A Budget to free up the Business Broadband market - the superhighway to economic recovery.

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The Digital Communications Infrastructure Structure Strategy announced in parallel with the Budget shows that DCMS and Treasury have responded to the inputs to the consultation last year and  raised their sights. The new targets are 100 mbs to all but the most remote households but, more importantly, fibre to the premises (a gigabit plus) for business. The strategy recognises that different markets have different priorities between speed, capacity, ubiquity, symmetry, latency, reliability and resilience:

 20150318Strategy diagram.png
 
 It is most unlikely that one architecture will fit all future needs, any more than it does at present. Even the current BT network remains a hotpotch of heterogeneous architectures and technologies - built on the legacy from when the Labour government's switch to local loop unbundling destroyed the business case behind Ben Verwaayen's dash for growth and left BT saddled with debt commitments after its exchanges had been mortgaged and its share price had collapsed.  

The recognition of the pace of change is most welcome. The strategy, quotes actual traffic increases of 40 - 50% p.a. annum over recent years with households connected by "real" fibre to the premises generating nearly 60% more traffic. I recently learned that the rate of traffic growth is accelerating and bandwidth improves. Traffic over Sky's broadband network has more than doubled over the past year - and that over the mobile networks may be growing even faster. In consequence BT's back haul networks are creaking at seams. Most weeks see several exchanges going down, sometimes for hours on end. In consequence financial services regulators, for example, now insist that critical services have standby facilities which do not depend on the BT network.

Hence the reason that Virgin, Sky, Vodafone and others, who had relied on BT for much of their backhaul, as well as for unbundled local loops, have been looking at major investment programmes of their own and partnerships with the local network suppliers (City Fibre, Gigaclear, UK Broadband, Hyperoptic, ITS etc.).    

The announcement on the means of encouraging investment and enabling change to a world of competing but inter-operable fixed and mobile networks is also important: using the £40 billion UK Government Guarantees Scheme to underpin investment, with the £3 billion Virgin plans "pre-qualified" to show that it is serious about opening markets to genuine competition.  See section 3.2 of the Strategy for details, although it does not say how others should apply, merely that they will be welcome to do so.

The strategy also contains the first public reference I have seen to the consultation on reform of the Electronic Communications Code  Note the deadline for inputs of 30th April. The importance of the Code as an obstacle can, however, be over-estimated. The new code will not address the need for a critical mass of landlords and network operators to agree a new generation of framework contracts for multi-tenanted properties (office blocks, business parks, social housing complexes etc.) where the value of being able to offer tenants a choice of world class communications access and smart building services is greater than any revenue from wayleave and access charges. More-over those wanting rapid access to fix faults also need to accept liability for any damage or disruption caused by their staff or subcontractors to services on which other tenants rely.

The good news is that a recent meeting hosted by Westminster City Council illustrated the practicality of doing so. I am therefore hopeful that the Digital Policy Alliance will succeed in providing a neutral umbrella to build on success by bringing together those who wish to make rapid progress without waiting for GODOT (the General Obfuscation, Delay or Time- wasting that occurs with attempts to get agreement on a mandatory policy using statutory powers).

The group will probably not be looking at the lowest common denominator agreements that tend to arise from national standard agreements but at "future proof guidelines" that can be used by those planning new developments or refurbishments designed to last for decades and also for incremental retrofitting to existing properties as tenants change.

The Treasury Review of business rates to redress the balance between the on-line world and the off-line world gives a long-overdue opportunity to reform the current valuation regime so that it no longer deters investment in new fibre networks and helps high street retailers come on-line [link]. The return of increases in business rates to local authorities (beginning with a pilot covering Greater Manchester) will give an added incentive to local authorities to use broadband improvements to help deliver more for less - including by pooling their communications budgets (including for CCTV and traffic management as well as fixed and mobile staff and business communications) with those of local landlord and businesses, perhaps in partnership with their local LEPs (as suggested in the Strategy Paper) and foster local economic growth.   

In parallel Ofcom is to do its first strategic review of the Telecoms market  since that which concluded in 2005 enshrining its then priorities. I have previously welcomed the  new focus of Ofcom on business broadband in its business plan for this year but some of the inputs for the DCMS-Treasury review show just how dated the focus of Ofcom had become. I do hope that those wanting to see Ofcom reinvigorated for the 21st century will use the opportunity.

Finally a quick comment on Spectrum wars. The Ofcom threat to claw back unused satellite
spectrum
should be seen in the light of the Budget comments on raising the Universal Obligation from 2 to 5 mbs and using satellite to reach the final 2 - 5% of the population. Those fighting for fixed wireless or fibre to the premises for remote areas have been complaining not just of latency but of lack of capacity and contention. I am looking forward to seeing inputs on the quality of service that is available over modern satellite services. I undertand that 3% of Avanti's global capacity is used for on-line gaming: i.e. 50% more than the capacity used to service UK customers. I also undestand that a numer of mobile radio networks trunk their trffic over satellite. I therefore suspect misinformation which may annoy satellite providers but not sufficiently for them to spend time countering when they can sell all the capacity they currently have available to other parts of the world.  

In short, I do urge you to read the strategy  and then think how to work together locally to help build the future without waiting for GODOT nationally.

P.S. I have been asked to try to put together a group to provide guidance for parliamentary and council candidates on how they could/should support local community groups (from Parish Councils to City Corporations) to use the new opportunities to work with local businesses, property owners and potential suppliers and leapfrog the competition (whether it be in the county or on the next continent). I look forward to hearing from those interested in helping.






Yesterday this blog was devoted to Jim Prideaux's take on the budget. Last night a reader pointed out the reason for the ambiguity,

The success of HMRC's record tax take this spring was critically dependent on taxpayers ignoring Verify . Moreover, one of the highlights of the budget speach was the abolition of the annual tax return. The programme to achieve this relies on rebuilding the in-house IT skills of HMRC for a post ASPIRE world. It is not based on passing roles to those in Cabinet Office who have been bogged down in the the five year struggle to bring transparency to the murky relationships between HMG and its outsourcing suppliers have resulted from two decades of "over enthusastic" outsourcing.

Should the Cabinet Office teams succeed in their efforts to deliver processes a that work reliably, efficiently and securely, they have a future. Should they not ....

Meanwhile the battle between backward-looking suppliers seeking to preserve a world of cosy, confidential, complex, lawyer-driven outsource contracts and those looking forward to a world of open-inter-operability goes on.

But taxes have to be collected and benefits paid,

That means rebuilding the in-house skills of the civil service (particualrly those of HMRC and DWP) at all levels. Hence some of Francis Maude's comments earlier this year. But should delivery skills be in Cabinet Office or should it focus on co-ordinating and quality controlling the outputs of those created elsewehere - while departments develop the ability to transition to a world of cross-cutting, co-operative incremental change. I suspect the latter, if we really do want Gov.UK to be more than "lipstick on the face of a herd of pigs".

Internet: in dog we trust? Jim Prideaux points out the ambiguity in the Budget statement on the future of Government Verify

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I was working on a posting on the way the budget and the parallel announcement of the Digital Communications Infrastructure strategy   should help transform the climate for investment when Jim Prideaux , one of whose concerns is the hollowing out of the security skills of Government, pointed out a splendid ambiguity in the budget statement announcement on plans to save money from rationalising IT spend: "Budget 2015 announces that, following a successful trial, the Government will implement "Gov.UK Verify" - a new way for people to prove their identity on-line when using government services - across central government". Does this mean that the trials to date have been successful? Or does it mean that Verify will only be implemented when the trials have been successful?

Jim has blogged for me before on the strange history of the Government Verify programme and I have no doubt he will do so again. Meanwhile one of his erstwhile colleagues is trying to calculate how much it would cost to fraudulently acquire the identity of some-one dependent on benefits using the routines proposed by the suppliers whose services are currently being tested. After wading through pages of gobbledeygook he came to the conclusion that it could cost as little as £250 to acquire (via existing publicly available services) and scan the paper documentation and/or generate the digital footprint that would satisfy some of the supposedly agreed providers. I await his detailed working but this may explain why mainstream "trust" services are reluctant to get engaged - other than to certify those who they already "know" via more robust routines, including physical presence.

Jim, however, points out that Verify hasn't got around to 'level 3', and the current (watered-down) level 2 (balance of probability - not properly defined) envisages doing everything online because the costs of manual paper-handling would exceed the budget: Level 1 - self asserted - doesn't need any third party, so no justification for paying for one. He also thinks it may be easier to take over an account after it has been created because that may need no more than a quick look around the device being used for access. He is more concerned about denial of service (from failed masquerades), followed by the imbuggerance (which I assume is a spook technical term equivalent to "compromise") of two factor authentication while a smart phone is being used for browsing and text, thus ensuring that it  adds no security.

Jim goes on as follows:

"The recent scare over another false security certificate at the heart of widely used products and services should remind us of the vulnerability of those who assume that all certification routines are equally valid. The complexity of the chain of trust in which the compromise occurred  means no-one should be surprised. After the £8M for damage caused by Companies House for a missing 's', we should spare a thought for those trying to understand the liabilities for online transactions, which jurisdictions apply, whose services they can trust for what and the recourse available to them if that trust turns out to be misplaced.

How confident can you be that the Gov.UK website you visit is secure?

The supposedly monolithic gov.uk relies on a variety of chains of trust. When you get past 'This web site does not supply ownership information' the www.gov.uk chain (see foot of this blog details) starts in Ireland, then goes through the US. Meanwhile the chain for *.blog.gov.uk starts in Sweden, and comes via Salford. MI5.gov.uk and SIS.gov.uk use US-based certificates.

