Big Data and Covid-19

Big Data systems fed from the government’s new tracking app would definitely help track, manage and contain the Covid-19 pandemic. If Dominic Cummings had that idea then all credit to him. Cummings has for years maintained a blog documenting his enthusiasm for new technologies and artificial intelligence, as reported on the DailyGasLamp. However, with the introduction a new smart phone tracking app, there are two small problems:

Cronyism

Taken from this Guardian Article: One of the IT companies that was hired to work with Dominic Cummings on the Vote Leave campaign, Faculty aka Faculty Science, previous called Advanced Skills Initiative, has been awarded at least seven government contracts worth almost £1m in the space of 18 months.

  • Faculty has links to senior Tory figures, and is rapidly expanding its reach into various corners of Whitehall.
  • Last year it was tasked with finding ways to apply artificial intelligence across government agencies. Faculty is run by Marc Warner, who has attended a meeting of the government’s scientific advisory group on emergencies (SAGE) and “behaved as Cummings’ deputy” as disclosed in an article in the Times.
  • Marc Warner’s brother, Ben Warner, is a data scientist, was reportedly recruited to Downing Street last year by Cummings after running the data modelling for the Conservative party’s general election campaign. Ben Warner worked on Vote Leave.
  • Faculty is working at the heart of the government’s response to the pandemic. It has been processing large volumes of confidential UK patient information in an “unprecedented” data-mining operation alongside Palantir, a US firm founded by the libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel. Faculty’s government work with Palantir on Covid-19 is based out of NHSX, the digital technology arm of the health service. This work was awarded to Faculty in March under the government’s fast-track procedures to respond to the pandemic, without any other firms being asked to bid for it.
  • Faculty’s work on the coronavirus response is only the latest government project it has secured under the Conservative administration. One early contract when called Advanced Skills Initiative, was for £32,000, funded fellowships in 2018 to place data scientists in city governments to help solve local challenges.
  • Last year Faculty was awarded a £250,000 contract from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to run a cross-government review on the adoption of artificial intelligence.
  • Under the contract, Faculty worked with two government departments – the Office for Artificial Intelligence and Government Digital Service (GDS) – “to identify the most significant opportunities to introduce AI across government with the aim of increasing productivity and improving the quality of public services”.
  • Faculty has been awarded a £264,000 contract from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to monitor the impact of the coronavirus on industry. (The DailyGasLamp analysis btw is free).
  • One of Faculty’s shareholders is Lord Agnew, a financier who has been a government minister since 2017. He has owned shares in the firm for the past four years. They are worth around £90,000, according to its most recent filings. In February this year it was announced that Agnew had become a minister in the Cabinet Office and Treasury and had taken ministerial responsibility for the GDS, which works with official bodies to use digital technology to improve public services. A government spokesperson said Agnew had had no role in awarding any contracts to Faculty while he had been a minister. However, Spotlight on Corruption, a watchdog group, has called on Agnew to sell his shareholding in Faculty, saying it raised questions over the government’s rules on managing conflicts of interests.

So just to reiterate, a Cabinet Office minister, Theodore Agnew, who is responsible for the government department that promotes the use of digital technology within public services, is resisting calls to sell a £90,000 shareholding in the company “amid claims of a conflict of interest” – yes, clear conflicts of interest are just “claims of a conflict of interest”. Hmm.

The government spokesperson replied that Agnew had followed the appropriate procedures by declaring his shareholding in House of Lords register of interests and under the ministerial code of conduct etc.

Holly Searle, Faculty’s head of PR and communications, said: “Faculty has strong governance procedures in place to guard against conflicts of interest when competing for new work. All of its contracts with the government are won through the proper processes and in line with procurement rules.”

In the meantime, some people are getting worried that the UK Government has handed over ALL NHS DATA to a consortium of companies which consists of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Faculty and Plantir Technologies (a company named after an evil artefact that comminicates with far away places). So much so they are planning on sueing the UK Government.

Dominic Cummings has also been accused of conflicts of interest regarding the smart phone tracking app.

End of Democracy

This is a bit like who guards the guardians. There is no oversight either from crony corruption or it seems, the misuse of data. The control on data controllers should be applied by the Information Commisioner Office – see https://ico.org.uk/ – as discussed previously on the DailyGasLamp.

The privacy concerns have been highlighted by 177 cyber experts. They have written an open letter to the goverment to stop the app being used as a mass-surveillance tool. Why?

  • The UK government stated that it would not use Apple and Google’s built-in privacy protection systems to anonymise data collected from apps on iPhone and Android smartphones.
  • This allows the government to create a database that could then be used to de-anonymize users, and just like Cambridge Analystica and other AI/Big Data companies have proven, be used for other purposes.

And sure enough security concerns have now developed into security flaws.

Also discussed before on the DailyGasLamp, the “exhaust” from Covid-19 would be a significant boost to Dominic Cummings’ Voter Intention Collection System… no need to worry about going to the polls, there would be instant analysis of whether the Government Response to the pandemic is working… not working for you, but working for THEM… whether they and their cronies need to worry “politically” about any the decisions that are killing off the old and disabled. Big Data in the hands of this particular government means the End of Democracy, as explained here. Probably the end of many other things too (depending on your attiritude to spooks!).

This is further described in a tweet from Carol Cadwalladr – linking terrorist surveillance and covid with the support Dominic Cummings and his chums…

Ultimately it is supposed to be the 4th Estate to keep the Government in check. The BBC is merely the Ministry of Truth. The newspapers are owned by billionaires. Social media is now corrupt. Suggestions on a postcard, please… (PS you cannot rely solely on Piers Morgan for all 4th Estate watch-dogging.)

Summary: the new smart phone app and the way it is likely to be applied, will be not only be measuring the spread of the virus but also (via Big Data) the political impact: the public reaction to the covid-19 response, allowing the Tories to persue the cheapest, eugenics-like policies at a level which will not remove them power.

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