Richard Ingrams’s Week: We're running out of firms we can trust with our data

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The Independent Online

It is reported that the Post Office and Boots are among those firms being encouraged to fingerprint the population for the Government's new identity card scheme.

The Home Secretary has decided that it will save the Government a great deal of money if it farms out the job of gathering what they call biometric data to private organisations rather than do the job themselves.

The public is probably aware by now that these private firms don't have a very good record when it comes to doing the Government's dirty work.

There have been a great many disasters of late, notably the SATs marking fiasco which was entrusted to an American company ETS. As for dealing with sensitive personal information the record of such firms is scarcely reassuring. Almost every week now there is a story of memory sticks being lost or found on rubbish dumps – one containing details of all the prisoners in England and Wales, another listing the names and addresses of all the prison officers in this country. And so on.

One can see the point of encouraging the Post Office to take on the job of fingerprinting the entire population. With so many post offices now threatened with closure it might well help to keep some of them open.

On the other hand, when people no longer feel confidence in the Post Office to deliver a letter on time or even to deliver it at all, there might be a general reluctance on the part of the public to go in for fingerprinting, let alone facial scanning.

Eighties legacy we can do without

I have a feeling that plans for giving Margaret Thatcher a state funeral could well be shelved in the near future.

The reason is that so many of our present ills can now be traced back to her long period in office. It was Thatcher, most notably, who lifted the regulations on banks about how much money they were allowed to lend. It was Thatcher who freed building societies to turn themselves into banks with what we know now to have been disastrous results.

It was Thatcher who sold off all the council houses so that the state no longer has any housing for people made homeless by the mortgage crisis.

Even in the recent BBC scandal we can detect the hand of Thatcher at work. Because it was her insistence that the BBC had to farm out a percentage of programmes to outside production companies that has resulted in most of its recent difficulties – the faked quiz shows and the programme about the Queen which they falsely claimed showed her storming out of a photo call.

Likewise, the fact that Russell Brand had his own company with his own young producer meant that he had carte blanche to do pretty well whatever he liked.

Like it or not, we are moving back to a socialist mindset where even the Conservative media now expect the Government to take over the banks and call for more of the old-type regulations to restrict their freedoms. In this new climate Thatcher will be seen increasingly as a bad thing, responsible for all our woes. There may after all, be a state funeral. But they shouldn't expect to see many of us lining the streets.

What would the BBC do with Spike Milligan these days?

I spent an enjoyable couple of hours the other day with Spike Milligan's long-serving and long-suffering manager Norma Farnes, who is compiling a book of reminiscences about the great man.

My memories of Spike (pictured) go back to the 1970s when I was privileged to play a small part in 'Q5', the first of a series that he wrote and performed for the BBC. Spike had a reputation for being wild and unpredictable, but when it came to making a programme like this – even though all the material was nonsensical and anarchic – he was highly professional and disciplined.

A running joke in the series was the repeated exchange: Q: Are you Jewish? A: No. A tree fell on me.

One of the funniest sketches featured Spike as a door-to-door salesman accompanied by a midget assistant trying to sell a housewife a blow-up hunchback device. The idea was that you kept it under your overcoat and if you were standing on a crowded Tube train, for example, you would inflate it and might then be offered a seat by a fellow passenger.

It was interesting to recall this in the light of all the recent talk in the wake of the Jonathan Ross affair about the BBC being at the forefront of so-called edgy comedy, and the pompous claims made by DG Mark Thompson and others that the corporation has a duty to experiment even at the risk of causing offence.

It is all humbug. The BBC may allow the likes of Jonathan Ross or Jeremy Clarkson to make puerile sex jokes and use four-letter words. But would they re-show Milligan's sketches that made jokes about Jews and disabled people?