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Privacy and Identity - System Engineering and the Database State

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In recent years the UK government has embarked on a program of ‘transformational government’ which seeks to centralise and automate many aspects of public services. A number of the proposed systems have caused public unease, including ID cards and the associated national identity management system; the central databases being built to hold all NHS records; the proposed linkage of public-sector data on children, including medical. school, social-work and police records; and the proposal for a database of all vehicle movements to support road pricing and crime fighting.

These systems raise many questions of interest to computer scientists. First, there are several hard-science issues. What is naming, and do universal naming systems bring real benefits? What are privacy and safety, and how are their tradeoffs to be managed? What are the limits of dependability as systems become ever larger? There are also questions that bring us into the social sciences. Why, for example, are public-sector systems projects more likely to fail than similar projects in industry?

This talk is part of the SciSoc – Cambridge University Scientific Society series.

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