December 2012 Archives

Will 2013 be the year when "putting people first" gets priority over "digital by default"?

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Four years ago I described how HMG prices the time of those working in the private and voluntary sectors at £zero when making the "business case" for forcing them go on-line services for tasks where putting a form and a cheque in the post took less time and effort. 

Over the Christmas break I learned that the situation may be getting worse - for reasons which do no credit to the technophiliacs responsible. Earlier this year I welcomed the announcement that systems would not be imposed on the public after 2014 without being tried out on by ministers. That deadline needs to be brought forward in view of the harm being done by mandating the use of on-line public sector systems which are not only "as user friendly as a cornered rat but may also increase the overall cost of delivery.   

What are the predictions for HMG ICT in 2013 - beginning with the good news from BDUK and DWP.

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The rush of material released just before Christmas contains some snippets of good news. And good news is all too often ignored (including, I must confess) by me.

1) It looks as though the PSN and BDUK agendas are at last coming together

There is still much to be done, including to make it more attractive to invest in joined up, secure and resilient UK communications and energy infrastructures that are fit for the 21st century, but the progress over the last three months has been impressive.

2) It looks as though the Universal Credit may be about to be put back on the tracks The recent blood-letting at DWP may indicate that those at the top really have come to appreciate this is the largest and most complex change programme the UK public sector has ever undertaken: more so than the late unlamented ID cards programme or the "not yet put out of its misery" Health Service NPfIT

I say "may" because the consequences appear not to have yet been appreciated outside DWP. The evaluation framework indicates that DWP and HMRC may indeed be about to follow the spirit, and not just the letter, of good programme management practice. The first major test will be whether the DWP pilot with 1,500 claimants in each of four locations is followed by a proper evaluation of the lessons learned before the roll out is committed. It is good to see that wording in December is significantly less bullish than that earlier in the year.  However success does not only depend on DWP taking the extension from easy to more complex claimants step by step and on HMRC being similarly cautious about the successful extension of RTI from well run, IT literate businesses, to the SMEs who (according to recent research) are more likely to employ the geographically mobile part-timers who already give the greatest problems with regard to tax credits. Success also depends on closer co-operation with other government departments than could be delivered for ID cards.

The original computerisation of PAYE (simple by comparison) was seen as so important that the Programme Manager reported not to the Permanent Secretary but to a Cabinet Committee chaired by the Chancellor. That meant that issues requiring inter-departmental co-operation could be rapidly flagged and sorted at the level necessary - rather than delegated to those without the authority to spend time,  effort  and money for the benefit of another department.

What are the issues  that will have to be sorted at the political level, sooner or later, for the DWP and HMRC to secure the support from other departments that is necessary for them to achieve their shared objectives?

One is the tangled web of Identity, Security and Fraud where lead responsibility appears to lie with Cabinet Office, FCO (the ultimate paymasters for CESG), Home Office, MoJ or even BIS, depending on who you ask and how you phrase the question. Meanwhile the £sums at risk are mind boggling as officials and suppliers are expected to "agree" solutions that are well above their pay grades.

Another concerns the routines for co-operation between DWP and Local Government and the many public, private and voluntary welfare agencies as responsibilities change and care is, hopefully, integrated around those in most need - using the coming together of the BDUK and PSN agendas that I welcomed above..

A third concerns the routines for information exchange and operational co-operation between DWP and MoJ, NHS and UKBA - as those in apparent need move in and out of prison, hospital or even the UK. These do not have to sorted in a hurry. Indeed they are much better sorted incrementally over time. But they will not be sorted and the consequent benefits (from improved care, welfare and placement into employment to reduced fraud) will not be reaped unless those responsible have to report progress to those who have the authority to resolve cross-boundary problems and not "just" to their own Permanent Secretary, with Cabinet Office trying to "co-ordinate".  I look forward to hearing good news on this front in the New Year - if only that the problems have been recognised and given to some-one with the political and/or prfoessional clout to be credible.


"I bought it myself after the Internet delivery failed to arrive"

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I heard this twice today: both complaints concerned ingredients for the Christmas meal where people had to go out on Christmas Eve to get traditional ingredients ordered ten days or or more in advance which had failed to arrive. Whatever the cause of the non-delivery or delays beyond the "deadline" - who really trusts the Internet for that which is critical as opposed to "nice to have but not essential". And what are the implications of the growing gulf between "the enthusiasts" and "ordinary human beings".

