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A vintage year for snoopers and big state-ists

What the Brexit PM and Orange POTUS elect meant

Year in Review If 2016 proved anything, it proved the existence of the law of unintended consequences making this a miserable year for lovers of liberty and privacy.

A vote by the British electorate to secede from the European Union in June led to former Home Secretary Theresa May becoming Prime Minister — to the fright of many who had followed her work at the Home Office and who’d voted to leave the EU on the basis of greater liberty.

It was May who’d pushed so consistently, and so firmly, for the Investigatory Powers Bill, AKA the Snooper’s Charter, with its broad powers on data collection and retention.

As with plans for more grammar schools, PM May exploited her newfound position and that of an emboldened government to re-introduce her precious Investigatory Powers Bill, which has now become law.

Her position is ironic considering her first act in government, way back in 2010, to repeal Labour's Identity Cards Act 2006. May claimed the Act would not “keep us safe without intruding on civil liberties” and continuing that while “some data storage is essential,” in her explanation to Parliament, “these events do not point in the direction of a massive expansion of the surveillance state, which ID cards would necessarily involve.”

Ironically, it may be an organ of the very body that British voters elected to quit that may offer hope to fans of privacy and liberty.

The European Union’s Court of Justice ruled as the year closed that just because something is a law doesn't make it lawful.

It's notable that one of those jointly responsible for taking Britain out of the EU and now a senior government minister was a prime mover in the case.

David Davis, currently Brexit secretary, so disliked the PM's last attempt at a Snoopers' Charter that he with others took the country to the EU's highest court. The resulting judgment seems to put much of the UK's new data retention regime to challenge.

How fitting that, if the IPA is to be fundamentally reformed, it will be done by the decree of a British court.

That'll be one for MMXVII, however.

One database to rule them all?

Snooping and gathering of data by the state and its officers was definitely big in 2016. Mid-year,The Register revealed the extent of the Home Office's plans to connect together all of its directorates' databases, and we will be following this up in more depth in the new year.

We're still waiting for the Home Office to publish the Biometrics Strategy too, the necessity of which was stressed in several of our stories which followed up on the reports of the previous Biometrics Commissioner, Alastair MacGregor QC.

MacGregor's reports were undoubtedly polite but very firm explanations of the issues surrounding the currently unregulated use of facial recognition technology by the UK's police, with the second ever real-time trial of it taking place at Notting Hill Carnival - and again, identifying no criminals.

MacGregor noted that hundreds of thousands of the 16.6m custody images held on the Police National Database's facial recognition gallery were being held unlawfully.

The government has still not responded but he work on independent oversight was of tremendous value. His colleagues and those who followed that work were very saddened at his passing in October.


Our cousins across the pond also geared up for a new round of state-sponsored data collection. Voters in the US elected a reality television star as their next president, either because of or despite his promises to build a national database tracking Muslims.

The biggest technology companies who offer database “solutions” (hopefully that word will die next year) to enterprise clients were all quick to dismiss that they would in any manner contribute towards the MuslimDB. Oracle, the industry’s largest supplier of RDBMS and with clients already in government, was keen to get on the inside track of Team Trump. The company’s co-CEO Safra Catz Trump's transition team with billionaire investor, Facebook board member and Silicon Valley outlier Peter Thiel. Oracle’s move prompted one of Catz’s colleague to quit.

Database player IBM saw its staff petition their own employer to excuse itself from Trump's plans. CEO Ginni Rometty, meanwhile, wrote to the President-elect explaining how she, for one, welcomes the US’s new orange overlord, and reminding him how as the chief of a large technology company she could be helpful in rounding up others to make America great again.

Data lakes

Privacy International managed to beat the spooks in court yet again over their sinister data collection. The BBC prepared gather more data on and make greater use of data from its viewers as it will demand log-ins for its free iPlayer service. Auntie wants to watch you watch her to develop better programming by knowing as much about you as can be known.

Turned out it wasn’t just humans getting collected, collated and analysed. Red squirrels, it turned, should be covered in bells as it emerged they are, indeed, lepers in nice bit of scientific research.

Also, Sir John Chilcot told us what we all already knew about Tony Blair and the Iraq War – and while running a remarkably tight ship on IT spending.

What of those who help make this possible?

As for database giant Oracle, 2016 won’t go down as an amazing year - rather a contribution of a challenging period in the company’s 30-plus-year history.

Like other giants of the enterprise, Oracle has found the transition to cloud complicated only while some seem to thrive Oracle was forced back to square one.

Larry Ellison was forced to recruit an additional 1,400 sales jockeys in EMEA back in January to push cloud but by February it was clear customers who'd signed up to Oracle cloud not be renewing their agreements with further hires shunted at the renewals team.

Oracle's continued migration away from those on-premise dollars made a splash in June when it announced it would be distributing its first major database update since 2013, 12.2, on a cloud-only basis initially. Oracle, meanwhile, was turning the screws on Java customers with increase audits - going after those it felt were breaking the terms of their Java license.

Microsoft is number-two RDBMS. SQL Server's seemingly on it Redmond's fastest growing businesses and yet broader market share for SQL Server has been shackled by database's monogamous relationship with Windows - a policy from years back designed to drive uptake of the operating system. Microsoft threw that to the wind in 2016, releaseing not just SQL Server 2016 but a version of SQL Server that – for the first time would run on Linux Micosoft also offered migrating Oracle customers a free license for the lifetime of the product and technical support.

The first public preview of SQL Server on Linux was released in November, revealing that when Microsoft declared its love for Linux, it appears to have been looking in the mirror.

With a former Home Secretary occupying No. 10 and Trump in the Oval Office, and with Microsoft looking to flank Oracle using Linux, it was all change - just all for the best. 2017 is shaping up to be an interesting year. ®


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