It has been a rough week for anyone who believes in civil liberties. Apparently, the Police have deliberately abused the powers of detention they possess under the Land Transport Act (ie to promote road safety) in order to set up a bogus breath test traffic stop to gain the personal details of people attending a perfectly legal public meeting about euthanasia.‘
Reportedly, the Police then used the addresses they’d illegally gained from the traffic stop, and later questioned elderly people in their own homes about their attitudes to assisted dying, and the possible actions and intentions they may have in mind in future. All of the people falsely detained in this operation deserve financial compensation from the Police, who should be facing prosecution for their actions. Otherwise, which ordinary citizens attending a meeting on a contentious social issue will be next to be detained, have their personal details acquired, and be then subsequently grilled about their beliefs? Big Brother is not only watching – he’s asking you to blow into this bag, hand over your personal details and await a visit from a detective. You’d think the Police had better things to do.
In similar Big Brother vein….the Ministry of Social Development has declared that community groups will henceforth have to provide the department with the names and personal details of the people they help, or have their access to government funding cut off.
Ministry of Social Development deputy chief executive Murray Edridge has confirmed all 823 agencies funded by the ministry’s $330 million community investment arm would have to provide client details for funding by next July.
The data would be used to track the outcome of services under Finance Minister Bill English’s “social investment” approach to check whether services helped people overcome their problems or were recycled back into the social support system.
For obvious reasons, the likes of Women’s Refuge are raising safety concerns about the passing on of this sensitive information. Many such groups fear that this requirement to divulge sensitive information will deter people from seeking help in the first place.
If so, this would seem likely to suit the current government right down to the ground. By whatever means, it wants people off the welfare rolls and expects community groups to design their programmes with that goal in mind. Note the negative language above about programmes that “recycle” people “back into the social support system.” The prevailing mindset is not that this indicates some people are in chronic need ; rather, it is evidence they are “professional agency hoppers.” Here’s Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services executive director Tommy Wilson, one of MSD Minister Anne Tolley’s vocal supporters in the community services area :
“I know [MSD] Minister Anne Tolley wants to fix up the problem of professional agency hoppers . . “ Mr Wilson said he hoped weeding out professional “agency hoppers” ultimately might lead to more funding for agencies which were already focused on the Government’s objectives for results-based outcomes for their clients.
Professional agency hoppers? That language speaks volumes about the contempt in which beneficiaries are held. In this excellent article, the Hand Mirror site links the new MSD disclosure requirements to the prior steps taken to limit the social advocacy role that charities can play,the attempted muzzling of the ability of community groups to discuss their contracts,and the funding cuts that have already been imposed on the community welfare sector.As Hand Mirror concludes :
If the community sector hands over the names of people asking them for help, not only will it stop people getting the help they need. Not only will it shift what the community sector is for – away from advocacy and support, towards monitoring and policing services. Not only will it mean advocacy slips further into the distance, weakening our public policy development. But it is part of a wider and largely unmonitored shift towards the state controlling more information about us than we’ve ever agreed to, and with that, making decisions about public spending based on data they control and interpret.
Big Data, Again
This latest move to link funding, disclosure and programme “outcomes” ( ie getting people off welfare, come what may) is supposedly based on Treasury research. It is the latest expression of the government’s ongoing enthusiasm for the use of Big Data to identify’ the supposed “indicators” of future welfare dependency, and to then target welfare spending accordingly. Last year, this Big Data project was outlined in Werewolf and it has continued apace since then.
The latest MSD paper used to validate the disclosure requirements contained in its community investment strategy is upfront about its reliance on the prior Treasury work.
We used Treasury data on vulnerability to inform the expansion of Family Start. Treasury’s mapping of vulnerability factors for 0-5 year olds has been combined with MSD’s mapping of children who meet the Family Start referral criteria. This analysis has been used to inform investment decisions about the expansion of Family Start.
Which is interesting, because the Treasury paper in question explicitly warns against the dangers of doing that sort of thing. Under the “Caveats” part of its work at part 2.7, Treasury warns that the data is limited, the detected features of the “at risk” group in question are co-relations and should not be treated as causes, and circular reasoning may be involved : in that the people deemed “at risk” may be the product of the skewed attention that these families are receiving from MSD and the Police
“The process of matching records is probabilistic and creates some level of error….The data covers a specific time and cohort, and some care must be taken in generalising results to the experience of more recent cohorts of children. Cohorts born more recently have had a higher likelihood of being notified to CYF, partly because of administrative changes related to family violence events attended by police.”
And moreover, at page 3 of the Treasury paper :
The study has a number of limitations and caveats. The scope of the study is limited by the nature and breadth of the information collected in agencies’ administrative systems….For example, the administrative data provides only a partial picture of childhood adversity, service use and service costs. The population coverage errors, linkage errors and biases present mean that the results are indicative only, and not highly accurate estimates. The methods used to estimate future outcomes and costs are designed to provide a comparative picture of future outcomes and costs for different population subgroups but they have some significant limitations. The estimates should be viewed as indicative, and not as forecasts of the actual outcomes and costs that will be incurred in the future….,Some of the methods are exploratory in nature, and as such the results should be considered as preliminary requiring further testing and development over time.
No such concerns for MSD, who seem more than happy to use the tentative conclusions of the Treasury paper in question to legitimise their new policy on information disclosure. That tendency has marked the Big Data project on welfare from the very outset – the drawbacks and circular reasoning are duly recorded in footnotes, and are then ignored by the policy makers, as each validating paper piles its shaky rationales atop the similar tentative rationales contained in the previous paper. In the Treasury paper for instance, there is a plaintive footnote abut the “four indicators” that supposedly signal future welfare dependency:
The four indicators do not necessarily cause poorer outcomes directly, but they are likely to be correlated with other factors that lead to poorer developmental outcomes, such as having insufficient parental support and supervision, or having unmet health or learning needs.
Right. Unmet health needs? Poor housing? Unmet learning needs in the education system? Shouldn’t this data be being used to promote the need for vastly increased government funding in health, education and housing, in order to alleviate those unmet needs ? Instead, this Orwellian “ social investment” approach to welfare is being used to validate the drip feeding of welfare funds only to those programmes willing to devote themselves to delivering further reductions in the funds available. Patently, MSD policy does treat its “indicator” factors as being causal. And it requires full disclosure of the personal details of the people concerned, by community groups working on the frontlines. Or else.
Voluntary sector hiphop
In his day job, the rapper born as Kaseem Ryan and who performs as Ka works as a fire services superintendent in New York City.
For years, Ka’s spare, minimalist brand of hip hop (e.g. “Cold Facts”) has been impressive. This track “Just” comes from his new album Honor Killed The Samurai, In just a few short minutes it conveys the whole world of the HBO eight part The Night Of television series.
And from 2012, “ Cold Facts” still sounds great.
One of the other chief practitioners of this low key, hard hitting and socially conscious hip hop is Pusha T – formerly one half of the group Clipse, he’s now the mogul running Kanye West’s record label. But Pusha T is still making good music of his own, too :