Good News Disabled Aussies! You’ll soon get an app that will implement a wellness compliance regimen designed by the people who brought you automatic debt. But don’t worry, it will have blockchain.
No, this is not good news at all.
Making it worse is that it’s clear the government wants to extend tech-driven compliance to all Australians, with an emphasis on cracking down on your mistakes, not theirs.
Kathryn Campbell, secretary for the Department of Social Services, says the long-term plan is to have one app for all Commonwealth government services.
“One to rule the world,” she said last month, apparently oblivious to how evil she sounds.
Senators are already concerned that the disability app, intended to be used by participants in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to claim expenses against their support plan, will go the way of COVIDSafe: Millions of dollars spent on technology that doesn’t really get the job done.
The intent was to fix a bad web experience and allow claims to be made from a mobile device. But instead of just creating a better website, in 2018 the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) joined forces with CSIRO’s Data61 and the Commonwealth Bank to test blockchain-based smart money that would magically know whether spending was legitimate or not. .
According to the executive director of the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), Martin Hoffman, the pilot application has been “very popular and well received”, and the response has been “extremely positive”.
The app will be “fully available in the coming months, first on Google Play and then on the Apple app store,” he said.
What worries your correspondent is that this technology is being rolled out at the same time the NDIA prepares for a data-driven compliance regime targeting individuals, just as Centrelink did with welfare recipients under the so-called theft program. of debt.
In fact, some of the same bureaucrats are involved.
“Two top civil servants involved in setting up the debt theft program are now working in the enforcement division of the National Disability Insurance Agency,” Rick Morton wrote in The Saturday Paper.
It was “a real change in culture.” The focus shifted from weeding out dubious service providers to the disabled service recipients themselves. As with robot debt, the onus would now fall on the individual to prove that they are compliant.
The NDIA is even working on something called “Robo-planning,” where a computer algorithm will decide on a “personalized budget” before a disabled person sees a human to plan their support program.
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Australia is heading down the path the UK left
According to blockchain critic David Gerard, I prefer to think of him as a blockchain realist, Australia’s plan dates back to a similar plan in the UK, first outlined in the 2016 government document Distributed Ledger Technology: Beyond Blockchain
“At the heart of the report is an elaborate plan to put all UK social spending on a single blockchain, purchases only possible via smartphone DRMed, in order to closely monitor spending habits,” Gerard wrote in his 2017 book, 50-Foot Blockchain Attack.
This report was “verbatim written by the companies and consultants that sell blockchain advertising and smart contracts,” he wrote. He made “fantastic claims” about the capabilities of blockchain at the time, and the case studies were “largely hypothetical.”
“The remarkable thing about this plan is that there is nothing feasible in any respect,” he wrote.
“The accompanying video is vastly improved if you imagine it being narrated by [comedy character] Philomena Cunk.”
Ironically, Cunk posed a fascinating question on his own Moments of Wonder episode about money: “When you have a coin, where is the money in that coin?”
So how did the UK blockchain welfare payments proposal pan out?
“The testing of this went so wrong that they scrapped the whole idea, and public officials decided that blockchain wasn’t cool anymore,” Gerard told ZDNet.
“This is in the country that runs the disastrous Universal Credit scheme that has a million people living off of food banks – even with that, the blockchain scheme was so bad they tossed it out.”
Gerard sees that the Australian scheme works the same way.
“The main hope of this terrible scheme is that if it’s on a blockchain, it might not work well,” he said.
There are hints that Gerard is right in the DTA’s own report of the trials, published in February 2019.
There are only lukewarm positive statements, such as “blockchain technology is promising.”
Compared to a “hypothetical centralized database solution” (they didn’t actually build one or compare performance), the smart money proof of concept “could achieve a similar front-end user experience.”
But if smart money were to be used in more social care settings, not just the NDIS, “more work may be required to provide sufficient performance and confidentiality results.”
Put more bluntly, the technology is slow and lacks proper privacy controls.
“One of the biggest surprises was the scope of the challenge in collecting all the data needed to enable conditional payments across the NDIS ecosystem, including payments to general businesses that provide services to NDIS participants (for example, travel, digestive aids, etc.). ),” he wrote DTA.
In other words, let’s say a disabled person took a taxi. Was that trip to get somewhere part of your treatment plan and therefore a legitimate expense, or something else?
“The design challenge is as much about effective data collection as it is about data processing (either using blockchain or a centralized database).”
Delve into the detailed report on CommBank’s project site, Making Money Smart: Empowering NDIS Participants with Blockchain Technologies [PDF] and you’ll find plenty more weasel words.
Expressing concerns about latency and throughput, the report notes that “Further research and development work could be directed towards exploring alternative blockchain networks and pre-authorizing payments using pre-existing data on the blockchain at the time of payment authorization.” “.
Or you could just use a normal database. That technology is well understood, and the fewer moving parts, the less there is to go wrong.
More alarming is the lack of attention to safety.
“In this project, we have not investigated the security policy requirements and implementation mechanisms for blockchain-based conditional payments,” the report says.
Still, as one subsection heading says, “The potential is exciting.”
What about ethics? What about the participants themselves?
There is yet another problem with the Making Money Smarter report: ethical issues are hardly considered.
“Given the NDIS’ terribly complex environment, flawed processes, and vulnerable people, extreme caution is needed in the application of blockchain technology,” former NDIS Technology Authority Chief Marie Johnson wrote in a presentation [PDF ] to the Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee on the NDIS.
“Blockchain itself, as with other technological innovations, does not address fundamental questions of design and human rights. Ethics is paramount,” he wrote.
“The involvement of the Commonwealth Bank itself raises further ethical issues, given the value of the data from the participants; the size of the market; and the yet-to-be-realized electronic market honey pot of data, funds, and services”.
The NDIS disburses A$25 billion a year.
Johnson is also concerned about the lack of co-design in the NDIA’s legislation and processes.
“This means that end-to-end human experience does not systematically influence the design and human experience is also not protected by a strong and independent ethical framework. The human is out of the loop,” he wrote.
“https://www.zdnet.com/ ‘User testing is not the same as co-design.”
Secretary Campbell’s description of her single application to rule the world seems to overlook the needs of users as well.
” It would make life so much easier and it could tell people when they have appointments coming up when they have obligations when they need to return forms and things like that and pay their taxes. So that’s our long-term plan for digital government.” said.
All of those examples are things that citizens have to do to keep the government in compliance or suffer the consequences.
Where is the recognition of the government’s obligation to serve its citizens and make sure they receive all the benefits they deserve? right?
Yes, it’s a real change in culture.
As Gerard said: “It’s clear what they want to do here, and you don’t need a blockchain to oppress people with policing rules that you can’t control.” fill.”