The monumental District Health Board data hack


As many as 913,000 patients may have had their records accessed in a massive data breach of New Zealand District Health Boards. The hack, which is thought to have also affected Public Health Organizations, was concentrated on the Tu Ora Compass’s computer system. As officials try to contain the damage, it raises – yet again – some damaging questions about the cyber security of Government agencies in New Zealand.

I have long thought that New Zealand has been too slack with data security in Government agencies. It is a recurring problem that has at some point or another affected Inland Revenue Department, Accident Compensation Corporation, Department of Work and Income, to name just a few. All of these agencies have been breached in the last decade, with some of the breaches involving thousands of files being misused or misplaced.

But back to what I think might be one of the biggest data hacks in all New Zealand history. Whilst it is good that the Chief Executive has apologized, it is not enough and there are major failings. Glaring questions need to be rapidly answered by the Ministry, the Chief Executive and those responsible for the maintenance of the data. Very quickly the Chief Executive must find out what steps can be immediately taken to tighten up the security of M.o.H. systems and equally quickly the M.o.H. system administrators must action those recommendations.

The breach appears to affect the lower North Island, particularly people in Wellington, Kapiti Coast  and Wairarapa. 648,000 are thought to be affected, but given the data goes back over a decade and includes people who have deceased, the number of affected patients might be close to 1 million people.

Ministry of Health have to own this incident. If they cannot, Chief Executive Martin Hefford should hand his resignation in, for it was his responsibility to make sure M.o.H. had the correct procedures and personnel.

New Zealanders should be short on  patience with Government agencies treating cyber security so poorly as to let this happen. But I have the feeling that after a brief burst of indignation, people will merely shrug their shoulders and life will carry own as if it never happened. The agencies will heave a sigh of relief and say “we got through that one – I am sure we will be fine in the future”, instead of holding those who failed in their roles to account.

It is this kind of resigned behaviour, touched with a bit of “She’ll be right”, implying things will sort themselves out instead of New Zealanders ensuring that the situation before them improves that prevents this nation getting better. We can be a lot better at these issues, but until we start dragging officials over the coals for indiscretions there will not be any progress.

The awareness of climate change is here. Now who does the planning?


This is an acknowledgement of Greta Thunberg’s climate change protest movement. It is also an acknowledgement that simply willing her and her movement to shut up and go away is simply not going to happen and – despite my reservations about how New Zealand is/is not tackling climate change – it would be a bad thing for youth if it did.

Ms Thunberg and those helping make her campaign possible have done an A+ job of mobilizing the youth of the world along with a lot of adults. The young Pakistani lady Malala inspired human rights activists, but Malala did not succeed in a large scale mobilization of youth despite being only a similar age to Ms Thunberg when she was shot.

Ms Thunberg’s job is not finished. Not by a long shot. Now that the protesters are mobilized, the challenge will be to keep going and convince the politicians that this is an issue that we are running out of time to make a meaningful attempt at resolving.

But now that the activists are mobilized and demanding change, there is a major question looming on the horizon. It is one that I honestly do not think policy makers, analysts or the sectors that are going to be affected by the change being demanded have addressed. In fact I wonder how many of them have even thought about it?

Who is going to do the planning? Who is going to work out all of the areas that are going to be affected and establish meaningful contact with the leaders in those sectors?

Do they even know how to start? Maybe, maybe not. So here is a suggestion on what they do, except I expect it to be much more advanced planning than the brief S.W.O.T. analysis I have done below:

STRENGTH

  • More than just an environmental gain to be had
  • Social justice and better equality
  • Economic gains

WEAKNESS

  • Partisan politics
  • Divisive individual voices
  • Little thought currently been given to associated planning matters
  • Passing legislation and enacting it takes time
  • Lack of long term vision

OPPORTUNITY

  • Green tech
  • Not all solutions have to complex or costly
  • Opportunities for significant job creation
  • Biofuel industry?

THREAT

  • Conservative denialism
  • Anti-science and anti-technology agendas on the left
  • N.I.M.B.Y.’ism from some environmentalists for certain infrastructure
  • Political corruption
  • Lack of trust in data

A plethora of questions can arise out of this, such as (but definitely not limited to):

  1. How will we go about  establishing steering groups to manage different aspects of the planning – I see one for the social planning such as getting schools, hospitals and essential services off oil and gas, one for the broader economy, one for industry, one for law makers, a third for public input; who will oversee these individual groups.
  2. What time table are we going to working towards – the 2030 time frame by which it will be too late or the 2050 timetable for getting New Zealand off oil and gas?
  3. Who will work with individual sectors to identify their needs and help develop work around’s that are acceptable to government policy?

