FECL 24 (May 1994):

COMPUTERISED RESOURCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS: THE END OF PRIVACY?

In Germany and other highly industrialised countries, new legislation in health care, public welfare and immigration law has introduce Computerised Resource Management Systems (CRMS). Such systems are presently planned in more and more fields, either by the central state, or by local government, e.g. in road traffic or in garbage collection. We are facing a new level of registration of personal conduct and in social control, Jan Kuhlmann, an "informatics and society" researcher at Bremen University suggests.

In his novel The Castle, Franz Kafka has described man as a small gear in the machinery of power. According to sociologist Max Weber, the purpose of bureaucracies is to be machine-like in their behaviour.

Today, people are standardised objects in traffic control, taxation or banking systems. Most of us have experienced powerlessness facing the wheels of bureaucracy or computer programs which do not provide for our special case. It is this "mechanisation" of all fields of life that is currently reaching a new level.

In computerised risk and resource management systems, the old antagonism between bureaucrats and citizens ceases to exist. Bureaucracy penetrates daily life, so that a citizen using his plastic card bearing a computer chip becomes a part of the administrative machinery himself. There is no supervision in the Orwellian sense, for there are no supervisors - a development that the French philosophers Foucault and Deleuze have described as the shift from a society of discipline to a society of control.

 

Computerised Resource Management Systems (CRMS)

The example of social welfare and the "fight against the abuse of benefits" illustrates how CRM systems are introduced and how they work. The first step towards resource management is the definition of a crisis - in this case, the crisis of public finance, allegedly caused by abuse of social benefits. The crisis justifies the submission of an entire field of society to a regime of rationing (the rationing field). All persons in the field can cause damage through "irresponsible behaviour", for instance by wasting resources, and are therefore considered as potential risk factors. As a consequence, the conduct of people within the rationing field is controlled automatically and inevitably, in order to bring about the desired "good behaviour" by incentives and sanctions.

The "solidarity pact", a law package agreed upon by German government and opposition in 1993, provides for the detection of all beneficiaries of public welfare who have not declared their income or people who live with them. With this in view the already existing control system of the social insurance has been extended with the help of the local offices for social assistance.

The new comprehensive scheme now enables periodic nation-wide electronic matching of data on both the income of all employees covered by the social insurance system and on recipients of pensions, unemployment benefits, as well as sick benefits and social assistance. This amounts to an airtight control covering 85 per cent of Germany's working population.

Social assistance offices are permitted to carry out electronic checks of the lifestyle of those receiving social assistance. They now have full access to the databases of:

Suspected abuse can mean the withdrawal of benefits and punishment. Beyond this, the public welfare CRMS collects the information for optimising sanctions, rewards and other action of public administration to those who are subject to rationing.

It is an important aspect of such a control system, that opposition against appears as morally illegitimate. Anybody abusing social benefits is a sponger and breaking the law. Indeed, according to the CRM system's logic, the victim is always doing wrong. Calls for data protection therefore appear as morally unjustified and criticism of the system becomes nearly impossible.

 

CRMS in the fields of pregnancy, birth and health care

A comprehensive resource management system is currently being introduced to track pregnancy and birth. In future, the quantity and the quality of human reproduction will be controlled and secured by the means of three interconnected elements:

This birth control system's rationing field covers all pregnant women and mothers of infants. The 1993 decision of the Constitutional Court on abortion establishes an obligation for the state to realise a "protection concept for unborn life". Each woman who wants a legal abortion must consult a pregnancy advice bureau first. The pregnancy advisors must include all persons in their "protection activity" who "can influence the woman's will in presence of a pregnancy conflict". This group of persons includes not only the father of the unborn child and the parents of an expectant woman who is below the age of majority, but also landlords and employers.

Thus, not only the woman's body becomes a state-controlled environment of the foetus, but control is extended to her wider social environment.

Permanent efficiency control of the protection concept is to be ensured by control of records to be kept by the pregnancy advisors. These records include anonymous information obtained from "consulted third persons".

Moreover, according to the Constitutional Court, the State must make sure that the data necessary for assessing the effect of the law is systematically collected and evaluated. This requires "reliable statistics" on the extent of abortion.