If you go to a German government site the chain is shorter and simpler, based on German certificates. Other nations can have stranger chains of trust.  www.whitehouse.gov comes to you "securely" using a trust chain that says it starts in the Irish Republic, and ends us in the US via the Netherlands.

Is this 'security theatre', or does it matter? Will it help to have the .uk namespace under the control of Nominet? That is if there is a way to check that the control is more than nominal?

Should you be worrying about how you can verify that you are indeed using a secure link to a trustworthy website, following the padlock (or warning triangle) in the top left. Your browser probably has a few hundred roots of trust, possibly including those from countries you've not heard of. By looking at 'subject' in further information', you can see where the chain of trust starts in this case, and then how it follows down to where you are.

The policies under which these certificates are issued can be searched for . even if you find the right ones (and how can you be sure?) somewhere in the dense legalese, probably at paragraph 9.8, will be some modest limit for you and all other users combined, and para 9.14 will identify the relevant jurisdiction.

For commercial transactions for ordinary users, the credit card terms may be more relevant, not least because the customer only needs one. Someday it might even follow the model envisaged in the recent EU eIDAS Regulation, but what happens for the public sector/government sites that offer a secure link? Remembering that many, including the GCHQ website and transparency.number10.gov.uk do not."

P.S. The Gov.UK chains of trust refered to by Jim appear to be as follows:

CN = *.blog.gov.uk https://identityassurance.blog.gov.uk/
OU = EssentialSSL Wildcard
OU = Domain Control Validated
is provided by

CN = EssentialSSL CA
O = COMODO CA Limited
L = Salford
ST = Greater Manchester
C = GB

which comes from
CN = AddTrust External CA Root
OU = AddTrust External TTP Network
O = AddTrust AB
C = SE

www.gov.uk says "This web site does not supply ownership information" but the chain appears to be as follows:

CN = www.gov.uk
O = Government Digital Service
L = London
ST = England
C = GB
is issued by

CN = DigiCert High Assurance CA-3
OU = www.digicert.com
O = DigiCert Inc
C = US
in turn issued by

CN = Baltimore CyberTrust Root
OU = CyberTrust
O = Baltimore
C = IE

P.P.S. A reader has just pointed out the Register Article which explains the ambiguity

How anonymous should you be over the Internet? Nominet Consultation on .UK

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Given the pressures to tidy up the Internet and enable those responsible for victim support and redress to track and trace and "remove" trolls, the current Nominet consultation on the collection and publication of contact data for the WHOIS register for .UK is central to the rebuilding of trust in the on-line world.

Will .UK remain as untrustworthy as at present, offering neither reasonable confidence that you are dealing with an organisation or individual subject to UK law nor that your anonymity will be protected? Or will Nominet help lead the way in rebuilding trust in the on-line world? Those who believe the latter should join and take part in the policy discussions because subjects like this are far too important to be left to the introverted community of registrars and IPR lawyers who usually dominate discussion on such subjects.

But what is "reasonable confidence"? And how can it be better provided?  

The article by Eleanor Bradley COO of Nominet summarises the context of the consultation. But the growth of registrars offering "privacy services" parallels the rising concerns over those who conceal their identities in order to abuse and prey on others. Hence my recent blogs on the need for such services, and the routines allowing otehrs to acces their files, to come under proper judicial oversight.   

It is, however, worth remembering that those traditionally responsible for checking identity in the context of authenticating legal documents in the "real" world (Notaries and Scrivenors) come under divine oversight - the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury . Hence also my long-standing interest in the tension between those who believe that the law are given by God and apply to the State and Rulers (as with Magna Carta)  and those who believe that the State is God 

Why the FCC Net Neutrality judgement may have been a pyhrric victory for the cartel that runs the Internet

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In the early days of this blog, back in 2008, when I repeated the arguments that the Internet shold be seen as a cartel masquerading as anarchy it was relatively easy to find on-line references to the 1912 case that broke apart the US railroad cartel - just as it was seeking to leverage its market dominance to also control the embryonic road haulage industry. [There had been a spate of articles on the judgement when Microsoft was being investgated]

A couple of years ago the judgement became much harder to find amidst adverts irrelevant adverts triggered by the terms I used to try to find it - after the links I used the last time I referenced it no longer worked. Earlier today, having grown tired of wading through the paid entries that now preface any useful results from a Google search, I decided to try DuckDuckGo . A useful result came up instantly at the head of the list. Interestingly, when I then tried again using Google and Yahoo, having got the precise reference, I did get the same result. What I did not get was uncharged articles that put it into modern context, such as the Wikipaedia entry on Essential Facilities .

Why is this sopotentially important - including for UK discussions over the Digital Infrastructure on which modern sociaty now depends?

A couple of days ago, at an excellent  Westminster eForum event on Priorities for Broadband I heard the Director of Group Inustry Policy for BT repeating the argument that Broadband was not a utility and should not be regulated as such. Is that sustainable now that US Federal Communications Commission has ruled, albeit subject to a probable appeal to the Supreme Court, that it is a utility and should be so regulated?

The landmark FCC judgement on Net Neutrality looks like a victory for the ISP community (Google et al) over the Infrastructure Community (Verizon et al) who want to charge premium rates for privileged access to that which consumes most bandwidth. However, the decision to regulate Internet Service Providers under the US regulations for telecoms providers has profound implications. Meanwhile Google has said it is not a monopoly because it has competitors like DuckDuck . Hmmmm ...

Until today I was among those who thought that Google was an "Essential Facility" - and therefore potentially liable to serious anti-trust action to stop it from spreading its tentancles as the US railroad industry was doing, when brought to heel in 1912. Now I know that I can do many, perhaps most, of my own searches faster without it. But the world, and the FCC, appears to have caught up with the arguments I heard nearly a decade ago at the Oxford Internet Institute.

I suspect that Google, as an integrated entity, has passed its zenith. But when I said, nearly a year ago, that Christmas was creeping up on the Young Turks of yesterday , I also said that I expected the Googlettes to soon be collectively worth more than Google, just as the break up of Standard Oil made the Rockefeller family even richer. Are Apple and Microsoft at risk of similar break up pressures - or does their apparent head to head competition preserve them?      
Meanwhile all three, any many others, are at risk as tax authorities around the world sharpen their knives and off-line businesses demand equality of tax treatment, on-line and off. 

Politics is about to meet IT, whether IT likes or not.






No End of Jobs - how do we break out of Ground Hog Day

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A couple of days ago I was very sharp about forecasts of gloom, doom and mass unemployment from new technology in recent reports. 

I had forgotten quite how sharp Sir Michael Marshall, Charles Christian and myself were thirty years ago when similar arguments were in vogue. Amazon has now delivered a replacement for my last copy of what we wrote (loaned and never returned). Below is a scan of the first page of the text of "No End of Jobs". Remember it was written in 1984, so for Japan you might read China. For West Germany you might read India.

Most of the forecasts have come true, or are well on the to coming true - save that we have imported immigrants to look after our elderly in overcrowded NHS hospitals, instead of making use of technology to enable them to live at home. One of the themes was the job creation effects of "prolonged active life": resulting from automating records and administration to enable clinicians to spend time with patients instead of on paperwork, from the manufacture and installation of "robotics for rheumatics" to enable independent living for longer, as well as from all the telecare and telemedicine technologies that we are still talking about but not deploying.  

The obstacles to do with the organisation of funding that we identified then have still not been addressed. Indeed they may now be worse. The overheads and waste resulting from the centralisation, bureaucratisation and outsourcing of our health and welfare systems, with funding fragmented for distribution down leaky silo'd drainpipes, means we are commonly spending more to achieve less, or at least to achieve far less than recent advances in knowledge and technology should have enabled us to achieve.

I plan to scan the rest of the paper.
No end of Jobs Intro.jpg
   

"One of the messages from President Obama's recent cybersecurity summit was summarised by an American Banker as "We have to protect the trust of the consumer or its game over". The latest PWC Global Economic Crime survey indicates that over half of all global CEOs are aware of the cyber problem - but more are concerned over bribery and corruption. They are right to be so concerned. Other studies show that over half of major incidents, whether fraud or "cyber" involve insiders - whether careless or malicious. And when it comes to malice the CPNI study of the Insider Theat shows that it is disproportionately men who are the risk.

Most CEOs are already only too well aware of the risks. They have no need for yet another patronising awareness campaign. But what should they actually do?

I have already blogged on part of the answer: select and retrain those you already trust rather than hire short stay compliance officers and security staff of unknown probity. Hence also my recurrent calls for inputs to my exercise with the Tech Partnership on the skills with which they need to be retrained. I am now coming to the end of that exercise and am due next week (inputs still welcome) to report on who should be trusted to help specify and deliver the training modules neeeded - particularly for those planning, developing, installing and running the organisations Identity and Access Management processes and technologies: the key point of vulnerability.  

However, another message has come through at many of the meetings I have been attending. And it does not appear to be at all popular when I point it out.

Men are usually at the heart of the problem. Women are usually at the heart of the answer.

Yes there are some female hackers and fraudsters but almost all malicious leaks and attacks involve men, as do most of the accidental leakages and system failures. More-over the proportions are not explained simply by the proportion of men and women in roles where they can undermine or bypass systems, make mistakes or take unnecessary risks. 

When it comes to non-malicious risk, the story of Bletchley Park is apposite. It was 80% female, including some of the top code breakers  but we only know what was done there because some of the men craved public recognition.