I wish Ms Thunberg and her campaign all the best, but I hope that the adults will talk to the protesters in good time about the need for a multi-partisan response. I hope that they talk about the compromises needing to be made. I hope that it is made known that the same science that is showing such alarming carbon readings can be the basis for some great social, environmental, economic and technological outcomes.

But to do that, we have to have a blue print of how to go forward.

And right now we have nothing.

Microchipping humans? NO THANKS!


I am a microchip. MC000012020NZ. A tiny identifying integrated piece of circuitry embedded in the thumb of a human being. I have been in the thumb of my human host since 2020. Outwardly my host appears just like any other human being. Inwardly s/he is a data trove  The year is 2025 and microchipping employees has become widespread in New Zealand.

The arrival of myself and my many data loggers has led to tens of thousands of New Zealanders having these little data banks implanted in their finger or thumb. Many have thought of the convenience of being able to skip queues, carry out mundane tasks quicker, give the boss the comfort of knowing where workers are and what they are doing. I have stored on me information about his/her daily activities at work, at home, the shopping mall – where I have been and what I was doing, what I have purchased, and services used. It might save you a few seconds paying for something you purchased, or placing an order for a taxi or using a service.

But did they think about what my makers might have intended for that data?

Dial the clock back to 2019. An article in Stuff talked about the benefits of being microchipped. I read the article out of curiosity to see why someone would contemplate getting a microchip inserted. And then I read the comments at the bottom – granted the number was not many, they were overwhelmingly negative.

And I am not surprised.

Big data is coming for you/me. Do you want to be a slave?

Another question that really bothers me will be the accountability of whoever manufactured the chip. Will it be a New Zealand company that is subject to New Zealand laws and can be made to answer to New Zealand Parliament, or will it be a company like Facebook or Google, or some unknown third party? Whatever the case, the idea of a company whose first task is to make a profit out of supplying MY data – possibly without me actually knowing WHAT data is being supplied – to whomever does not thrill me in the least.

In an age where privacy breaches are getting bigger and more frequent, why should we trust another means to cause yet more breaches? In an age where government officials seem unable to be held to account, where the average Jim and Jane is too busy trying to live to care about the lack of accountability how will we tackle the inevitable abuse?

Our employers know enough about our whereabouts as it is. They have no good reason to know where we are 24 hours a day. When I step through the foot gate at work in the morning, I am on site and have to be ready to do work related tasks. When I clock in, the boss knows that I have started my working day. But does that give my employer the right or need to insert a microchip into me on the pretense of needing to know what their employee is up to – or not up to? When I clock out, the boss knows I am finished and not intending to do any more work. They can see from the print out of the time on the machine when I started and finished.They have my number so they can ring me if there is a problem.

Whilst they certainly have rights and even a need to know ones whereabouts, ethical questions and – I suspect if this ever catches on – significant legal questions about its legality loom large. It is the start of a steep and dangerous slope into becoming a servant of big data. They equally have no good reason to know what we do 24 hours a day – knowing what their employees do or do not do 24/7 will not help them achieve their ends as employers any more than it helped them in a pre-microchip world.

Does the Government need to know so much about you that a microchip becomes necessary? I do not believe so as that takes on an Orwellian aspect of big government. Does that mean the data can be linked into the passport system so that some random act one committed in New Zealand might potentially come up on your file and cause an alarm to scream at a Customs Officer as you head away on holiday or other business overseas? Some might argue as opposed to using ankle bracelets, that microchipping is a useful way to monitor criminals, but just as with anybody else, certain ethical issues such as a right to privacy.

But will I ever submit to being microchipped?

You will have to put my cremated remains back together first… and if you can get a body out of that, the answer will still be no.

Official Information Act a dinosaur that cannot die


When the Official Information Act was conceived, the year was 1982. The internet was still 11 years away. Mobile phones were literally the size of bricks and computers were not common. It was unique for its time with few if any other nations having such legislation purposefully written to open up official information to the public.

In 2019, though the O.I.A. is run down. An agency in 1982 might for example have to collect a significant paper file from the vaults, clear it to be taken to the offices of those who need to see it, scrutinise the file and then take it back once the officials concerned have established what they need to know. It could take days to assemble the information. In 2019 that is not the case any more. Files have been converted electronically into .PDF format or other appropriate formats, all agencies have computers so unless it is a complex request, requesting the information is something that can be done in a matter of minutes.

But somehow the operating procedures that are triggered in carrying out a O.I.A. request for information have not made it into the 21st Century. The O.I.A. is being dragged down by an operating framework that has not adjusted to the environment it is expected to work in.  It cannot meet the myriad of demands placed on it by the New Zealand public, politicians and the bureaucratic and political systems it is supposed to maintain the transparency of.

