Saturday, February 24, 2024

When computing breeds contempt for the little people

The largest miscarriage of justice in the history of Great Britain continues to occur (1999–2015) as a result of defective software and the collaboration of executives, lawyers, politicians, and judges who insist on accepting data from computer systems as the only evidence. to convict almost a thousand innocent people. The error was corrected thanks to the journalists who determined to collect what those affected said (300 articles were published), and especially to an extraordinary person, Alan Bates, who investigated these mistakes and repeatedly went to court. But it seemed that nothing could cause the earthquake to merit the case and the decision to annul the convictions and compensate the victims until the television production company ITV created a four-part series (Mr. Bates vs. The Post Office), which unexpectedly pressed them. to the screen for millions of Britons, who this January preferred that program to any entertainment offer and exploded in pure anger. The horror capacity of television and fiction (this is not a documentary but a dramatic series) is overwhelming.

The whole incident, known as the Post Office Scandal, offers many lessons: computer systems fail, some executives of large companies do not stop doing real evil until they are held accountable for the crime, that is, until they are imprisoned, like corporate lawyers who help hide the evil of their employers even though they know they are ruining the lives of hundreds or thousands of people.

The story is not over because now the judges, who admit that everything is terrible, are not sure that the government can get rid of all the wrong sentences in a law, a kind of British-style amnesty. And because the promised payment came too late, some of those affected died.

The victims are the so-called subpostmasters, responsible for small post offices in small towns, people who are proud members of the Post Office and who, suddenly, shortly after using the new software, their accounts start out of balance. About 900 of them were reported, charged, and convicted of theft and fraud. Some were imprisoned. They all lost their jobs and scars (life in small British towns isn’t easy when your neighbors think you’ve robbed the well-deserved Post Office).

The judges, who knew nothing about computers, believed the technicians of the responsible company on the value. But how could they not notice that it is impossible that all the subpostmasters in the country suddenly started stealing without being involved in any mafia? How is it possible that the executives of the company that owns that wretched software (Fujitsu) testify against these confused and overwhelmed people when they know that the system produces hundreds of accounting errors? How is it possible that Fujitsu’s lawyers and the post office agreed to this? How can politicians not read the published information and demand a serious investigation? How was it possible that none of them did anything when they saw 900 terrified and bewildered men and women pass before them, sure that they had not stolen a shilling but blamed themselves for, perhaps, making mistakes that deserve punishment?

Everything is completely possible and even probable that it will be repeated in other places or at other times, in the same way or in a similar way. Don’t we remember that the computer system in the Netherlands detects immigrant families defrauding the state every day? A Spanish lawyer investigated, but the newspapers also began to publish what happened. The Prime Minister apologized: a wrong algorithm, he said. That’s it.

In fact, what constitutes these scandals? To despise the little people, the writer Kenan Malik explained in The Guardian. Where profitable illegality is embraced by executives of many large corporations,. And you should know that one piece of software can help save lives, but another can lead you to the gallows.

World Nation News Desk
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