We now have the "Turing industry" (from films to institutes). I commend the wikipaedia entry for a summary of the real achievements of Alan Turing (as opposed to the pastiche in the Imitation Game). Meanwhile we still know almost nothing of the contribution of his fiance, Joan Clarke who became deputy head of Hut 8 when he left for the United States and went into GCHQ after the war. We know nothing of the work of Rosalind Hudson, the other named female cryptographer in Hut 8, who died in 2013 having never spoken of her work at Bletchley, save that she is named than in the list of code breakers, as opposed to the approximately 150 support staff.

That female ability to maintain security while also fighting and winning a cyberwar can also be seen with regard to the team which broke the Abwehr enigma codes, thus enabling the Double Cross operations without which the "relatively bloodless" D-Day landings might have been impossible.

Mavis Batey was only 19 when she helped save a British Supply convoy and kill 3,000 of the Italian sailors involved in the failed ambush three days (three days!!!) after she had broken the Italian Enigma code, thanks to the carelessness of a male operator who had simply pressed the letter "L" to encrypt a test  transmission. Meanwhile we know nothing of her colleague, Margaret Rock save for her letters to her brother and that she, like Joan Clarke, joined GCHQ after the war. We still know almost nothing about the other members of Dillys Fillies  the (almost) all female cryptography team which assisted Bletchey's top (better than Turing but died in 1943) codebreaker, Dilly Knox. We do know, however, why he recruited them: better lateral thinking, teamwork and temperament. 

There is a message here. I wonder who will decypher it."

How do we break out of Groundhog Day and provide Broadband and Digital Skills that are fit for purpose to ALL?

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Learning for change cartoon.jpg
The stick of dynamite is labelled "Publicity Japanese Style". The tube of sweets is labelled "First Rate Teachers". I had no say in the cartoon and did not see it till afterwards.

The House of Lords Report on Digital skills gave me a curious feeling of "deja view" (see the date at the foot of the cartoon above) with its statement that millions of jobs are at risk from automation and its subsequent calls for digital skills for everyone and the Internet as a utility. 
Back in In 1981 the late Donald Michie had been invited to organise the annual Sperry seminar for the UK Technical Press. His theme was "Intelligent systems: the unprecedented opportunity". The Micros in School Programe was in train and, in return for first class travel for myself and my wife to the South of France, plus a week of incredibly stimulating company, I was tasked to not only give the thinking behind it, but also think through the likely consequences. The abstract for my contribution to the resultant book read as follows:

"Most of the basic skills needed over the next hundred years can be predicted with reasonable certainty but many of the precise trades and professions cannot. "Age related careers" is an employment strategy which can handle such uncertainty. Fundamental changes to the education system are necessary. Information Technology makes these possible at affordable cost. Encouragement and favourable publicity are more effective weapons of persuasion than coercion."

The cartoon, with which I was presented, relates to my comments, (not all recorded for posterity in either the book or the separately published political version, available on-line courtesy of Blogzilla), on the need to give average teachers the confidence to become coaches, using the new technology to help their pupils acquire skills and understanding which they did not themselves have. In other words, on the need to give priority to the "leading out" roots of education, as opposed to passing on the skills and mores of previous generations - as per the wikipaedia definition (which accurately described, then as now, the mainstream).   

The report of the House of Lords Enquiry indicates very clearly how little progress we have made in meeting that challenge. On March 12th the Real Time Club (45 years young and still reinventing itself), hosted in Houe of Lords by a member of the enquiry team, will hear from those who appear to have found out how to make a profitable and fast growing business from doing so. I look forward to hearing whether I believe their solution. My own experience in the 1980s, with organising IT awareness courses for older generations (including taking apart Apple Computers to insert graphics boards to play silly games and do basic coding, prior to playing global corporate politics over a pastiche teleconferencing network), indicates that it should be possible do so today at much lower cost than we used to charge the main boards of the companies we were helping prepare for difficult discussions on IT policy.
 
Yesterday I took the opportunity to take another look at "Cashing in on the Chips" published in 1979 (containing the original call for a Micros in Schools programme), the New Scientist review of "No End of Jobs" (*) published in 1984 and my own submission to the House of Lords Enquiry.

So how do YOU, "dear reader" help us all to break out from Goundhog day and deliver the aspirations in the House of Lords report?

1) Respond to the Ofcom Draft Annual Plan for 2015/16 by 6pm on 26th February

As I said in my previous blog, the good news is that this is first time Ofcom has indicated that it is planning to take the needs of business users (particularly SMEs who cannot afford lesed lines) seriously [see page 26 of the Draft Plan for details).

Ofcom is also planning to take a good look at fixed and mobile Not Spots (see page 32).

The plans for work on Online Child Safety are interesting (see Page 35 ) but the critical path is Age Verification. Here the Digital Policy Alliance appears to have already made good progress in assembling a team that will lead the drive for practical and credible answers - because the participants need them for marketing and moral, as well as regulatory, reasons.

Page 43 refers obliquely to the need for more work on performance measures, not just quality of service but even more interesting is the reference in the section on "Protecting onsumers from harm" (starting page 44) on the need to work with groups like the Internet Engineering Task Force on removing the vulnerabilities that enable spoofing.   

I also recommend reading the rest of the "Protecting Consumers from harm" and thinking not only how Ofcom could and should and should address the issues it raises but the roles of others in doing so. 

2) Take a look at the House of Lords report, consider how the recommendations might be implemented, then consider how you think they should be and what youc can do to help. 

There is a lot of worthy comment and generic material in the report, but when it comes to action on skills the devil is in the detail, usually in the funding and incentive mechanisms, including the performance measures and league tables used reward and recognise those meeting centrally set objectives (with which the report is peppered).

I have said (above) why those of you who are interested in remotivating staff (or teachers) for the Digital Age should try to attend the next meeting of the Real Time Club and then consider just how much (or little) this should cost using the the technologies and techniques now available - although there may still be places available for those of you near Huddersfield to get a view from the grass roots this Wednesday at the presentation of the survey on the results of the first Digichampz exercise.
 
I personally think  that by far the most important recommendation in the House of Lords report is that the Tech Partnership be tasked to lead an employer-driven review of the offers of the Further Education sector with a view to improving the apprenticeship packages on offer (Parag 314 onwards). The weakness of this recommendation is that a growing number of apprenticeships are graduate and post graduate level, linked to the High Education sector. The review should therefore encompass the actions listed in the following paragraphs on High Educations and Careers Guidance, albeit not necessarily inside the first six months

There is a lot in the report on Women in Technology and on Cybersecurity (page 36 onwards). I have commented in the past, albeit mainly en passant, on why you should employ women rather than men if you are serious about information security. I plan to return to this theme in my next blog.
     
3) If you are actively in trying to get socially and geographically inclusive Broadband to those in your Parliamentary Constituency ask your MP if he can get you an invitation,on his or her say so, to the event on "Broadband for ALL" being planning by the All Party Space Group and Digital Policy Alliance, in the House of Commons on the afternoon of 10th March. The aim is to cover the current state of play with regard to the availablity of the full range of technologies - from fibre, wifi and mobile (for social housing and inner city commercial centres) to satellite (for hill farms, rural businesses and disaster recovery - e.g. fire or flood taking out terrestrial networks). Advance notices have been sent to DPA members but the details are not yet on the website because some of the industry speakers have yet to be confirmed. 

(*) Unfortunately "No End of Jobs" is not itself on-line (I have just paid ten times the original price for a copy to supply to anyone willing to scan or digitise it). Interestingly what looked to New Scientist to be the "silliest predictions" might already have come true - but for the failure to compete "the recabling of Britain" by 2002. That was, of course, Government policy until 1997 and the introduction of Local Loop unbundling to save US bondholders, who then owned NTL and Telewest, "from taking a haircut" with a distress sale to Sky

P.S.  Now received a copy of "No End of Jobs" via Amazon and made time to scan the first page. Remember it was written in 1984, so for Japan read China. For West Germany read India. What has changed since: apart from importing immigrants to look after our elderly in overcrowded NHS hospitals, instead of making use of technology to enable them to live at home. One of the theme was the job creation effects of "Prolonged active life": enabling clinicians to spend time with patients instead of on paperwork and deploying "robotics for rheumatics" as well as all the telecare and telemedicine technologies that we are still talking about but not deploying and enabling. 

No end of Jobs Intro.jpg
   




I recently signed up to the HMRC advisory service and this morning received the e-mail below. Being a trusting individual I did NOT click on anything. Instead I visited the HMRC site on how to check whether a communication from them is genuine. I was none the wiser. However, being both paranoid and interested, I tried to find another way of getting the details. Eventually I found my way in via the "Business is Great" website although the Broadband Voucher scheme is not among those promoted on the home page.

I still do not now whether the original e-mail from HMRC was genuine but, it if was, I deduce that HMRC is more concerned to help SMEs get good broadband access than Gov.UK is concerned to promote either good security practice or the voucher scheme.

Rant over. This is a great scheme. It needs to be extended so that every rural business stuck with crapband (not just those in Wales) can use it to pay for a satellite service. Meanwhile inner city businesses in the areas covered should use it to apply for for a fibre connection: there is a routine for vouchers to be collated by alternative suppliers if BT or Virgin will not offer you anything other than a prohibitively expensive leased line. Those in areas that are not yet covered, where businesses are stuck with a choice between crapband and expensive leased lines, should be contacting their constituency MP and parliamentary candidates to lobby either for access or to work to make it easier for alternative suppliers to compete to meet your needs.

But be warned, the budget is fixed and its first come first served. We also need to get action on opening up the supply of business broadband to all. I therfore take this opportunity to remind you that the deadline for the consultation on the Ofcom Draft Annual Plan is next Thursday. The good news is that Ofcom has finally guiven priority to looking at the business broadband. There is much to do and you have to get into the appendices, with references to the work of the IETF on inter-operability standards, to realise that Ofcom is now serious about looking at UK telecoms in global context.