In some respects it reminds me of dinosaurs around the world in the days and months following the impact of a large meteorite off the coast of what is now the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The entire food chain was impacted by the vast clouds of dust kicked up, the huge waves that radiated out in all directions. The herbivores, reliant on plants to survive – which were dying off en masse for lack of sunlight – were the first to go, followed by omnivores and finally carnivores.

Now if we look at the Official Information Act, we see that with the rise of social media the 1982 bureaucracy that administers the O.I.A. is simply not up to scratch. It is a potential game changing event because agencies are saying they cannot release the information fast enough or fails to release all that has been requested because of concerns of over release. Ministers and their advisors are running into problems about how, where, when they should view material. It has not gotten around the fact that with electronic files there are a variety of ways to manipulate the information and that it can be done very rapidly.

Some people have suggested that the O.I.A. be abolished – an idea that I find somewhat excessive. The general idea and intent of the Act is fine, but the implementation of it is not. A far better solution would be to overhaul the existing legislation. This needs to happen soon. The O.I.A. cannot become like the dinosaurs did – dead because they could not adjust to the inhospitable environment – but the longer Parliament takes to overhaul it, the greater the risk becomes that someone in a position of power meaning well, but out of sheer frustration, decides the Act should be torn up completely.

Acknowledging the good, the bad and out right ugly of social media


Soon Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will address leaders of the political word and the technological world in Paris. She will be talking about the need to address hate speech on social media and how to stop the spread of videos recorded by attackers in the course of their acts of violence. As we wait for that address it is important to acknowledge the role of social media in our lives – good and bad.

Social media plays a critical role in New Zealand in dispensing information from the authorities. It came into its own during the earthquake emergencies of 2010 and 2011 where for example it was the media platform on which the Student Volunteer Army was launched. In the years since it has been used to update the public during the recent Christchurch terrorist attacks, numerous overseas emergencies such as tsunami events. The same authorities have realized that whilst establishing a channel for criticism of all sorts, and sometimes quite nasty stuff at that, it provides the public with a non urgent means of passing on information, making queries and helping with tasks such as solving crimes.It also helps to build a rapport with various agencies – notably New Zealand Police, New Zealand Defence Force – posting more light hearted content such as the “Pawlice – Doggo’s with Jobbo’s” series of posts of Police dogs and their handlers having fun.

The same social media has by orders of magnitude improved politicians ability to interact with their constituents, campaign during election periods and pass on information. All of the parties in Parliament have Facebook and Twitter accounts, which can be lightning rods of support for media savvy politicians.  as evidenced in the United States by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s ability to turn attacks on her back on the attacker (Fox News, Breitbart, et al). In equal measure when a politician does something particularly nasty such as attack a religious minority (Australian Senator Fraser Anning attacked the Muslim community on his Twitter account, which then got suspended), social media accounts become lightning rods of criticism. Given the ability that social media has provided politicians to do much of their constituency work, I cannot imagine any politician who tries to limit social media because of certain networks failure to shut down harmful content following the Christchurch terrorist attack.

Tragically social media when abused can be the focal point of dreadful consequences for some. Examples in point have been numerous and I have often found myself having to call out racism or other bigotted behaviour – comments about people of African descent being monkeys/chimpanzees; Muslims being goat humpers, kiddy fiddlers and such; Maori being barbaric savages, and so it goes on. Sometimes Facebook has done the right thing and blocked the person or taken down the offending content, but just as often it has left highly inflammatory stuff up. I have also found that – although they seem to have had second thoughts about this since – in its early days streaming live coverage of police trying to talk someone out of jumping off a building was apparently a thing and it would attack absolutely horrible commentary.

I have a Facebook account and a Twitter account as well as this blog. I operate three pages on Facebook – one for my Amnesty International group with input from Amnesty International New Zealand head office in Auckland, one calling for comprehensive reform of waste legislation and one for this blog. My Twitter account is so I can comment on tweets in a strictly personal capacity as myself. I owe the success of my blog, which on average at the moment gets about 200 visits a day and on occasion over 1,000 to extensive advertising I have done on Facebook.

The same Facebook, as I am sure is the case for millions around the world, has enabled me to make contact with people I have never met but am now good friends with. It has enabled me to maintain long distance friendships with people in Sweden, the United States and elsewhere. Obviously with family members living both here and abroad, making contact and showing them photos of things like birthdays, weddings, new borns and things the children have been doing, helps to close the distance in a metaphorical sense if not a literal one.

There is absolutely no doubt that we must improve our conduct on Facebook, Twitter and so forth. There is also no doubt that, despite their assertions to the contrary both and others like Instagram can do more. But this idea that all is hunky dory is complete and utter garbage. Don’t believe me? Former Facebook staff member and one of Mr Zuckerberg’s initial inner circle Roger McNamee wrote a book called “Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook catastrophe”. In Whitcoull’s now.