Privacy International defends the right to privacy across the world, and fights surveillance and other intrusions into private life by governments and corporations. Read more »


Wiring government

Other links, though, may be made easier by the new dispensation. As peoples' connections to the workings of their government are cut, connection between the parts of that government could become far more commonplace. That, at least, is how David Thorpe sees it. And he thinks this will be a good thing. The failure of government is that we have failed to link our systems. Wherever we go we have to fill out separate forms and put our name and address down countless times. Fraud is easy in this country because systems aren't linked together.

"I believe", he adds, "that we are close to decisions in government that will facilitate more integration of departmental systems." Australia and New Zealand, he continues enthusiastically, already have data matching system in which many arms of government are cross matched and linked. He agrees with Paul Clarke, the master of machines out Uxbridge way, that there is no technical reason why all EDS machines could be linked right now.

The Police National Computer could have better access to driver and vehicle licencing system tomorrow. Insurance companies could have better access to vehicle information, tomorrow. It isn't technology that's standing in the way. It's will. It's vision. It's an ability to implement it.

But we live through a period when there is enormous skepticism about anything like that in this country because it looks like Big Brother. That's why were going to have three or four identity cards in our pocket if were not careful.

He's right. This is definitely an area to be careful about. The matching of computers for fraud recovery and tax evasion is equivalent to the imposition of a general warrant upon the entire population - a point which has not escaped the constitutions of Germany, Hungary and Portugal, which impose strict limits on centralised numbering and matching systems. But Thorpe sees this as a simple matter of public opinion. It is possible to improve data matching: one system for government; one public file for people; shared access; reducing fraud; improving systems; less paperwork; more efficiency

Thorpe's views are reinforced with gusto by his boss, John Bateman, Managing Director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Part Australian, part South African, part British, the gravel voiced Supremo comes across as a bluff mixture of pragmatism and ruthlessness. The EDS vision, he tells me, is not merely national. It is global. It transcends boundaries of time, context and geography. Bateman believes that the localised way of doing business is disappearing. The way people work is transcending culture

EDS is, of course, at the cutting edge of this trend. Instead of considering local business in a local environment, what we do is provide a local front, but then all the solutions we can apply to those companies are regardless of geography. If we've done something very successfully for a company in any part of the world, we have an organisational structure which helps us apply that, tune it, localise it, and reapply it into a new situation in another part of the world.

In this truly multinational world, John Bateman believes data protection law is pointless. Everything is rising above the national consideration. Countries that try to protect data within the confines of their own borders are trying to legislate against the sea.

I have to agree. I've seen his world. I've seen the gleaming new buildings set into the solid traffic of Bangkok. One gun toting security guard per satellite dish. Container loads of sensitive personal information - health records, police files, insurance data, credit card accounts and government records - are despatched from all over the world for processing here. EDS, needless to say, is a player. Right now, investment is concentrated on American health and insurance industry, but the clients for data outsourcing come from all sectors and all countries - particularly Britain. Conventional borders disappear before our eyes, and where our most intimate personal details are shunted around the globe behind our back. Its cheaper for companies and governments. Its more efficient.

Bateman, like everyone else in this organisation, believes that efficient, market based information management is the only solution for a troubled economy. Governments are steeped in obsolescence. The civil service is an oxymoron. All things are possible through the application of logic, commonsense, innovation, partnership and passion. In EDS, such ideas are not discussion points: they are axiomatic truths. Without so much as a blush of reserve, people here will tell you EDS is creating templates for the worlds future.

I ask Bateman if he sees any role for government in the future.

"The role of government may well be associated with...", He pauses for reflection. "To be honest I really struggle to come up with a clear definition of ultimately what role government has."

And then he laughs.