Meanwhile, if you are among those stuck with crapband - do take a look at the voucher scheme. If you are not covered, take a look at how many others, locally, are in the same position. If there are enough of you, one of the new generation of the alternative network providers (see the list of those participating in the scheme) might be able to serve you at an attractive cost anyway.   

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Will Government Verify survive the impending cybersecurity skills crisis?

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Few outside the community of those obsessed with digital identity will keep up to date with postings and comments on  the Gov.UK Identity Assurance Blog  but a regular reader recently drew my attention to a recent posting, on "User research - asking better questions"   .  He asked why they were relying on feedback from current trials and had not looked at the market research conducted by others, such as Experian - although he did not say which research they should have looked at.
I
 found his question interesting.  My work with the Tech Partnership (formerly e-Skills) on the training modules needed to help organsiations survive the impending cybersecurity skills crisis is largely focussed on identity and access management: IAM.  

The skills involved in IAM range from "authenticating and authorising transactions over smart phones", through "bring your own device" to "multi-level access and authorisation in complex organisations with large numbers of customers, contractors and staff with different permissions in different locations" (e.g. airports or global banks).  A cross-cutting issue is the vetting and monitoring of those to be given which access permissions. The processes are complicated by regulatory issues (including data protection), with compliance officers themselves a significant point of weakness, because so many are in post for 18 months or less.

Most discussion of IAM is focussed on the digital components but workable systems are nearly always underpinned by rigorous people processes - except when the organisation is confident that it will not be put a significant risk from insider assisted fraud or unauthorised physical access to safety critical or secure facilities.  Where that risk is significant the systems always embed inputs from those who have done physical checks as to the identify of those to whom they have have given electronic credentials.

I am therefore unconvinced that any identity based purely on digital footprint (whether or not it includes on-line financial records) merits my trust, let alone that of those looking after my savings or of the critical national infrastructure. I am therefore not impressed by requests to provide feedback over the precise wording of a requirement to make personal financial information available in order to obtain a digital identity that is more acceptable to government that those it currently requires us to use to pay our taxes or claim benefits.

One of the problems with the original attempt to require farmers to use "Verify" for inter-actions with the Rural Payment  Agency  was the belated discovery that nearly 20% have no digital footprint - or at least no footprint discernible to the identity providers.  More-over those who have never had to borrow money and have always paid cash see no reason to provide their financial information so some-one with whom they have had no previous dealings for unknown transmission and storage. That is not to say they are digitally illiterate. They may well use mobile or satellite services to keep abreast of prices for livestock or crop or to access on-line auction sites  but because of not-spots and crapband*  have to do so from wherever they can get a signal or via their own choice of trusted  intermediaries. They are also often well aware of the risk of fraud and impersonation.

Now let us look at those most reliant on public services, including those stuck on sink estates or transient between bedsits or caravan sites, including those who share their identities which whichever member of their "extended family" they trust to  collect their benefits and do their shopping.  Hence my expectation of an all-party backlash against the "digital by default" agenda because there is a very big difference  between using technology support to provide better services at lower cost and "herding the sheep on-line to be fleeced" .   .

I am particularly concerned at the potential risk of those dependent on benefits having their identities registered on-line by fraudsters and their being unaware until left destitute.

More recently I was struck by the findings of the Digichampz Survey  conducted under an EU contract by the Digital Policy Alliance for presentation in Huddersfield  and a month later in London.

This survey is unusual in that it is based on a high response from on-line users in a poorly served (connectivity, let alone support) rural community. I do recommend looking at the actual report not just the headlines. Despite the editors comment  security and child protection were of low concern compared to getting a reliable connection at all, around half the respondents were concerned about security and a third about on-line child safety.

Now back to "Verify" - if I ever get round to applying for an identity, because I am forced to in order to (for example) do my VAT or tax returns, I will probably use the Experian service - but to call this a "digital by default" service would be a misnomer. Experian will be comparing what it is told on-line with what it has collected on me over several decades from those who would not serve me in a department store or mobile phone shop until I had signed a form permitting me to check with Experian as well as giving other proof of identity.

That is not, however, possible for a couple of my "legal" identities (as a trustee or director) because the organisations concerned have never had reason to borrow or purchase anything on credit.  I therefore expect those selling to them to require me to use a variety of rather more secure IAM systems, including those that are global and do not reply on local political agendas. I have no problem with this - provided their services are securely firewalled from each other, with my liabilities governed  by UK consumer credit  and unfair contracts legislation.

But this links back to the current cyber security skills crisis. Those selling to me have to manage and insure their risks, integrating the various IAM systems  already on the market in support of their people processes, from physical access to customer and transaction authorisation (both on-line and off-line).  I do not yet see the business case for them to regard "Verify" as anything more than an interesting experiment.   

P.S. The issues get even  more interesting when we consider controlling access to the systems controlling smart cities and those along supply chains.  There is still remarkably little attention to this area so I was delighted to learn of an event being organised at the Institute of Chartered Accountants on 25th March   


  *Crapband = "Copper, Rust And other Pollutants" between the fibre (cabinet or exchange) and the premises (home, workshop, office etc.) or the wireless aerial (for mobile or wifi connectivity).  







Is VATMOSS a serious VATmess or a storm in a teacup, whipped up by current and would-be tax avoiders.

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I have received a number of e-mails asking me to blog on the issues or "do something", but none from those actually engaged in running the businesses supposedly affected. More-over, all the lobbying appears to be behind closed doors. The guidance on Gov.Uk indicates  that those who are already registered for VAT and use a payment service need do very little. That from the FSB  reinforces this message.

Is it correct, however, that even micro-businesses which use the same "legal identity" for sales of on-line products and services in the UK as for overseas, will now have to register and charge VAT to their domestic customers, thus putting prices up by 20%?

If so, will this lead to halting off-shore sales, a flight off-shore or guidance from the suppliers of accounting and payment services on how to legally and cheaply split the business?
 
In other words, is this attempt to reduce VAT avoidance a serious obstacle to the UK future as a location for innovative on-line start-ups or will it simply lead to more work for tax advisors and a rash of competing "VAT apps" for teenagers (and sub-teenagers) aspiring to sell their own games instead of pirating those of others?

I have no idea - hence the question?


The Future of Technology

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20150214 The future of technology.png

Acknowledgements to SWardley - although I changed item 18 to read "XYZ, its so passe and never really worked anyway. ABC is where its at - and ours is great". 

I would, however, also comment on the timescale.

When my team at the NCC Microsystems Centre  invented and defined the term "vapourware" (back in 1983), I had in mind a timescale of barely five years from birth to death of most "buzzword technologies".

Despite the efforts of US copyright and patent trolls to slow the pace of innovation, I think that 35 years is a bit long for the life cycle of a terminology.

P.S. I have just done some "research".

The pace of change in the early 1980s with regard to micro-computer products was unusually rapid and the life cycles of even market leaders were much shorter (e.g. the raise and fall of Visicalc ,Concurrent CPM and the Amstrad PCW) than today.

Taking a longer view, it took about a decade for the term "Agile" to replace the acronym DSDM which, in turn, had taken about a decade to replace RAD (Rapid Application development), which was a reinvention of approach behind Filetab (alias RPG, alias FPL etc.).

Filetab did indeed last 35 years before the name finally vanished from the market - with the Java version, to handle applications inter-operability within mobile phones, hidden from view.

Meanwhile Windows and Word are both approaching their 35th birthdays.

I therefore thank Mr Wardley for his insight and leave readers to ponder for themselves what determines the life cycle of the products, services, technologies (and terminologies) of today.

Is it

- entrepreneurs finding new ways to meet user needs?
- investment in research and development? public or private?
-,government supported technology (and transfer) programmes?
- corporate spend on IPR lawyers? 
- ???



January usually sees a sharp rise in recruitment effort across the financial services industry, to replace those leaving at year end or who hand in their notice after the Christmas break. This year recruitment effort is down because of the uncertainties caused by the crash in oil prices and the expected cost to the EU of preventing Grexit. Except for risk and compliance staff - where staff turnover continues to spiral upwards as supply falls ever further behind demand. According to Alex on 9th February (that most authoritative of sources on CIty developments) there are now 17,000 compliance officers getting in the way of doing business.  
Those who have not yet taken action to secure their staff must therefore do something different - now .  GCHQ has shown the way by announcing 50 cybersecurity apprenticeships   for school leavers applying by 15th March. Meanwhile the Tech Partnership cybersecurity internship programme  has had an impressive take-up. E-mail Howard Skidmore if you wish to bid for some of those not yet matched (believed to be less than 20) or to offer placements for the next intake.

The rest of you also have to consider who you will trust to retrain your existing staff, including users, to handle those roles which you cannot afford to contract to those you do not know.
Before Christmas I blogged on the expectation that 2015 will be the year of the compliance created collapse in cyberconfidence .
 
Over 60% of significant security incidents (data breaches, fraud, network collapse etc.) involve insiders, albeit digititis (e.g. mistakes with maintaining legacy systems overlaid with fashionable vapourware) and ignorance (linked to equally vulnerable identity and access control processes) remains a more common cause than malice or criminal behaviour.

Debate on how to improve the security of businesses or their customers is almost entirely driven by those selling technology or outsource services and processes to help tick compliance boxes. But the travelling compliance "expert", who stays long enough to help you tick the latest regulatory boxes and collect the understanding and credentials to open the trapdoors in your security firewalls, is now by far the biggest single risk. He, it is usually a "he", is an even greater (and more unnecessary) risk than short stay security "consultants", help desk staff or cleaners. Albeit the "over-ambitious chief executive" who ditches due diligence in his (it is nearly always a he) dash for growth remains a greater absolute danger.

