Skip to main content
Keep it Clean

It’s a pretty impressive statistic by any measure of data collection. Two million pages, not quite a terabyte but certainly up there in the gigabyte awards and one wonders how much the advanced storage technology supporting it might be costing the taxpayer.

I’m writing of course about the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) and not sadly on the administration of benefit records and other necessary public duties but on the accumulation of pornography. If you happen to dig back far enough into some of my earlier columns, then you will find me speculating that public sector and university IT might have a second and sinister hidden function, which frequently includes the serving of inappropriate material, such as pornography and images of child abuse.

On this occasion, more than two hundred civil servants have been disciplined for downloading pornographic images at work as part of an eight-month investigation which monitored the computer use of 140,000 staff at the DWP.

Those of us working in the private sector recognise the risk of vicarious liability on the part of the employer and will sensibly exercise a policy of “Zero-tolerance” where such activities are discovered in the workplace, as described in a policy document which every intelligent company should have in this litigious day and age.

If employees are found to be downloading and worse still, distributing pornography and images of child abuse, then there is only one avenue of recourse, show them the door and where appropriate involve the police.

But that’s the norm in the private sector. A cynic might believe that the heavily unionised public sector might not be able to react as swiftly or be capable of doing what the rest of society might believe is “The right thing” under such circumstances. In the DWP, we are told that one person has been prosecuted and 227 people disciplined and of these 16 were sacked, which rather makes the odds of “Getting away” with downloading pornography on public-sector systems quite attractive to those with the impulse to swap “dirty pictures” at work..

The weak excuse from the DWP that many staff “Innocently followed a link from another site and were unaware of its content”, isn’t really good enough, as any audit trail will be able to clearly discriminate between those that strayed on to a website by mistake and never visited it again and those that repeatedly returned for further instalments. The reporting capabilities of such systems are now very good and are capable of building-up a body of evidence that is capable of supporting any decision to dismiss and employee for inappropriate use.

Sadly perhaps, Mary Whitehouse is no more and we live in the “Politically correct”, “Compensation culture”, referred to by the Conservative leader, Michael Howard, in a speech last week. Our public sector is poor at taking responsibility for anything these days, whether this involves a shortage of body armour for our soldiers or images of child abuse held on central government systems.

I suspect that the DWP represents the tip of a much larger iceberg which shames our public sector use of IT. Zero tolerance of such behaviour at work should be universal and even more rigorously enforced where the taxpayer’s money is involved. No excuses, the public sector should set the example for business and not the other way around.


Popular posts from this blog

Mainframe to Mobile

Not one of us has a clue what the world will look like in five years’ time, yet we are all preparing for that future – As  computing power has become embedded in everything from our cars and our telephones to our financial markets, technological complexity has eclipsed our ability to comprehend it’s bigger picture impact on the shape of tomorrow.

Our intuition has been formed by a set of experiences and ideas about how things worked during a time when changes were incremental and somewhat predictable. In March 1953. there were only 53 kilobytes of high-speed RAM on the entire planet.

Today, more than 80 per cent of the value of FTSE 500* firms is ‘now dark matter’: the intangible secret recipe of success; the physical stuff companies own and their wages bill accounts for less than 20 per cent: a reversal of the pattern that once prevailed in the 1970s. Very soon, Everything at scale in this world will be managed by algorithms and data and there’s a need for effective platforms for ma…
The Mandate of Heaven

eGov Monitor Version

“Parliament”, said my distinguished friend “has always leaked like a sieve”.

I’m researching the thorny issue of ‘Confidence in Public Sector Computing’ and we were discussing the dangers presented by the Internet. In his opinion, information security is an oxymoron, which has no place being discussed in a Parliament built upon the uninterrupted flow of information of every kind, from the politically sensitive to the most salacious and mundane.

With the threat of war hanging over us, I asked if MPs should be more aware of the risks that surround this new communications medium? More importantly, shouldn’t the same policies and precautions that any business might use to protect itself and its staff, be available to MPs?

What concerns me is that my well-respected friend mostly considers security in terms of guns, gates and guards. He now uses the Internet almost as much as he uses the telephone and the Fax machine and yet the growing collective t…

Civilisational Data Mining

It’s a new expression I haven’t heard before. ‘Civilisational data mining.’

Let me start by putting it in some context. Every character, you or I have typed into the Google search engine or Facebook over the last decade, means something, to someone or perhaps ‘something,’ if it’s an algorithm.

In May 2014, journalists revealed that the United States National Security Agency, the NSA, was recording and archiving every single cell-phone conversation that took place in the Bahamas. In the process they managed to transform a significant proportion of a society’s day to day interactions into unstructured data; valuable information which can of course be analysed, correlated and transformed for whatever purpose the intelligence agency deems fit.

And today, I read that a GOP-hired data company in the United States has ‘leaked’ personal information, preferences and voting intentions on… wait for it… 198 million US citizens.

Within another decade or so, the cost of sequencing the human genome …