On the other hand, the Constitutional Court states that abortion in order to prevent the birth of a handicapped child is legal, when its life is considered "unbearable" for its social environment. Before each abortion, a physician is obliged to give advice to the pregnant woman.

 

Towards comprehensive control of embryo quality

The scientific advisory board of the German Federal Chamber of Physicians recommends the comprehensive data storage enabling the detection of "risk factors" among parents that could be related to "malformations" of babies.

Professor Gerhard Wendt, director of a Marburg advisory centre on human genetics, is outspoken on the central aim of such data collection: "If the birth of children with significant hereditary deformities can be prevented, the annual costs of medical and therapeutic assistance, including `reintegration' of handicapped persons will be significantly diminished ( . . . )".

The paediatric clinic of Mainz University has already set up a data bank for prenatal control. The data are based on an inquiry form including questions about the parents' race, their work, and their consumption of medicine, alcohol, drugs and tobacco - all considered "risk factors" that should be stored in computers, according to the Mainz human geneticians. The catalogue of infirmities stored in the data bank comprises all congenital diseases (including those that can only be detected by genetic screening) and "minor malformations" such as dimples and eyebrows that meet in the middle. The purpose is to statistically link the parents' "risk factors" to "malformations" of children. The results of this research are to be used by physicians for advice to mothers on whether they should have an abortion or not.

 

The health chip-card

Since the end of 1993, all members of the compulsory health insurances are equipped with a health insurance chip-card. For the time being, the cards contain only insurance related and non-medical data.

In the doctor's office, this information is linked with information about the patient's diagnoses and treatments. The complete datasets are transferred to physicians' organisations and health insurance companies where they are electronically stored. If a pregnant woman wants to get maternity leave, she must produce a physician's confirmation of pregnancy as early as possible. The maternity information is automatically transmitted to the institutions. They will now control if the woman undergoes all the regular medical prevention checkups scheduled in the "mother passport". If the mother fails to comply, she will be asked to explain her behaviour by her doctor and by the health insurance.

The checkups comprise ultrasonic and amniotic fluid examinations to control the embryo's quality. Doctors ask pregnant women for "risk factors" in her and in the expectant father's life. In cases of "risk", "genetic information" about the embryo may be assessed. This provides information for the woman's decision if she wants to have a child.

When the child has been born, its regular routine examinations have to be certified in a "child passport". Doctors compare growth and development of each child with nominal values defined by statistical medical research. A deviation from these values is a risk factor that is noted in the passport and reported to the institutions. It is planned to attribute the results of an embryo's and child's examinations permanently to each person in a smart card containing its health information. Such information may indicate what school is best to attend, what job best to aim for, and if or with whom it would be best to generate new children.

 

Employment

In the last four years, paid work has gradually become rationed. Each workplace must be state registered, in order to control whether it is occupied by an entitled person.

Employers can now communicate all employments, even insignificant part-time jobs, to the social insurance organisations on machine-readable forms or via electronic data transfer. These notices are automatically checked against the labour and tax authorities' databases. This system, however, does not work for persons who are not registered with the social insurance. This group is now to be detected with harsh methods of control.

Henceforth, Labour Offices and Customs may cordon off factories or construction sites and order all persons present to show their papers. Their personal data can then be matched with the social insurance register by direct electronic link.

Thus Customs are entrusted with the new role of a "social police" hunting clandestine workers.

 

Residence and employment of aliens

In their notices to the social insurances employers must also mention the nationality of employees. Any foreign employee needs a work permit by the labour Office. Work permits too are electronically administrated. According to a recent regulation, a work permit may be granted or prolonged only if no German or privileged foreigner (e.g. an EU citizen) can be found for the job.

According to the new 1990 foreigner law, temporary residence permits are to become the rule. Immigrants, mainly from Eastern Europe, will be brought to Germany according to a "rotation" scheme. Each person may stay in Germany for two years maximum following which he or she will be barred from entry for a period at least as long. This regulation seeks to prevent social integration of "guest workers", and the emergence of an "under-ground society" of illegal immigrants.

