problem that something has to change. In this case it is the law itself that needs amending.

I should be able to approach Experian the letters I should not have received and with a written statement that declares legally that Mr Mirwais Jabarkhyl did not and does not live in my house. Experian will then have the authorisation to access Mr Jabarkhyl's database details, make the necessary amendments with a note to say why it was changed, what evidence was seen, who requested the change and who was responsible for providing the erroneous information in the first place.

Experian can then go to the business that provided the incorrect information and charge them the administration costs for having to go through all that fuss and also to compensate the victim proportionately to the inconvenience and suffering. Right now I am annoyed and have spent an afternoon setting up a campaign to get the law changed. My compensation would be a token payment, lets say about £25 in today's money. However, as soon as I get bailiffs on my doorstep I would expect the payment to be proportionate to the bill the bailiff are seeking plus their charge. Because by the time they add £100 in service charges the demand wrongly placed on my address should now be reflected in the compensation.

I have spoken to a number of people tied up in this whole affair. The debt collection service representative, I believe, summed up the attitude of many businesses that 'it just happens'. Well I'm sorry if I do not subscribe to that sense of apathy but I think it needs to stop just happening.

Consequently I have started a campaign that I hope you will all join to show your support. I have written to my local MP and, for those of you who are already experiencing this little nightmare you are welcome to follow my template on Facebook group 'Change The Data Protection Act' and please don't forget to sign up in support, as I will be able to demonstrate to MPs the strength of feeling we all have when these awful letters just turn up on our doorstep.

So when you attempt to find out who has sent someone else's bill to your address and they say they can't help because of data protection. Maybe we should all just use my group page to publish the letter we received, who it was for, who it was from and how much they owe and then alert the police to the list and who they should prosecute for breach of data protection. Data protection? Don't make me laugh.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Soft & Smelly: We're In It Together.

Anyone listening to the Conservative manifesto for the 2010 election should have every reason to feel afraid. They claim that Labour will give you 5 more years of the same old rubbish, which is true. On the other hand the Conservatives will give you 5 years not unlike the 17 years that pushed people towards Labour in the first place.

...and this is the problem, which is so succinctly put together by the Labservative site on youtube, acknowledges that we have been trapped into voting for different versions of the same old rubbish for the last 65 years. This has to stop and, as the Tory party put it in their manifesto, you have to 'do your bit' to get us all off this nonsensical merry-go-round.

What we need is a longer term politics. We need policies that have a broad cross-party consensus that will not only stand the test of time but will also be effective. Short term politics, where one party can abolish the work of another at the next election, is not only damaging but costs money belonging to 'we the people'.

The Liberal Democrats have long been the party who claim that there is an alternative to the other two. The problem they have often had is funding; big business and the rich support Tory and unions support labour. Voters have long supported them in local elections but not in national government. Why? because they do not believe that the Lib Dems are strong enough to govern. Well, maybe they are and maybe they are not but they were, historically, the original opposition to the Tory Whigs. So at the very least, if you want to oust Labour and the Tories in a marginal seat, you could do worse than vote the Lib Dems in.

My preference would be to vote for none of the above, which is where my moral standing remains but some of the smaller parties, like the English National Party, have colluded with UKIP and other fringe parties to form a rather unholy alliance. On the other hand, the more smaller parties that gain seats in government, the more likely we may be able to achieve that long term political policy making I mentioned earlier.

There are just a few weeks to go before we vote in the 2010 general election. The Tory party has said it is time for change and there, at least, they are right. Let's not vote for yet another 5 years of Labservative. It really is time for a change.

...oh, and please do not think that your vote is a wasted one. Your vote is one of the most powerful and cherished weapons that any free society can possess. While I would like to influence how you vote, it is more important that you do vote.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Abolish Short Term Politics

Perhaps unintentionally, 'The Times', in its effort to promote the way forward for a Conservative Government, has highlighted the reason for the need to bring in proportional representation. On page 2 of today's paper, the commentary declares, 'The role of government is not to own and control, but to help to stabilise the economy. That means building surpluses in good economic times, so that there is scope for extra spending in a downturn.'

Precisely. Short term spending plans in the UK is the natural bi product of short term politics, which in turn is the natural consequence of a two party dominated first past the post electoral system.