Sorry to blog on Christmas Day but I had not expected such complaints over dinner.

Plebgate, the Sousveillance society and your Boxing Day Browsing

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We have a most interesting juxtaposition
- of press cover for the EU Information Commisioners' "review" of Microsoft's new terms and conditions,
- of the release of the EU Digital Priorities for 2013-4,
- of attacks on the appointment of Clare Perry to look at how to better help parents protect their children from those who would pervert their natural interest in the opposite sex
- of attacks on the current proposals for retaining intra-UK communications data in case it might be a value in "the ware against terror"
- of ongoing press cover for Plebgate, which I called Smeargate in my previous blog on the end of the myth of on-line anonymity.

Assuming that your Internet connection does not go down over Christmas, remember that everything you do on-line on Boxing Day (expectedto be a peak period for content download) will be recorded and may well be sold, legimately or otherwise, provided to security services (public or private) to "help protect you" and/or "used to improve services to you".

If that depresses you, think also of "Plebgate" as an example of successful "sousveillance",  albeit I am using a wider definition to include using some of the "big data" that is already out there to hold those in "authority" to account for their actions. That said, it is a salutory story from which you can derive a wide variety of conclusions. Mine would be:

1) Honesty is the best policy: if only because it is getting ever harder to hide your lies.   
2) Most of what you find on the Internet is even less reliable than the news or the papers.
3) Dig your garden (Voltaire: Candide)

Lessons from Smeargate: they may not know if you are a dog but they know which lamp post you pee'd on

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I would like to juxtapose Kier Starmer's surreal proposal to re-write the law to protect unpopular twats (or is it twiterrers?) from prosecution, the debate on proposals to waste a few £billion on duplicated data retention and the unravelling of the Andrew Mitchell story . The ability to supposedly track an e-mail to a Conservative Whip from a fictional witness to the home computer of policeman who claims he did not send it put all three, plus the famous New Yorker Cartoon into context.

Over the Internet no one knows if you are a dog. But they do know which lamp posts you pee on. They know the dog food put in your bowl - albeit not necessarily that it was you who ate it. And who has access (legitimate or otherwise) to the electronic footprints you have left behind you? 

This gives context to the proposals for an Intellectual Property Crime Unit and a Digital Copyright Exchange . Time is running out to rewrite the relevant sections of the Digital Economy Act before they are seen to bring copyright enforcement into as much disrepute as the Volstead Act did for prohibition.    

Happy Christmas and a thoughtful New Year.

P.S. I you have not yet become an active participant in the Foundation for Information Policy Research, the Internet Society, Big Brother Watch or the party political grouping of your choice (e.g. the Conservative Technology Forum or its Labour, UKIP or LibDem equivalents if you can find them - I still cannot) then remember the motto of this blog - "the silent majority gets what it deserves - stitched up".

For those who are willing to spent time helping progress the constructive debate that is needed to find sustainable win-win ways forward to difficult problems with no easy answers - then you should be active on the issues via your professional body (e.g. BCS or IET) or trade association (e.g. BBA, BRC, Intellect or ISPA) or join the Digital Policy Allliance direct.  

We did not actually lose the WCIT battle in Dubai but appear set to lose the Internet Governance War

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If you read press cover on the recent ITU conference on the future of the Internet in the technical press you might think that the supporters of the Internet Engineering Task Force, The World Wide Web, ICANN and the Internet Governance Forum preserved their dominance over the future of the Internet. If you read the BBC cover you might think the result was a draw. If you read the official communique you might feel rather less optimistic.

The Draft Treaty was not ratified but it was passed with well over two thirds support from those actually voting and almost two thirds of those eligible to vote. More-over the nations voting in favour represent the majority of customers for any "stakeholder led" solution. English is now the language of barely a quarter of Internet users  (26.8%). It will soon be overtaken by Chinese (already 24.2%). But the Internet is increasingly multi-lingual and multi-cultural. A simple count of the languages spoken by the nations voting in favour indicates that they represent a majority current, let alone future, Internet users.

