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Question Time

Computer Weekly reader, Michael Fabricant, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Lichfield and Shadow DTI spokesman has started the New Year with a series of Parliamentary questions which are exploring the depth of the Government’s grasp of the issues surrounding electronic crime and protection of the critical national infrastructure.

Lenin pointing the way to eGovernment

With Britain reportedly sliding down the list of international ‘e’ rankings and with the Government still looking for a successor to e-Envoy Andrew Pinder in the shape of a ‘Chief Information Officer’, Michael Fabricant asked Minister for The Cabinet Office, Douglas, ‘Douggie’ Alexander “What the role of the Central Sponsor for Information Assurance (CSIA) will be when the e-Envoy's responsibilities are re-assigned in accordance with the e-Envoy 2003 report”? In reply, he received a classic ‘Yes Minister’ reply, from young Douggie, that “The re-organisation of the e-Envoy under a new Head of e-Government will incorporate the continued role and responsibilities of the Central Sponsor”. No clues there then.

Fabricant followed his first question with a second that reflects concerns expressed in Computer Weekly last month, “What steps the Minister has taken to identify points of vulnerability of and prevent damage to the critical information infrastructure for public sector networks”.

Once again, the civil servants had been working on the perfect Ministerial reply that “The UK Government has a continuous programme of work that identifies vulnerabilities and prevents damage to the critical national infrastructure, public sector networks and other inter-dependent information systems”. However, “For security reasons it would not be appropriate to discuss specific vulnerabilities which have been identified, however the CSIA and its partners continue to work with owners of critical national infrastructure to mitigate risks”.

For you and I, this roughly translates into “It’s a secret and we won’t tell you” or “Don’t worry, the Government has everything under control” or potentially in the wake of Blaster, Sobig and MyDoom, “We haven’t a clue but we can’t tell you that”.

It’s encouraging that both opposition parties, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, concerned by the huge cost of failed public sector IT projects are now taking the offensive, testing the Government’s grasp of new technology and insisting on far greater accountability.

Liberal Democrat MP Richard Allan has now tabled several Parliamentary questions on the cost savings made by departments since introducing their procurement and project management Centres of Excellence last year. Those that have responded have said it is too early to measure out the savings.

Finally, with the eCrime Congress taking place in London this month Michael Fabricant has asked the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, whether the plans for a criminal justice skills council include computer forensic and security skills. In a digital age, the rules that govern the provision of expert assistance to law enforcement are still governed by Victorian regulations. As a consequence in a rising climate of ‘organised’ electronic crime, a civilian computer expert in a wheelchair could not become a ‘Special’ constable, because he or she is not capable of wielding a truncheon in a brawl.

IT has always been a poor relation in Parliament. At long last perhaps, we are seeing greater opposition recognition of its importance to the shaping of tomorrow’s society in regard to outsourcing, crime, procurement and social inclusion. These aren’t platforms upon which elections are won or lost but at the very least, some of our Parliamentarians are grasping that a strong digital economy isn’t simply a by-product of making knights of rich Americans.

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