Amusingly, The Times further reports on page 4 in a commentary about not legislating to punish aggressive marketers for sexualising children, the reporter notes that, 'psychologists have shown that punishment teaches only how to avoid the punishment. The best way to encourage others to do what you want is to reward them.'

So there you have it. Politicians do not learn from being voted out over the short term; they simply find a way not to get voted out the next time. In other words they find more clever and devious ways to carry on doing what they do but not get caught.

Now it is not true to say that this applies to every individual politician. The recent expenses scandal revealed that only 52% of politicians had their fingers in the till in some way or another. What is fundamentally wrong is that one political party holds so much power that it can railroad through legislation at the rate of knots, beat down all opposition simply through sheer weight of numbers and bend the country's economic future to its political whim regardless of the country's long term future.

The most sensible way to cool down the rapidly changing political landscape is to dismantle completely the first past the post system, by pass the politically popular but rather pointless AVS system and adopt a full blooded proportional representation system. It is argued that proportional representation would weaken government, slow down legislation and make political changes more difficult. Sounds good to me. And it should also be recognised that most other European countries already have a proportional representation system working quite happily thank you very much.

So how do we get there? certainly it won't be by 'rewarding' the main parties with our votes. We must put a tremendous dent in the main parties in order to make them understand that we want proper government and not political jiggery pokery, ping pong, negative slanging matches and a complete disregard for the little people; consider for example the Conservative MP, forced by changes to the expenses regime, who was outraged at having to stand on the train in economy class along with the rest of us little people. Why should he not share the experience that many of us face in our daily commute to work?

The UK will soon be asked to vote for a new Government. Considering that none of us will get anything from any government other than higher taxes, now might be as good a time as any to change our voting allegiances to who we really want. For now that might mean voting for anyone except the big three - unless, of course you enjoy this sort of perpetual crisis management.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

AVS: A Veritable Swindle

Gordon Brown spoke today about reforming the political theatre in favour of the people it is designed to serve. What a great idea but wasn’t that what the current political set up was designed to do as well? Some of his ideas sounded brilliant, however, we must never forget that these politicians are consummate survivalists who are currently bending over backwards to save their own necks.

Now don’t get me wrong; I have argued for change for quite a while now. Some of Mr Brown’s proposals sound appealing: An elected House of Lords, elected select committee members, basic guaranteed rights within public services, more power and control for local councils, a written constitution and at long last – a new voting system.

…except the new voting system is designed to keep all the votes within the old boys club, which is why the main political parties will want to back it.

AVS, Alternative Voting System, is designed to allow you to vote for your candidates in terms of preference. So if you want to vote Labour you pick them first. This bit is no different to the first past the post (FPP) system we have now. The new bit will be that you can choose, as a second preference, another candidate – lets say Conservative – who you would never have voted for in a month of Sundays before.

What the voting system changes is the possibility that in marginal seats, the current second place candidate could actually beat the FPP candidate winner by second preference voters because the majority of the constituents as a whole preferred the second candidate.

The illusion is that the majority voters have elected the AVS candidate either as a first or as a second choice. Does this sit right with you? I mean how many times have you heard a football fan say, “Which team do you support? Who would you support next?” Or how about “Do you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife? What about a bit on the side?” See my voting system by way of comparison (which incidentally I sent to the Society for Electoral Reform but they politely failed to respond; why? Because, I reckon, they have supported AVS for about 100 years).

I support a change in the voting system but I do not support AVS. I believe there should be a much broader choice of voting systems placed before the electorate and that we should allow them to choose. Is this not what Gordon Brown said about placing the power in the hand of the electorate, or is their interest only in the kind of power that the old boys clubs can still control?

Let the people decide the voting system Gordon. It doesn’t matter what you politicians prefer; it is what we the people prefer that count.

Now I know that my system only gives the voters a 99.6% first preference outcome – a mere 30% plus higher than any other voting system. It also keeps MPs within their constituencies, albeit that the constituency is bigger and it will be served by both first and second candidates. However, I know that many people will want to keep out candidates like the BNP, which my system will not guarantee. On the other hand, my system, unlike AVS will not exclude (as it is designed to do – just like FPP) the Green Party, English Heritage Party, UKIP and other grossly under represented parties.