I recollect conversations with those then in charge of "risk" at BP when they came to try to audit safety and security systems along the supply chains of the organisations they had acquired in the US as the basis for their entry into the Gulf of Mexico.  Their worst fears came true with the incident which came close to destroying the entire business while enriching a whole generation of Southern lawyers. I recollect similar conversations after the Chief Executive of RBS cut short due diligence with regard to his US acquisitions, before embarking on the take-over too far which did destroy the business.

Due diligence along the security (including risk and resilience) supply chains of organisations being considered for take-over is now big business for the law and audit practices of the City of London and their demand for the skills necessary is helping fuel the current salary spiral and staff merry-go-round which threaten to destroy the security of those who cannot ensure the loyalty of those who manage risk on their behalf.     

A couple of weeks ago  I thoroughly enjoyed an evening with the Management Consultants Livery Company  when I helped open a discussion of the impact of "Big Data" (which I view as a subset of the current state of "Management Science") on the Management Consultancy profession. I was interested to learn that the market leaders all have a very strong focus on training their own staff, rather than outside recruitment, even though they expect to lose more half with 2 - 3 years. The following morning I attended an excellent NED Forum  on the current state of the Dark Market and the analysis and intelligence services now available. I was interested to learn that, once again, the market leaders train their own analysts because the necessary Information Science disciplines are missing among the many recruits available from law enforcement or the military.

It is perhaps as well to remember that the cryptography operations of Bletchley Park were quite small compared to the Sigint (alias data analytics, or "Information Science") operations which also maintained the symbiotic German Order of Battle (even down to the level of working out that two radio operators shared a girlfriend called Rosa) . The Sigint operation was entirely female and some of the techniques used have not yet been declassified - because they underlie that which even Snowden did not discover and leak.   

Hence the importance of ensuring that update training in Management Science, alias the disciplines behind "Big Data" is available, when and where needed, to give existing security staff the skills they need to help organise intelligence-led security. It also makes good sense to trawl existing user staff, particularly female staff, for the necessary aptitudes before going outside for new recruits. When I ran the original Women into IT Campaign (1988 - 92) one of the surprises (at least to me) was the discovery that, on average, women stayed significantly longer than men, especially if offered flexible working conditions and other support to cope with family responsibilities (including elderly relatives, not just children).

Most compliance roles do not need cryptographic aptitudes or big data training but, if the exercise is to be more than just ticking the regulatory boxes, they do need an understanding of  the business so as to ensure the compliance routines reinforce good customer service and do not get in the way of profitable business. The current demand for compliance staff and the rate of turnover among those who have no good reason for loyalty, means that is often both cheaper and quicker to retrain long stay user staff, particularly those who might otherwise become expensively redundant, than to recruit externally. The exercise also gives an opportunity to screen for those who might be brought into the main security team to help supervise those to whom those technical operations and support operations which do not need to be in-house are contracted.

But who do you trust to deliver that training? This is not a trivial question of "competence".

Trainers, like compliance officers, can make trusted contacts across your Chinese walls. I have therefore agreed to help the Tech Partnership  identify those who are trusted to deliver training in other sensitive areas so that they can be asked if they are interested in helping specify and deliver modular update training in some of the areas identified as being in critical shortage, such as Identity and Access management (from customer mobiles and bring your own device to tiered access to complex systems and multiple locations, such as a global financial institution or an international airport) or the use of big data  (alias management science) techniques to identify risk. Then there as the skills needed by compliance staff, the selection and training of whom should also be used to identify your next generation of security staff. I gave a longer list last year of the skills gaps based on my work for e-Skills, but we have prioritised since.

Once again, email Howard Skidmore, or myself, if you are willing to suggest who you would trust. Comments on who you would not trust are  also most helpful.


Turning the Super Tanker: Francis Maude's achievements to date - but its not over yet.

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Francis Maude has announced that he is not standing again at the next election but, commenting on his work with the Chancellor to drive forward the reform of public service delivery, said "there is much to do - before the election and after - to ensure the reforms are irreversible". When he gave thanks to his team at Sprint 15 he concluded with some thoughts on the scale of the challenges ahead particularly that of changing the Civil Service culture to one of  "fail small, fail fast" so as to do a much better job of using evolving technologies:

"- To put people first, with services that are simpler, clearer, faster.

- To do more, and better, for less. And we've shown you can do it.

- To build a truly 21st century digital government, capable of leading a world-beating digital economy".


We can see how difficult that change will be with the strictures of the Public Accounts Committee on a Secretary of State who over-ruled his officials' plans to follow the traditional approach of "fail big and expensive, but alibi'ed by massive consultancy and outsource spend so that we are not to blame". At least the DWP officials and suppliers wasted a couple of £billion less than their counterparts in the NHS (Tony Blair's National Plan for IT in the Health Service), before the Minister finally forced them to take seriously his "request" (Minister's cannot easily over-rule their officials on matters of implementation) to pilot the new processes with real claimants before scaling them up for mass roll-out.  

After reading Francis Maude's blog to Digital Leaders, "Leading Transition in a Digital Age", I thought back to his comments at the Conservative Party Conference in 2009 on his plans for their first 100 days. The largest room in the conference hotel was standing room only, Afterwards the responses ranged from the enthusiastic to the sceptical. Those from the policy wonks and industry lobbyists were rather different to those of IT professionals and of current and former public servants with decades of experience trying to bring about change. Most of us have since been shown to be both right and wrong.

We will never know what would have happened had the Conservatives had a working majority, but what Francis Maude has achieved under a coalition government is remarkable. The end of his first sentence in the Digital Leaders blog is, however, absolutely accurate: "we are just getting going".    

There are two views about what "leaders" (corporate or political) should do their first "hundred days". One (usually corporate) view is that you spend it quietly on tours of inspection, discovering just what it is that you have inherited, who is competent and willing to help you change it and who should be removed before they can stop you and your allies. The next hundred days is when you get rid of the third of those reporting to you who will never be part of any solution - and set about motivating the remainder to do the same to the tier below them. The opposite (usually political) view is that you have to prepare in advance and hit the ground running, because you will never have the same opportunity again.

Unfortunately politicians rarely have a choice. "History shows" that those who try the first option nearly always get bogged down with day-to-day pressures and achieve little if anything. The situation that the coalition government inherited in 2010 gave them no choice. 25 years of "over-enthusiastic outsourcing", to put it mildly, meant that central government was bleeding to death and had lost the skills to stop the haemorrhaging. It had ceased to be competent either to plan and deliver change itself or to get results, let alone value for money, from those it contracted to do so. 

The task was not just to turn the Exxon Valdez (undermanned, with the captain drunk in his bunk and the radar broken) before it hit Bligh Reef. It was not just to refit the bridge with controls that were fit for purpose. It to simultaneously support the conversion of a 20th century oil tanker into a 21st century cruise liner to serve an ageing population, with the owners  mortgaged to the hilt, while the potential passengers had not saved enough to pay their fares, let alone in advance.

Looking back, we can see that in his first hundred days Frances Maude set in motion processes that have helped slowed the rate of bleeding, (the burden of inherited, inflexible outsourcing contracts and PFI deals means that it has not yet stopped) and enabled monitoring and control systems that may soon be fit purpose. The savings to date are, however, still modest compared with the £billions now in sight: for example from pooling public sector telecommunications spend to enable better, shared, services at lower cost. Hence the importance of the mapping exercise to which Fracnes Maude referred in his Sprint15 speach: the first visible product from the Digital Task Force created last year.

The achievements of the GDS to date are impressive, particularly given the start point, but in his comments to Sprint15, Fancis Maude was quite clear on the scale and nature of the task still ahead - including to help achieve the £10 billion of savings targetted in December.

Provided the next government continues the process. I believe history will show that, even if he does not himself continue the task from the House of Lords, Francis Maude has not only managed to slow the tanker in time to enable refloating without too much spillage, but has also succeeded in beginning the long slow process of rebuilding the skills base of the Civil Service - so that it can indeed implement the changes necessary, provided the political driving force remains in place   

We should not, however, under-estimate the level and nature of ongoing  opposition to the introduction of  adequate (let alone good) practice and governance to a world of revolving doors between retiring civil servants and suppliers who have grown fat from selling consultant-planned "big" change programmes to their departments. The latter "know" how things should be done.  Their "vision" does not, for example, involve the mandatory use of procurement frameworks which require adherance to the open inter-operability standards. These are, however, essential for a world in which innovative small firms and co-operatives of users are expected to produce the pieces for incremental "jigsaw solutions" that can and will evolve, using agile methodologies and changing components from changing players, as needs and technologies change.

Many, both officials and suppliers, would still prefer to delay change in the hope that the post election government will revert to the traditional spendthrift approach, mortgaging the future even further, if they cannot raise the net tax yield. Their careers, including post-retirement life styles, depend on preventing a world of incremental and evolutionary change. Their interests are mirrored by all those consultants, lawyers and lobbyists who are used to receiving big fees for big projects, whether they go right or wrong. The future for the rest of us and our children and grandchildren will be bleak if they succeed.

The good news is that at least some of the big beasts of the IT world, including some surprising names, are beginning to really get their heads round how to make serious money from supporting customers' in-house teams and collectives of innovative SMEs and third-sector players in the delivery of solutions that use open, inter-operable, cloud-based, software-as-a-software to deliver better service, at lower cost, more reliably, on positive cash flow, The bad news is that they are still a minority.    

