Monday, 18 October 2021

Morning roundup

 The morning's worthies:

Thursday, 14 October 2021

No accountability in Covid-land

Dileepa Fonseca has more on the latest installment of the Rako saga.

I know I've been going on about this since last December. 

But it really matters. 

If you can't get accurate test results quickly back to people in a pandemic, you're always going to be well behind the curve. Contact tracing is a mess of too-little capacity. Pinning down cases quickly makes that job easier. Fast results, and especially if collection is unobtrusive, reduces test hesitancy. If you have to self-isolate for days on waiting for a result, and getting a test is inconvenient and a bit painful, you'll be less likely to go do it for a sniffle than if you just have to drool in a spoon and get results same day (or overnight if it was later in the day). 

And the government has absolutely messed this up. 

Rako had offered to scale up its testing to help in the public health effort. The Ministry told them to piss off. 

Now the Ministry's threatening to expropriate Rako via requisitioned testing. 

This is fifty different kinds of stupid, but here's one of those flavors of awfulness. 

Suppose you had a testing company, and you knew you could make an investment that would 8-fold increase your capacity. 

Would you make that investment early, knowing it would wind up being needed for the public response once the Director General of Health pulled his head out of his arse, so you'd be ready to run?

How would that calculus change if the government threatened to just steal all your stuff?

If you make the investment early, increasing capacity, the government can just take it at the price the government sets, and you have to fight them in the courts about it.

If you know that they are giving themselves that power, well, it would be stupid to invest in more capacity. They can't steal what you don't have. But you might be able to work it into future negotiations, so you don't get wiped out for having made the investment before the bandit comes calling. So it's then better to wait. Even in a big outbreak where a pile of testing is needed. 

Someone on Twitter said that NZ right now is like the first people showing up at Fyre Festival. Would be nice if those who'd been warning about this lack of preparedness all year weren't being dragged along for the ride. 

Morning roundup

 Ok. It's down to one Chrome sheet. The worthies!

Sellotape IT systems and covid testing

I'd struggled to understand why the government would be blocking Rako's access to the Covid test tracking system. Surely, even if they hated Rako, they'd want to get results reported in for their own tracking purposes. 

Dileepa Fonseka has a potential explanation. The IT systems, like most government IT systems, are a disaster.

The Government is struggling to meet its existing border worker testing obligations, allegedly thanks to IT systems “held together by sellotape”.

There have been growing calls for border workers to be tested more frequently than once a week in response to the more infectious Delta strain of Covid-19. Yet a recent move to saliva testing has highlighted a significant IT issue standing in the way of more frequent testing.

...

The problem was exposed during the saliva testing roll-out, because workers were required to be tested twice a week.

The mish-mash of IT systems, and other delays within the testing regime, meant the deadline for a border worker’s next saliva test could pass before they were asked to take their next one.

One source close to the problem said the whole system was “held together by Sellotape, and it should have been replaced 15 years ago”.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Morning roundup

There are 5 different Chrome windows, each chocka. I can't do every bit justice. So, a roundup while I try closing maybe 2 of them.
The last month has been utterly mad. There was an old Roger Douglas line about the reforms in the 1980s moving too fast for opposition to them to mount. Labour's basically doing that again, but mostly in the wrong directions, in the middle of a pandemic, while not being appropriately on top of the pandemic stuff. 

It's not ideal. 

Google and the provision of public goods

Anything that makes the Android operating system more valuable to users is good for Google. More people taking up the Android platform means more people in the Google universe, using their apps, seeing the ads that they sell. 

They have rather decent inventive to do awesome things for the platform.

Yesterday, about 2.55pm, I got a push notification on my phone. It made a sound I'd never heard before. I looked over and it noted that there'd been an earthquake, estimated magnitude 5.6, about 100 kilometers away off shore. I'm going from memory here as I didn't screenshot it. 

By the time I remembered that Google had added earthquake warning functionality into the Android OS, and remembered David Hood's skepticism about it, the room started shaking. Somewhere between 3 and 10 seconds. I should have started counting. 

Had the number on the phone been bigger than 5.6, I'd have gotten under the desk. And I've had had time to do it too. 

I kinda hate earthquakes. But now, I'm kinda looking forward to the next minor one. I want to count it down, like the gap between lightning and the thunder. 

Thank you Google!

Contact details

It seemed really obvious, really early, that robust privacy protections were needed around Covid sign-ins. If even some people expect, entirely unreasonably, that there's any chance that police could subpoena that data, then it needs to be bright-line illegal for anyone to hand that data over to police. 

The government can insist all it wants that the police wouldn't do that, but people who don't inherently trust police to do the right thing would rightly insist on stronger protection than that, and especially when Australian police have been up to dodgy stuff.

The people who you most need to be checking in for contact tracing are the ones who are nervous about the thing, because they may be in the cohorts you're going to have a hard time tracking down otherwise.

Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva says Labour is the only party opposing a rule change here. 

A push to provide stronger privacy protections for contact tracing data now has the support of four political parties in Parliament, leaving Labour as the sole holdout for legislative change.

The issue of how contact tracing data is used, and could be misused, has been bubbling away for some time and came into the spotlight again last week in relation to the Covid-positive woman who was refusing to share her movements around Northland with health officials.

When asked by Newsroom last week whether the Government would offer the woman immunity from any criminal charges in exchange for being candid about her whereabouts, Hipkins said public health officials did not use information gathered in interviews for any purpose other than eliminating Covid-19.

“The public health teams are not collecting information that’s then passed on and used in other law enforcement procedures, because to do so would mean that people wouldn’t provide the information in the first place.”

However, the standard of rules governing the use of contact tracing data has been called into question in the past, yet the Government has taken no new action to address those concerns.

In September, an open letter signed by over 100 lawyers, experts and academics said the public health order establishing mandatory recordkeeping had “insufficient" safeguards to protect against the misuse of data collected through either the Covid Tracer app or paper-based records.

Some are concerned that police or other law enforcement agencies could compel the release of the information through a search warrant or production order, while others have said the private sector could also misuse data collected through paper-based records.

The Government is legislating themselves the right to expropriate private covid testing labs, while insisting they won't use that right. 

At the same time, they're refusing to legislate against the use of covid check-in data, because they say that there's no need to because they wouldn't abuse the data and everyone should just trust them. 

Would it be crazy for someone who doesn't trust police or the government to conclude that the government's refusal to legislate here is because they actually kinda want to be able to use check-in data for dodgy purposes?