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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

1.) Government to review its use of databases as minister admits critics are not always wrong

Labour PartyConservative PartyLiberal Democrat PartyGordon BrownDavid CameronMPs' Expenses HomeNewsNews TopicsPolitics Government to review its use of databases as minister admits critics are not always wrong Ministers are planning a series of conferences in the New Year to review the way the Government handles people’s personal personal information in large databases, in the wake of growing criticism about the so-called 'database state'.

Michael Wills, the justice minister, also admitted that the Government had sometimes been too quick to dismiss criticisms of big state databases to keep information about people. Mr Wills said that two major conferences would be held in the New Year to allow officials and campaigners to discuss security issues surrounding the Government’s handling of data. The conferences will specifically look at fresh plans to force every voter to hand over their National Insurance numbers in order to be able to qualify to vote, as well as issues surrounding the ContactPoint database. However officials said that ministers were happy to expand the remit of the conferences to include a more general discussion about how the Government handles government data. The news came after a report earlier this year from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust found that a quarter of all government databases were illegal and should be scrapped or redesigned. Projects such as the ID cards register and the Contactpoint index were "fundamentally flawed", breached data protection and human rights laws and should be ditched. The trust said Britain’s “database state” wastes billions from the public purse and often breached human rights laws. Unveiling an strongly-worded 65 page response to the report, Mr Wills said it was “riddled with factual errors and misunderstandings and reached conclusions without setting out the evidential base for doing so”. Mr Wills admitted that the Government had to “take its share of the blame for this failure of discourse” to make the case for an increased use of Government databases by Whitehall.
( By Christopher Hope, Whitehall Editor)

2.) Verification database is credited for Texas’ decline in uninsured drivers

The number of uninsured motorists on Texas roads is steadily dropping, and officials credit a new electronic database that helps police verify drivers’ proof of insurance during traffic stops.

State officials who supported creation of the TexasSure database — which aims to make sure everyone on the road can afford to pay victims’ medical bills and property damage in an accident — say they’re happy with the initial results in the year and a half since the database became available to police.

But TexasSure is not without flaws. While police using TexasSure are able to match vehicle registration information with insurance coverage 99 percent of the time on personal vehicles, they often cannot make the match on many commercial vehicles, according to a state audit released in late November.

"In a state as big as Texas, with as many drivers as we have, it will take time to be fully implemented," said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who wrote legislation creating the program as a state senator in 2005. "I think it’s pointing toward success."

How it works

Most police departments that regularly use TexasSure consider the program a secondary method of verifying proof of insurance in the field.

For example, during traffic stops many officers still ask a driver to produce a proof of insurance card — and if the driver can provide a valid card, that’s all the officer needs to see. But officers will use TexasSure if the driver claims to have forgotten or misplaced the card.

TexasSure may also help an officer determine whether a proof of insurance card is a fake.

An officer can either access TexasSure from a patrol car computer or ask a dispatcher to call up the information. The database is maintained by HDI Solutions, a vendor hired by the Texas Department of Insurance.

About 23 percent of Texas motorists are uninsured, according to department estimates in June, the most recent month available. That’s an improvement from June 2008, when the TexasSure database went online, and more than 25 percent of motorists were thought to be uninsured.

More up-to-date statistics are expected to be released this week.

The flaws

But it likely will be at least another year or two before most registered vehicles in the state are listed on TexasSure, officials said.

TexasSure has already matched 13.5 million insurance policies with vehicle registrations — but nearly all of them are personal vehicles.

As of October, insurance companies had voluntarily reported 101,401 commercial vehicles to TexasSure. The Department of Public Safety had reported 83,000 more self-insured vehicles. But those vehicles are likely just a small fraction of the commercial vehicles in Texas.

State auditors noted in their report that they could not obtain a reliable count of commercial vehicles in Texas.

The agencies working on TexasSure — including the insurance department, DPS and Department of Motor Vehicles — began by building a database of personal vehicles. Their goal is to add commercial accounts as soon as feasible, but lawmakers didn’t impose a deadline. (By GORDON DICKSON)

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