I hope that, freed of the need for fight a seat in the next election, Francis Maude will help ensure progress with what he has set in train right up until the election day and then return, perhaps via the House of Lords, to continue the fight - having found a suitable successor to look after the voters of Horsham and answer parliamentary questions.   

Westminster reports and debates on Rural Broadband, meanwhile its quicker by bike less than a mile away

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The DEFRA Select Committee report on "Rural Broadband and Digital Only Services" was published on Tuesday. Yesterday 18 backbench MPs, almost all Conservatives from Rural Consituencies, contributed to a debate on "Rural Phone and Broadband Connectivity". More would have participated, had it not run out of time. Those unable to speak included a London Labour MP who released her comments to the Evening Standard pointing out it was quicker to send a short advertising video from Soho to Covent Garden by bicycle. Meanwhile the defensive alliance of incumbents  (BT, Deutsche Telecom and France Telecom) announced today is designed to enable infrastructure sharing, rather than addiitonal spend. 

I will stop there because I am just about to leave for a meeting hosted by Westminster Council bringing together local property owners (both public and private sector) and network operators to discuss practical co-operation in organising shared wayleaves and access agreements to cut the time and cost of addressing Inner City notspots and better serve small business and social housing complexes and well as some surprisingly affluent areas that are currently served by crapband (CRAP = copper, rust, alluminium and other pollutants, including radio noise if it is a wireless connection, between you and the nearest fibre connection).     

I am getting bored with those who "admire" problems and find excuses for delay while they milk past investments. I am more interested in helping those looking for ways to work together to meet unsatisfied demand at affordable cost.

The participation in the debate yesterday and the points made (do read Hansard), as well as those made recently by the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee, to which I referred in my previous blog , indicate that this topic will feature in quite a number of local campaigns in the General Election. Those interested in helping refine and review the Conservative Technology Forum "F-Plan" can use the e-mail address given on the CTF Web Site page covering the Digital Infrastructure Study  to contact me. I am also happy to share material with those interested in helping Labour, LibDems or UKIP to produce policy in this area because views on the actions needed do not appear to split along party lines.   






In December 2014 the House of Commons Library producing a briefing for MPs which showed the current state of broadband availability by constituency  and in January 2015 the National Audit Office produced an update report  to aid the recent Public Account Committee review. Meanwhile the draft Ofcom Annual Plan  indicates that the new regime (with Dame Patricia Hodgson as Chairman and Sharon White as CEO) is likely to take a rather more robust approach to measuring broadband performance (in every sense of the word) and competition, particularly with regard to services to business (large and small, urban as well as rural).

According to the analyses at the back of the House of Commons Briefing "superfast", i.e. over 30 mbps, is available to only 31% of properties in the Cities of London and Westminster (putting the constituency 591st) while 32% have it in West Dorset (587th). BT has told Westminster Council and the Corporation of London that this is because Central London is "uneconomic" because of the high proportion of business properties. Hence the widespread welcome for the news that Ofcom is finally going to investigate the way that BT is protecting its shrinking revenues from business, including public sector users 
 
I am grateful to Patrick Cosgrave for drawing my attention to the comments of Richard Bacon (Con. Norfolk South and Vice Chairman of Public Accounts Committee) during their recent hearing on Rural Broadband : "You've [i.e. BDUK] got £1.7 bn to spend and your cost benefit ratio is 20. HS2 has £42.6bn (in fact more as this figure excludes the rolling stock) but its cost benefit ratio is only somewhere between 1.75 and 2 . Your cost benefit ratio is 10 times more yet HS2 is getting 25 times more money. When I asked Philip Rutman, Permanent Secretary for  the Department of Transport,  if they'd considered putting broadband everywhere (admittedly I had to ask him eight times) he finally said No, they hadn't. The fact is they've got 25 times more money but your cbr is 10 times more than theirs. This is a policy issue and shouldn't you [BDUK] be doing a better job negotiating more money from the Treasury?"
 
In his newsletter on Shropshire Broadband, Patrick summarisef the following discussion as "Sue Owen of BDUK then agreed that this would be a topic of discussion in advance of the March budget. BDUK's CEO, Chris Townsend, sitting beside her, smiled wryly at this but did not comment. As he had described with some enthusiasm earlier in the meeting that the solution for excluded rural areas will be satellite broadband, perhaps it should be a focus of broadband campaigns across the country to make it an election issue to press for a better deal now that this outcome is likely, and the comparison of pound for pound benefits between two major infrastructure projects is known."  I am also grateful to Patrick for his summary of the other points made during the discussion and for drawing my attention to a review by Mark Jackson which put the discussions into context - making this blog much easier.

Patrick was disappointed at the news that satellite provision is likely to be the method of meeting the 2 Mb guarantee by the end of 2015. Given the availability of deals like that between the NFU and Avonline for 15 - 22 mbps to farmers I happen to belive that was a sensible and long overdue decision. I am told, however, that there are now issues, however, with regard to service in areas where demand for satellite services threatens to exceed current capacity. The implication appears to be that this should be reserved for areas where there is no realistic alternative. I hope that the meeting being planned for later this month by the Digital Policy Alliance and All-Party Space Committee will provide an opportunity to brief those MPs and candidates for whom this topic is important - including on the need to support investment in increased satellite capacity.
 
Patrick's summary of the other issues addressed during the PAC meeting included:    
*    large numbers of rural pockets completely left out
*    rural small businesses largely by-passed
*    all farmers having to be online by April this year
*    alleged cherry-picking by BT of areas that are most profitable for them
*    upload speeds rather neglected
*    allegations that BT is by-passing rural industrial estates because leased lines are more profitable.
*    still no competition in Phase 2 contracting despite assurances from BDUK last January that this would not be the case
*    BT not prepared to disclose all costs local authorities  not permitted by BT's gagging clauses to compare costs
*    BT not overcharging so much for cost of green cabinets in Phase 2 (at least some good news) and £92m of savings have been identified to plough back into projects
*    no real potential for BT to work working in partnership with alternative providers to create tailored solutions
*    BDUK can provide PAC details of exactly who will not be upgraded (we will pursue this via an FOI if necessary)
*    how/why did BDUK let BT get away with all this in the first place, leaving local authorities at the mercy of BT's immensely superior commercial acumen?
*    is BT abusing its monopoly situation?

Patrick was particularly interested by the question of how many so-called "upgraded" premises will actually benefit from superfast (24 Mb+) broadband?  The BT representative couldn't provide that figure, but said he would take the question away with him and get back to the chair.

I am personally interested by the how the estimates of the cost of national broadband rollout keep rising while the cost of building and upgrading networks to serve specifc communities falls month on month - as competition grows from players using internet age technologies and architectures. Before criticising the original BDUK/BT cost estimates we should remember they were based on extending a network that was planned in the 1980s to bring broadcast quality video to the home by 2002 - before the changes in communications technology brought about with the rise of the mass market internet. Those changes are now accellerating as we move into a world where everything is inter-connected

Today the largest component in network upgrade costs appears to be wayleave and access charges, followed by management overheads. Even civil engineering costs come a poor third.  Hence my immediate focus on bringing property owners and network operators together to test the practicality of agreeing win-win shared solutions to take 80% (and sometime even more) out of the cost of addressing not spots. This week we have the first meeting of what I hope will develop into a neutral umbrella for co-operation wherever players are more concerned with getting a share of the revenues from economic growth and job creation than defending past the business models of the past. We know the problems we will face. Hence the strategy of beginning with those who stand to gain most from success, whether or not others choose to join or copy them. I have asked the Digital Policy Alliance to provide a neutral umbrella. Those wishing to participate who have not already received an invitation should join the DPA and state that this is one of their priority areas. My own contributation on via DPA advisory board is uncharged but I cannot ask them to do work which is not supported by paying members who want to achieve practical results,     
 

Will Companies' House liability for damages help trigger a more realistic approach to identity governance?

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We have much debate about information security and data protection but far more harm is caused because accurate information is not available when and where it is needed. The Cabinet Office "liability avoidance" approach to identity and authorisation policy has long been driven by the need to address long standing quality problems, the proportion of department or agency records containing serious errors with regard to individuals or businesses often in the range 10 - 25%. Now, at long last, the reason has been made public.

Public debate regarding legal, incluidng corporate, identities has been complicated by a long-running (four years to the recent High Court judgement) case in which Companies House was being sued for having destroyed a healthy, century old family business, by promulgating a simple data error. The game is not yet over. There may yet be an appeal. The issue of "Crown Immunity", inherent in the various EU Roman-Law based, Directives and Regulations concerning identity and data protection and sharing, will hopefully come into play - in the year of the 850th Anniversary of Magna Carta. The "immunity" of the "Data Barons" should also, however, come into play if we wish to avoid a "Peasants' Revolt" as our current intellectual property regime loses public support and becomes unenforcable..  

Hence the importance of the issues raised in my last blog when I suggested a need to bring the UK information governance regime (both public and private) under proper judicial oversight. That means accuracy and availability, not "just" surveillance and security. Most of the debate over the governance of medical records (for example) is to do with privacy but we should not forget far more practical harm is caused by coding errors that can destroy lives and careers, whether or not the patient survives the failure to provide accurate information to clinicians when and where it is need.   

The debate over "big" and "open" data, including liability for mis-use and error is, hopefully, about to take a new and more realistic turn, away from mythology, technology and the business models of those refining our digital footprints and associated misinformation and cybercrud into "the new oil".