More-over, many Western Nations, like the UK, are beginning to appreciate that they too are haemorrhaging taxable revenues via the tax havens used by the multinationals who run the on-line world (from transmission networks, operating systems and browsers, through social networks to on-line shopping, transaction, payment and content services). Whether or not it is ever ratified, a draft traty supported by nearly 2/3rd of the potential signatories gives its supporters all the legitimacy they need in order to help regional action (counting the EU as a  "region", like South east Asia) to recoup what they regard as their fair share of the action.

To put it crudely: the control of the Internet, which passed from US communications engineers to US IPR lawyers about a decade ago, appears about to pass to those engineers who are in favour with their local governments, regulators and tax authorities around the world. If you do not like what is about to happen then you will have to work together in order to secure a critical mass of public support for a more credible alternative. The status quo is, of course, an option. But the status quo is trending .

I happen to believe strongly in a market led (i.e. driven by customer needs and only "enabled" by technology advances), but also democratically, accountable way forward. I am not sure what that means in practice, let alone how to bring it about: hence my commitment to the competition for the thought leaders of the future to look at how to rebuild confidence in the on-line world, in the hope that they will come up with better answers than those currently on offer. I also hope that my sucessor at the Digital Policy Alliance will have the support of his members to harvest the results of the competition for political use in Westminster and Brussels. Given progress to date we appear likely to have the competion up and running in February with a dozen or so Universities organising heats, supported by a dozen or so major employers - in advance of a high profile "come and join us" announcement in March.    
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The Ten/Twelve Scams of Christmas 2012

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I have just done a quick comparison of the Scams of Christmas of Christmas since I last blogged on this topic in 2010. McAfee has again found twelve . For those who do not like to have to read words there is also a photolist . The main difference with the list in 2010 results from the transition to a mobile world.

The McAfee list is from the US and those wanting UK oriented advice should visit Get Safe Online for their Christmas check list . The hardest piece of advice to follow is how to work out what constitutes a reputable website. Until there is enforcement of the e-Commerce directive requirement for the websites trading on-line across the EU to have a physical address and contact details it is not impractical for most of us to follow the motherhood statements.

Why does the Commission rabbit on with yet more directives on data protection' electronic signatures et al without making any attempt to monitor the effectiveness of past initiatives - including those supposedly mandating basic good practice in giving some measure of confidence to on-line customers that they can find out who they are dealing with? 

I could give a variety of answers but this is supposedly the season of goodwill.

I will merely say that this adds to the importance of responding to the Nominet consultation on .uk , Even if you cannot make any sense of the arguments over dnnsec and other technixcal measures you should make clear that you expect to be provided with some means of checking whether those who use .uk actually are based in the UK and, if so, where.   

Are we about to have a grown up debate on the future of the Internet?

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I have just been reading the first BBC article on the WCIT Conference in Dubai. Among other things this will witness the Third World countries seeking to get a "fair" share of the Internet revenues they generate. Given the current controversy regarding the unlevel fiscal and regulatory playing field between on-line retailers based outside the UK/EU and those based within we need to shout less and listen more. 

In reading the comments beneath BBC article I was struck by their simplistic naivety. "The Internet was designed by the people for the people". Rubbish. It was one of a number  of communications protocols desgned by engineers for engineers. It took off because the ITU fouled up the standards for the successor to Telex (X25). Similarly the World Wide Web took off not because it was better than the alternatives on offer, but because CERN allowed Tim Berners Lee to make it available free to all comers and the user community (commercial as well as academic) therefore focussed on helping sort its orginal shortcoming rather than those of its competitors. 

US patent trolls and copyright lawyers are now throttling the Internet Goose, not just stealing the Golden Eggs. Hence the momentum behind the ITU attempt to regain the control of the international communications standards that they exercised from 1865 (when they first agreed inter-operability codes for telegraphy) to 1965 (when they began to lose their way as technology change began to acelerate and the Cold War complicated co-operation).  

I do hope we will have a better informed and constructive debate before those driving open (and royalty free) communications standards for an IPV6 world of ubiquitous global computing leave the "lawyer-bound West struggling in their wake.

So which is the bigger threat to the future health of the Internet: Government regulators or US IPR lawyers?

Time will tell.

I very much hope we can sail the future of the Internet safely between Scylla and Charybdis   

P.S. "China is nation created by Engineers for Engineers. The United States is a nation created by Lawyers for Lawyers. Hence the reason they do not understand how each other operates. - Discuss" 




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