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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Governments and databases... a bad mix?

3 December 2019

Apparently the semi-automatic gun buy-back database had a bit of a security problem.

Well a huge security problem actually.

It seems as if it was a trivial task for anyone to interrogate that database and come up with the details in it, effectively disclosing names, bank account numbers and the details of guns surrendered.

That's disappointing, but not surprising.

You can read more about this fiasco if you wish.

Of course this is not the first time that a trusted government organisation has overseen the collection and indexing of data in an insecure manner or incompetent manner.

The list of breaches is long and varied, covering most all of NZ's government departments (even WINZ) and potentially affecting huge numbers of innocent Kiwis.

Of course if you or I were to violate a person's privacy the chances are that we'd get a whacking great fine (or worse) for our misdeeds but, because of the "two sets of rules" principle that applies, if it's incompetence, negligence or malice on the part of "those who must be obeyed" then there are no consequences for the offenders.

"Do as we say, not as we do", the anthem of hypocrites, politicians and bureaucrats, rings through the halls of power once again.

So long as we instantly forgive such breaches, there is little or no incentive for those responsible to actually lift their game, is there?

Meanwhile, in the UK, a database and registration scheme, created in the naive belief that it will suddenly make the use of recreational drones safer, should perhaps come under similar scrutiny.

The owners and operators of drones with a weight of more than 250g had until the 29th of November to register themselves and pay a fee of nine-quid, or face a 1,000 quid fine.

Naturally, all those who opted to register, left this action until the last minute. However, when they rolled up to sit a simple online test, hand over their cash and go on the offender's register -- the system crashed into a screaming heap of "service not available" screens.

The kicker is that the cost of setting up this database was (wait for it)... over four million pounds... that's almost NZ$8m.

Seriously... they had eight million bucks to build a simple database and web-based front end and they couldn't even get it right?

What's more, it's not as if the numbers were extreme. Apparently, in the month or so that the system has been up, around 40,000 people have now registered (a tiny percentage of the number estimated by the UK government to own drones).

What is it about governments and IT systems?

And who the hell got the contract to build an $8m system that fell at the first hurdle?

It gets better... they're also expecting that the operating costs of this database will be another $8m a year. Seriously, $8m a year for a database that will have (at best) 100K entries. A first-year CS student could knock something like this up in an afternoon!

But hey... when it's taxpayers' money sucked from the bottomless-pit of the public's pockets and when there are no repercussions for shoddy work, who really gives a damn -- aside from those who are over-taxed, over-regulated and inconvenienced by all this?

I guess egalitarianism doesn't extend to consequences, what a shame.

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