In the 850th year of Magna Carta we need to address the duties that the Data Barons, as well as the State, owe to the rest of us with regard to their use of our personal data, especially when they broadcast errors that can destroy lives and businesses, as Companies House did when they confused Taylor and Son Ltd with Taylor and Sons Ltd when supplying insolvency data to the credit reference agencies. In looking at the significance of this case we need to remember that the services of the credit refernce companies are not only used to underpin and approve on-line business to business and business to consumer transactions. They are also used to help "authenticate" the on-line identities used whenever more than about $100 dollars is at risk. Given that the use of such services is central to the approach behind the Government Verify programme, the issues also go to the heart of the Modernising Government Agenda - with all the implications for social inclusion (and the 20 - 30% of the population without a credible digital footprint or credit profile).  

On the 9th February Computer Weekly is partnering the BCS and Tech UK in a "Big Digital Debate" . Given the growing public distrust of all things digital, I do hope that some-one, perhaps the chairman (over to you Bryan) will ask the speakers for their views on whether the Data Barons (from Amazon through Google to Yahoo and Zoopla) should take a greater legal responsibility to us all, if they wish to be able to enforce their related digital intellectual property rights. Similarly, should not "The Crown" (alias Whitehall) take explicit responsibility for the use of our information by its agencies and contractors if it expects us to deal with it on-line?

I deliberately pick content-related IPR enforcement as being the only part of a 21st Century Peasants Revolt that would scare the Data Barons of Today. All other sanctions are broken or worthless in an inter-connected world.  "The Crown" is, of course, more vulnerable to public opinion - at least for the next hundred days.          

How do we ensure that our responses to the Charlie Hebdo murders do not dishnour the 800th Anniversary of Magna Carta?

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The would-be killers of Charlie Hebdo (click here for some of the cartons from the resurrection)
are in danger of achieving their objectives:

•    an unprecedented  propaganda coup (for such a tiny, ill-funded group), 
•    glorious martyrdom, (gunned down in a hail of bullets) and
•    a display of global hypocrisy  leading to an exploitation of groupthink to justify a massive diversion of resources into expensive and ineffective displacement activities   that could  cripple the "real" enemy of the violent extremism  -  freedom of thought and expression.

I was troubled by calls for global "solidarity" under the banner "Je Suis Charlie". I was rather more impressed by the thinking behind  "Je ne suis pas Charlie: Je suis Ahmed
 
How do we "exile", or at least expose and isolate the heretics  (of all religious strands) who genuinely believe they have a right (or even duty) to kill in the name of their selective interpretation of the word of God. Hence the reason for my Christmas Blog on The Amman Message .  The hollowness of UK claims to be serious about "the war against terror" is exposed by the failure to insist that such a  uniquely authoritative collective message  is used by Ofsted as one of the yardsticks for reviewing  the content of muslim religious education in UK schools. 

I have also been long concerned by the shallowness of debate about the meaning of the "Freedom of the Internet".  At School and University I was taught that "Freedom" is not an abstract. It has to be put into context: freedom from hunger, freedom from fear etc.  In the on-line world we need to balance the "right" to free speech against freedom from the fear of trolling and abuse.   We also need to give users genuine choice, not just the Hobson's choice offered by the cartel of global players who run most of the on-line world: tracking our footprints to refine (big data engines) our habits into the new oil, to sell to advertisers but not to provide to law enforcement to help identify and "remove" those who abuse us.

I am not convinced by the calls for blanket powers to address the use of the internet by potential terrorists while we fail to make serious progress with reporting and intelligence sharing at almost any level with regard to almost any type of criminal behaviour on-line. Some years ago I was told that during the run-up to the bombing of the Arndale Centre in Manchester, Special Branch believed there was only one, inactive, IRA cell in Manchester. My informant told me that within 48 hours of the bombing, the local CID had been given details, including membership and meeting locations, of six active cells. The local criminals had no problem with the IRA bombing London:  locally was, however, very  different. 

Last March I chaired a small round table on intelligence sharing. A key point was that law enforcement, including the security services, were drowning in data that they did not have the resources, people or technology to analyse. The suggested way forward was to make it less impossible for "industry" to use its own "big data" processes to filter data to protect possible criminal behaviour (and other abuse that was in flagrant breach of their supposed terms and conditions) and pass over that which was relevant in formats that could be easily collated and used. That would , however, require addressing issues of governance and co-operation, including responsibilities, liabilities and priority setting, that people prefer to keep behind closed doors. 

We also discussed the need to revisit the current convention whereby the defence can trawl through all of the prosecution's evidence base. It might have been an important safeguard if we still had capital punishment but we do not and such trawls are clearly being used to identify and silence potential witness and thus reinforce reigns of terror in inner city sink estates dominated by organised crime and street gangs (whether religious or secular or the unholy alliances across the "social" boundaries between the two).

I was among those infuriated by the many falsehoods and inaccuracies in "The Imitation Game" but it did succinctly summarise the dilemma faced by those wishing to keep sources of intelligence secret and those wishing to take action. An illustration of the consequences of getting the balance wrong can be seen with regard to the failure to respond to the original calls for help when the extremists began their take-over of the Finsbury Park Mosque .

The final report of the EURIM- IPPR study into "Partnership Policing for the Information Society"  looked at governance issues but failed to come up with recommendations that caught the imaginations of the participants. I revisited the subject in the context of the  governance of "big data" (public or private)  the in surveillance society when I reviewed the Labour Party Modernising Government  study  and its call for an ethical dimension.

I was, however, taken aback by how soon the issues would become topical. 

I would like therefore to repeat my call for their recommendation to: "Create an ethical framework and governance for ethical issuers around the interaction of the state, its citizens and corporations" to be responded to by the resurrection of the pre-1958 duties of Britain's third most senior Judge, the Master of the Rolls  and his deputy, The Keeper of Public Records . It is an "obvious" way to provide authoritative,  credible and (where necessary) public judicial oversight  for the surveillance and information security activities of the state and also of the industry players with whom they should be co-operating to address abuse of all types, not just terrorism,  over the Internet.

The current mish-mash of under-resourced Information, Interception, Surveillance Cameras and other "Commissioners" and regulators should then "report" to the "Master". Meanwhile the "Keeper" should be able to draw on the resources of the National Audit Office, CESG and National Archive to enforce good practice in private, while providing the evidence for "public" enforcement by the Commissioners and/or Master should this prove necessary. Of course there is a lot of small print to address. But, in the face of threats from all those who think that our private information is their new oil (alias "big data") what better way could there be to help counter the similar hypocrisy  around the celebrations of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, than to put the data and surveillance activities of the state and of its contractors back under clear judicial oversight and Common (not Roman) law.

We should also remember that proud boast of the last "Keeper of Public Records" that her forbears had provided the evidence to have three of their sponsoring ministers (Lord Chancellors who had fallen out of favour) executed. We no longer have the death penalty for anything but a similarly rigorous approach to the enforcement of good information practice could also do more than any amount of blether to help rebuild trust in the UK as a globally trusted hub for information processing. 

There are some interesting side effects.

If it were possible for the Master to also have effective oversight of the intra-UK surveillance operations of GCHQ and Law enforcement it should also be possible to streamline current controls which get in the way of the timely and effective use of intelligence. Many of those controls currently give the worst of all possible outcomes, getting in the way of rapid response (as during the 2011 riots when law enforcement lacked the processes to use the real-time intelligence streaming in on a voluntary basis from communications services) while failing to give public confidence because they are unknown.

The spirit behind Magna Carta gained force in the 17th Century, an age of mass immigration (Huguenots and others fleeing from persecution), mistrust, plots and riots. Sound familiar?  Hence the need to take its values seriously. "Je ne suis pas Charlie. Je suis Ahmed." 

I have just read that the digitisation of government needs a major transformation effort

Which comes first?

The digitisation or the transformation?

It is over twenty years since Nobel Prize winner Arno Penzias (then running Bell Labs) told PITCOM than computerisation never made anyone redundant. It was the organisational changes that were enabled by computerisation that made whole functions and their departments, redundant. So what have we actually learned since LEO 1 automated the production control pf Lyons Bakery and  LEO2 automated the Army Pay roll? If this article is anything to go by .... not a lot.

Last year I promised, (while blogging on the problems with rural social inclusion as exemplified by the problems with using digital by default to identify farmers )  to comment on the report of the exercise commissioned to help the Labour Party Digital Government review .
I have been taken to task before by Chi Onwurah MP for not declaring my political allegiances. I therefore remind readers that whiIe I am Vice Chairman (Policy Studies) for the Conservative Technology Forum, I am also a levy paying, albeit now retired, member of Unite and of the Co-op. The views in this blog are my own. They reflect neither left, right nor centre but that area where old (non-Marxist) Labour meets tribal (open, but not necessarily "free", market) Tory, round the bike sheds at the back.
      
I particularly welcome the call for those looking at "Digital Government" to focus on social inclusion and ethical standards rather than simple cost saving, although I would have welcomed rather more on how to measure performance and to hold government to account with regard to both. I would also have preferred more focus on the objectives than the technology, although I was personally interested much of the latter. I fear, however, that too many of those responsible for public sector IT systems, particularly those over-zealously outsourced by the last Labour government (such as under the National Plan for NHS IT and the many botched hospital PFIs) have mindsets akin to those who run the US Bureau of Indian Affairs.
 
I was therefore delighted to see the recent admission from Andy Burnham that Labour had taken the privatisation of the NHS too far. Perhaps he already knew that Circle was planning to withdraw from the running of Hinchinbrooke Hospital. I look forward to seeing further evidence that all main parties recognise that the outsourcing and offshoring of critical public sector functions, including the security of our personal information, has passed its zenith and that the time has come to rebuild the in-house systems skills of the public sector. That rebuilding needs to include the skills for end-users, not just IT "experts", to use open source, interoperable and agile methodologies to support the integration and transformation of service delivery, under democratic control and open accountability.