AVS favours big political parties. It does not favour the will of the people. Yes we need electoral reform but AVS isn’t it.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Smoke and Mirrors

“I am prepared to tell you absolutely anything!” No, this is not a quote from a politician’s speech; it is a quote from the rather funny series called ‘Black Adder’. However, the quote could well have come from any number of our incumbent Parliamentarians because 2010 opens the door to a new wave of lies, deception, obfuscation and kidology. Sit back and enjoy the playground bickering as two sides attempt to ‘outbid’ each other in the race to kick and elbow their opponents out of contention. Marvel at the amazing claims to be able to achieve what they, and every other previous Government for the past 100 years for that matter, have failed miserably to achieve before. Welcome one and all to the start of the campaign trail for the 2010 General Election.

Media coverage of politics in the UK is dominated, as per usual, by Labour and Conservative. The first spat of the New Year is over the economy and who has got its figures right. Labour produced a tremendously large document discussing plans to dig Britain out of debt; No, not Labour’s plans – the Conservative plans. You see it is so much easier to disparage the opposition plans than it is to justify the rightness of your own. So we learn that Labour thinks the Conservative plans are unachievable but we have no idea if Labour’s plans are any better. So what kind of message can we take from this opening salvo? Surely the message put across by Labour is not so much vote for us as it is don’t vote for them.

The conservative party, in the meantime, has declared that it tends to concentrate on the National Health Service (NHS). It plans to ring-fence the funding for the NHS, which means that other departments must surely bear the necessary cuts any future Government will desire to miraculously accomplish within one Parliamentary term simply for the purpose of looking great and ‘electable’ once more in the next General Election. But look closely enough and you can see that most awful of management devices called ‘the quick win’ in action. The NHS funding is already there. All the Conservatives are saying is that they will leave it alone, which is what they want to do with most things anyway. Perhaps what is most surprising about their declaration is that they are not seeking to privatise large sections of the NHS – probably because no one has any spare cash right now.

The Liberal Democrats may or may not hold the balance of power if the expected result of a hung Parliament becomes a reality – and just maybe politicians will take notice that we, the people, will no longer accept their kind of futile political point scoring that resembles nothing more than a flock of quarrelsome seagulls squabbling over a piece of dead crab. Perhaps one might even give the Lib Dems some credit for not joining the unseemly scrap.

Of course, the clever bit to all this is the way media coverage is distracted form things like the MPs expenses scandal and the ongoing Iraq enquiry, both of which has cost the tax payer extraordinary amounts of money and leaves no politician covered in glory. We must remember in the coming days when we hold the power to change the way we are governed, that whatever successive governments have promised in the past, they have singularly failed to deliver on it.

In the 2010 election I think we all know that whatever Government is formed, the tax payer will be paying taxes to pay back the debts created by unwise and foolish banking investment practices. There is nothing financially in this package for the little people. And thus we approach a defining moment where ordinary people can feel comfortable in voting on principle rather than on their own pockets (yes we all do it at some time or other) because there are no immediate material benefits to us. Therefore we have a glorious opportunity to use our vote – and use it we must – to change the way politics is delivered in our country.

For example, I noticed on the BBC news web page for ‘Politics’ (that is British Politics) that there is a subheading for Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh Politics. There is no heading for English Politics because England does not have an English Assembly. The ‘English National Party’ would want to have one of these along with the much popular introduction of a national holiday for St George. Please note that the smaller parties are concerned with letting you know what they stand for, rather than what the other parties will do to you if you are stupid enough to let them get in. Positive political campaigning does exist and I believe you would suffer no detriment by listening to a few of them. Clearly they have something positive to say, unlike Labour or Conservative who clearly have nothing to say worth listening to and nothing new to offer. If they did, wouldn’t they be talking to you instead of competing with each other?

Don’t be fooled by the smoke and mirrors. As one politically astute person pointed out on a website recently, if only Labour or Conservative are the likely Governments under our first past the post system, we are as near as living in a one-party-state as can be. There is no democracy - only the big boys club. I don’t know about you but I have had more than enough of their empty promises, deceit, back biting, corruption and self serving policies. Don’t be afraid to change your allegiance this year. Vote for someone who tells you what they want to do. Don’t be afraid, be involved – be very involved.