Without computerised administration it would be all but impossible to keep control of this rotation system that provides for a flexible allocation of the foreign work force. The system enables the authorities to replace "insubordinate" foreign workers at the next rotation.

The pilot studies with a new system of automated border control by electronic matching of the "biometrical data" of travellers at Frankfurt airport should be seen in the same context (see FECL No. 17, p 4).

Moreover, the fingerprints of all asylum-seekers are already being stored in a computer of the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation, the BKA, in order to prevent deported aliens from staying in or entering the country with a false identity.

In the long term, it is planned to take finger-prints from all travellers coming from certain countries upon entry. Persons suspected of working illegally can be submitted to criminal identification. In a near future, it will become possible to match their fingerprints with those taken from travellers upon entry and asylum-seekers. Thus, organisations that deal with social insurance and registers of foreigners will have achieved total control over the conditions of residence of foreigners.

 

Health care

The 1989 "health reform" law and the 1992 "health structure" law introduced a complete electronic system of control and rationing of medical treatment.

The laws provide for the computerised processing of the accounting between health insurance organisations and all providers of medical care. Physicians, pharmacies, hospitals, physiotherapists, etc must account for all their services on machine-readable forms or by data processing. Invoices that can not be read by computer will no longer be paid.

The service provided - and the diagnosis made - are stored in the computers of the insurance organisations and can thus be processed by reference to the patients, the prescribing physicians and the furnishers of medical services. This data exchange aims at controlling the medical treatment provided.

The data are matched with average values or standard amounts agreed by the panel doctors' associations and the insurance companies.

The control includes diagnoses, treatments, prescriptions, certificates of sick leave, etc. A doctor prescribing "too many" hearing aids or drugs, taking "too much" time for a patient, or certifying "too long" sick leaves may by sanctioned by having his or her payment reduced.

The "International Classification of Diseases" of the World Health Organisation serves as the pattern for accountancy and for efficiency control. Thus doctors must categorise their patients' health problems according to this catalogue for data processing by the panel doctors' associations and the insurance organisations. The patient thus is reduced to one of the "treatment cases" provided for by the catalogue. In a later step, doctors and hospitals are to be remunerated according to a diagnosis-related lump sum system. At that stage, there will be norm settings, e.g. for the number of influenza cases or rheumatic affections a doctor may diagnose per quarter.

State health insurance organisations and doctors' associations plan to store medical information, for example risk factors or long term treatments, on a health chip card. The card is to be used for health education and prevention of illness, by making it possible to control whether the insured submit themselves to regular preventive health examination or if they engage in sporting activities, all of which will make them eligible for premium reductions.

 

Traffic

Tolls are soon to be imposed for the use of German motorways. In test experiments, monitoring units at bridges and interchanges exchange data by microwave with chip-cards placed on the instrument panel of passing cars.

A programme of tests in the European Union, DRIVE research, is already going further: With the same microwave system security experts hope soon to be able to intercept car thieves and drivers without licences. Public transportation, presently introducing its own chip cards, could be introduced into one system of personal mobility management.

The aim of controlling traffic flows by a CRMS will require a person-related control of every traffic movement. The system is likely to be accepted by the public if it can be presented as a means of ecological and social traffic system management benefiting both environment and efficiency.

 

Disposal

A growing number of municipalities, among them the city of Bremen, are introducing person-related refuse-accounting systems. Dustbins are equipped with machine-readable codes and refuse lorries are equipped with a device for reading and storing the data. Thus users shall be charged only for the dustbins actually emptied. Households with low refuse production can be rewarded. However, all this requires the storage of person-related data and social authorities have the right to call these data in order to check how many persons are living in a house.

 

Orwell or Huxley?

In the main, these developments are about allocating resources according to peoples' ability to pay. Those who can afford it will benefit from top quality health care, may drive large cars and produce mountains of refuse. The have-nots, by contrast, should avoid producing refuse and had better stay at home. Control and exclusion can not be separated.

What we have described is already existing reality or - where the health chip-card and traffic management are concerned - being concretely planned or tested. But the examples could be multiplied further.