Recommendation 31 of the Digital Government Review , five days training for all civil staff during the next parliament to become digital champions, is far too modest and has far too low a priority. All civil servants should have the equivalent (including both off-the-job workshops and on-the-job distance learning) of at least ten days a year to help them do their jobs better. The goal should be to involve end-users and their managers in driving incremental change within inter-operability frameworks using IT "professionals", "systems experts" and outside "consultants" in support roles only. 

That has been the ostensible aim of those developing what we now call "agile" methodologies for over forty years. The time has come to take them at their word and adopt the necessary disciplines - while recognising why this is so hard in practice .

I strongly agree with the authors of the review that the goal should be better service for those in most need (my personal rephrasing of their social inclusion goals). Given the state of public finances  (including the overhang of bloated PFIs and other rigidly wasteful outsourcing contracts) that will have almost certainly have to be achieved by incremental change, on positive cash flow using software as a service over shared network and cloud services to cut new system costs by  30% (and more) above the savings on those they replace. We can then argue whether the additional savings should be used to improve services to the growing number of elderly (including me!) or to cut taxes.

I found it difficult to work out which of the other 34 recommendations were there to help achieve objectives and which were there to address assumed constraints.  Many appear to very technical and capable of interpretation in a variety of ways, not all of them good professional practice. I did the programme management module on MSc06 (1971 - 3) at London Business School and subsequently ran the only one of Tony Benn's DTI tripartite industry strategy programmes to achieve its objectives (The Water Industry Computing Development Plan). I learned that if a programme has more than six priorities, it has none. More-over only the top three really matter. Most supposed objectives, such as health and safety, equal opportunities and even timescales and budgets, are constraints, not objectives. My own experience has been that the biggest constraints are the skills and time available, not the funding.  I have seen too many expensive fiascos resulting from politicians throwing  consultants and contractors with the wrong experience, motivation and management at a problem because they think that mortgaging the future will provide a short cut to success. I would love to see a bipartisan agreement to follow good professional programme management practice. But pigs might fly      

Is the objective of Digital Government to deliver better and more socially inclusive automated services? Or is it to deliver better services, digital or otherwise, making use of technology to help human beings overcome organisational problems and resource constraints in addressing the needs of those in most need of help, support and/or treatment?

I suspect that some of the authors of the report did not recognise the tension between the two approaches. Others probably did, but could not agree how to reconcile the differences. I sympathise. Politicians, advisors and officials are subject to massive lobbying from armies of consultant and suppliers telling them that technology and outsourcing are the "answer" and the implementation should be contracted to them. Those currently at the top of most major suppliers to the public sector got there by winning such contracts, rather than working on their subsequent delivery. They now have grave difficulty in adjusting to the reality of a world where the public sector is not only broke but mortgaged to the hilt (PFIs and outsourcing deals).

The only realistic way forward is incremental change, using "agile" methodologies supported by low cost mobile technologies accessing cloud-based services. But this has to be funded by cannibalising existing contracts to save 30% and more on current outsourcing costs: hence the desire of major suppliers, and their lobbyists, to delay change while they shrink their UK sales and support teams and adjust to a new world.  Hence also the enthusiasm for complex studies to buy time.

I therefore applaud the focus on social inclusion, but would simplify it down to a requirement that public service delivery systems (whether digital or not) should be designed for access by those in most need, using carers they trust.

No large scale roll-out should be committed unless and until the specification has been successfully tested on the target audience. The Secretary of State for DWP's insistence on this basic principle is what lies behind the delays with Universal Credit. This appoach was alien to officials and suppliers, let alone the big management consultancies whose experts always know best. They insisted on cutting code and installing equipment under their existing, extended, contracts before they documented and tested the "pathfinders". In other words, they ignored the reasons for Australia's successful use of the Oracle methodology they were supposedly copying.  Hence the core reason for £hundreds of millions, and more importantly, several years of unnecessary human suffering and waste.  

In the small print of the 2012 budget the Chancellor mandated that no new system should go live after 2014 unless "the responsible minister can demonstrate that they can themselves use the system successfully"  . Thus George Eustace is personally involved with the three week "agile" cycle to belatedly sort out the systems of  the Rural Payment Agency. Similarly the Universal Credit systems cannot go live unless ministers can use them.

Hopefully the launch of the new Digital Accessibility Alliance will be followed by an extension of the policy, preferably in the pre-election budget with all-party support, to mandate the testing of all new systems with members of the target audience, not just the minister, before roll out is contracted.  

I note the plans to budget large sums for teaching the "digitally excluded" how to use current technologies but regard this as less effective use of limited government funds than training civil servants to take public service delivery back in-house and to work with local authorities and the voluntary sector to run "joined up people systems" that meet the needs of those most dependent on them.  Almost PITCOM's first activity was an exhibition of computer-based aids for the disabled, in the Upper Waiting  Room. It was opened by Sir George Young  when he was a junior Health Minister.

Over 30 years on and we are still failing to make effective use of the technology to help those who could and should benefit most. Barnados and the Salvation Army are well ahead of the Government Data Service in the sophistication of their use of IT to help them serve and protect (their levels of delivered security also put Government to shame) those in most need.  Perhaps government should pay leading charities some of what it pays to the big consultancies for advice on how to better use IT to meet the needs of those in most need.
That leads me on to the "ethical" dimension, which Labour would entrust to Cabinet Office.

The Charities are able to do such more at lower cost and more securely by enlisting the hearts and minds of those who work with and for them. Meanwhile no-one, other than a handful of Big data enthusiasts, trusts most Whitehall department further than they can be thrown  . That is not because of the lack of probity of individual civil servants but because of the constraints within which they operate, including rotation to a new role as soon as they begin to gain genuine experience and build trust. 

So how should we handle the issues of trust with the delivery of public services?

Abnd here I come why I agree so strongly with the ethical objectives behind the review ....

Christmas is a time for reconciliation. Please read the Amman Message

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We have recently much blether about the use of the web by terrorists, including for publicity and recruitment. We hear much less about its use to promote reconciliation and peace. In this context I do suggest readers visit the website of the Amman Message and then think about what it means to them.

It contains the nearest the Muslim world has to a definition of contemporary Islam, as opposed to the odd collections of 19th and 20th Century make-believe peddled by Islamic State, Al Qaeda and others who have "lost their way" and compete in their use of social media to recruit disaffected teenagers and malcontents to join them.

The process that led to the Amman Message was as though the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Moderator of the General Asembly of the Church of Scotland and the other leaders of the main Protestant Communities had come together to define Christianity as a similarly tolerant and compassionate faith, in the face of threats from those calling for a violent crusade against not only heretics and non-believers but also those who disagreed with their selective and idiosyncratic interpretation of the Gospels, including the supposed Revelation of St John.

If you think about the way the Catholic Church and Church of England operate or Article viii of the constitution of the Church of Scotland, let alone the way that other protestant communities are organised, you will realise how difficult such a coming together would be for Christians. It was equally hard and unusal for the Muslim World. Which is why the "Message" should be much better known and publicised - so that laymen, not just scholars for whom it was produced, can understand its implications.

Those who came together to produce the Amman Message should be viewed as the thought leaders of the Muslim World: leading teachers and scholars from all the mainstream Sunni and Shia religious and law schools. It is not a "simple" collection of Prelates and Judges setting the "rules". Even the Sharia is better seen as a set of collections of interpretations of the will of God rather than a western style set of laws. This has the side effect of making it relatively easy for Governments to introduce legal codes that are nominally "Sharia compliant" - provided they do not obviously deviate from the "path".    

By contrast the leaders and spokesmen of Al Qaeda or Islamic State are commonly self-taught, with little or no formal scholastic education. Osama bin Laden studied economics and business adminstration. Abu Hamza studied engineering. And so on. Hence also the bizarre legal codes of the Islamic State Caliphate.

The authority of the Amman Message is, therefore, all the more impressive.    

So why is it not better known?

At that point it may be helpful to look at the politics of the Internet and the motives of those whose interests are served by stoking conflict between the Muslim Communities, let alone between them and both Christianity, (ancient, as in Syria and Iraq, modern) and Judaism.

I am, however,a great fan of John Donne, not just his erotic poetry but his later sermons and "religious" writings - at a time when christians were busy persecuting each other in the name of the God of Love. One of my favourites begins "Kind pity chokes my spleen" and contains:

"To stand inquiring right, is not to stray;

To sleep, or run wrong, is. On a huge hill,

Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will

Reach her, about must and about must go,

And what the hill's suddenness resists, win so."
:

A very similar set of messages can be found in the Koran saying, in effect, that those who claim to know the will (not just word) of God with absolute certainty and its meaning for you - are false prophets. You have to study for yourself. I therefore leave you to ponder working out how and why the voices of calm and reason are drowned out in the cacophony of the on-line world, with its lawyer-enforced, short-term, secular business models. 

When it comes to calling on God in support of a "justified war", I personally find little difference between the teachings of St Augustine of Hippo and the messages about self defence found in the Koran. Neither justifies what is happening in the Middle East today - other than those relating to secular self-defence against men of violence. 

My own summary of the careful and measured tones of the Amman Message is simple: "anyone who presumes to know the will of God and encourages others to persecute and kill in his name - is a heretic".

However, I too have no religious training. I therefore urge you to read the three points of the message for yourself and then think, very hard, even if you do not feel able to pray to your version of God for guidance.

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