Law and Computers

Gordon Guthrie is leading this session. The abstract problem under discussion is the laws passed and the IT systems controlled by the state. Can enter from the policy end or the practical end. Work up the structure to find how system specified, defined in part by law. At the same time there is the process of making policy. People on technical side. Test environments needed at local level not as a national thing. Policy makers think techies can be left to do the implementation. policy makers and techies are both scared of each others areas. Conclusion: policy is the computing specification.e.g. laws on what constitutes a criminal record.

This leads to some bizarre thing – a shared office with complimentary services all have to connect to discreet networks. Process with which laws are made does not recognise that law becomes computing practice. Impact of computerisation on the state huge and comparable to the establishment of the modern idea of a native state. Been computerising the state since 1983/heckle re: National Rail running from the 70s. Basically a minimum of 20 years experience here.

Process is very important, more general than computing (Tim). Computing aspect is ignorance of legislators, may right itself in time which may be one possible counter-arguement. Gordon gives a biblical arguement about why it’s not just about computing. Techies have freaked out at Gordon’s book but policy makers seem more open.

Jo – problem with where legislation comes from. For healthcare in the US there is huge restriction on what can be done – in this case private organisations and lobby groups have determined the policy making process. Version control and change tracking for law would be fantastic. Gordon says that in Scotland the attempt to keep a single citizen record system (ecare records) for health – drawn up for Atos Origin. Two areas of data in healthcare – both personal data and disease data (outsourced). There is an issue with private company. Real problem isn’t specification of data but with the idea that anyone can edit the data – and how that is or isn’t propogated out. Actually Atos Origin contact said as much.

DEBill comment – general issue of transparancy in law making. Westminster problem in general about how many documents equal a law, in france it’s a much clearer process. No definitive statement of law. Tim says the IT industry has an idea of one definitive idea that works, you could take a more probabalistic approach to what the data in the system is etc. Build with assumption that it will be a good job but not definitative. Gordon: comes down to the idea that there can be one big database of information which is impossible. One way in which systems are specified… it is indirectly via targets. For intance music education for children – you have to prove that there is one hour of music tuition per week per child in Scotland. No comparable stats for different areas – poor spec for database causes problems when you come to use the data. Not only do you get lots of poor specs (and sometimes no specs) but you also have to line up competance, power and finance to build a system.

Tim – wild card legislatively – you can end up with missing data when no requirement to collect a piece of information. For instance the bus information – you have to register a bus service but registering a frequent service is separate from timetabling info and there is no join up. Gordon: also no costings of implementation at time of making legislation. Nick: isn’t this part of the problem – government gives out legislation but when you raise questions they leave it to you to interpret. Specify the framework and you solve many problems. Gordon: most corporations keep 15 types of information. Specs for state data is far less sensible. Primary data and protected data can be rather odd. People throw in clauses that seem to make sense that gives you half a computer system. Eliminating duplication and waste is important, especially in current fiscal climate. Need to get away from centralised state.

Culture and specs must be influenced by realistic operational costs. Sources of legislation in Scotland. Even when we had a majority government most of our legislation came from committees.

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