Additional CRMS are used for administering, for example, agricultural areas, university places, and organ donors.

The utopia of the chip-card society is that every person will have his or her own "Total Card". It will serve as a credit card, ID-document and health card. As a credit card, the Total Card will contain account - and customer numbers and can be used for everything costing money. If the number of the card is not registered with the system or if there is no money in the account, the barrier will remain down - otherwise the price will be deducted from the account. As an ID card, the Total Card will confirm your finger print, your personal data and qualifications and permits such as citizenship, employment and drivers' licence. It allows you access to a state territory, an industrial site, a particular sector of a building, a computer terminal or the ignition switch of a car - so long as you have the correct matching finger and the necessary authorization. As a health card, the Total Card will carry details of your insurance class, your individual risk factors and all treatments carried out. The Total Card will of course be voluntary. Nobody will be forced to apply for it, if he or she is not interested in the social facilities it offers.

Warnings against the "transparent citizen" or the "snooping state" appear incongruous to me. The issue is not about allowing Big Brother access to confidential information. Although this is possible, it certainly is not the objective. The principle is personal control combined with indifference towards the controlled person, supervision without supervisors.

Thus, is it Brave New World rather than 1984? Indeed, Huxley fits better, but the Real New World lacks the stable equilibrium of regulation.

The solutions offered by the Computerised Resource Management Systems are fake solutions. They lead to the disappearance of the perception of problems, not to the disappearance of the problems themselves. As long as there is no immigration management system, the impoverishment of the world and the existing potential of crisis is visible. The intended management does away with the unwanted immigrants, not with impoverishment or, for instance, environmental destruction. This will contribute to a feeling among people that their small world and their individual perspective is secured again and that they can go on as before.

 

Prospects for dissidence

With a CRMS once installed, data processing and resource management as such are no longer questioned by political parties and mass media. The issue is then merely a technical and complex one, a matter for experts who do not engage in well-informed public debate.

It is open to question whether those whose rights are being fully automatically restricted will resist in an organised way.

Alliances are formed when a common interest become visible. But CRM systems make common interests invisible, as they create a fiction of individual treatment for every person. Everyone's attention is drawn to their own behaviour instead to the social relations created.

Groups and organisations in favour of data protection are confronted with two problems in dealing with the rise of CRM systems: They have lost both their political basis, the Social Democrats and the Greens, and their alternatives, the reform utopias of the 1970s.

Some of the strongest supporters of the introduction of CRM systems can be found among Social Democrats, union people and Greens. The systems for controlling labour and health were demanded by the Social Democrat Party (SPD) and the unions, as a means to combat "illicit work", as well as doctors' and the pharmaceutical industry's "selfservice" mentality. Even the combat of "abuse" of social assistance benefits, i.e. the control of social security claimants were supported by the SPD.

The Greens in their turn advocate person-related control of traffic and refuse.

Whenever public data protection authorities dare to question the respective expansion of data processing, they find themselves falling between all stools. Indeed, questioning the complete problem solution concepts of electronic ration systems requires that they present just as complete and viable alternatives: radical working time reductions rather than control of illicit work; basic security for all rather than social control; lump sum remuneration for doctors rather than controlled and rationed allocation of health services; development of public transport rather than traffic control; recyclable packaging material rather than refuse control.

All this belongs to the past - and has ended on the rubbish heap of failed utopias.

Yet the prospects of data protection and the struggle against a model of society based on total control depends of whether we succeed in lending credibility to such fundamental structural reforms as an alternative to control systems.

Data protection must become a matter of politics. We must understand that in many fields, data protection and social policies can no longer be separated.

Jan Kuhlmann

 

This contribution is an abridged and edited translation of Bürger auf Karten - Totalerfassung durch sozialökologische Rationierung, an article by Jan Kuhlmann in Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 11/93.
Contact: Jan Kuhlmann, Institut für Informations- und Kommunikationsökologie e.V., Fachgruppe Datenschutz, c/o Universität Bremen, FB Mathemathik/Informatik, Bibliotheksstrasse 1, D-2800 Bremen; Tel: +49/421 2182833, Fax: +49/421 2183308.