Dr. Richard Clayton from the University of Cambridge (who writes for the very good Light Blue Touchpaper site) was interviewed for the Pods and Blogs podcast on the 18th December 2007 in the wake of the massive data loss at the end of last year. He had some harsh words to say (this is the same Dr. Richard Clayton who signed a joint letter to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights).
This is only a very rough transcript, and is only word-for-word when the text is surrounded by speech marks. I’m afraid I’m not sure which of the hosts was the interviewer. I do have audio file for anyone who wants to listen to the original (the BBC removes the mp3 after seven days for reasons of rights, apparently, despite this sucking horrendously).
Starting at 1 minute 25:
What lessons could be learnt from this latest security breach?
“.. it’s not possible to build computer systems which are accessed by large numbers of people which are secure.”
“.. what’s the key problem with these big data concentrations?”
“You can’t make systems like that secure – you don’t just lose the information for one GP surgery you lose information for the whole population all at the same time”
What’s the alternative?
“The alternative is small databases and good communication between them – most of the time that doesn’t happen”
Can anyone make these databases work?
“The commercial sector is a little better at building them … the national health database will be accessed by a million people … if you look at the data collected by a supermarket it’s only accessible by a few dozen people in the marketing department, the risks are completely different.”
“The real problem is we do not know how to build very large databases, have them accessed by hundreds of thousands of people and keep them secure. The government believes this is possible, and I’m sorry but it just isn’t.”
Is there any way to build a big secure database? you seem to be saying no.
“I’m saying no. it’s as simple as that. you can’t build these, the government should stop trying.
Ends at 6:53
(Incidentally, when you start dragging the progress indicator in Windows Media Player, it blanks the time panel, so you can’t tell when you’re moving to until you drop it again and the file starts playing. Very frustrating. Media Player Classic doesn’t suffer from this.)