Last week, e-envoy Andrew Pinder accused me of being an alarmist at a time when he believes, entirely correctly, that the information security debate would benefit from a rational assessment of the problems.
It’s clear that Pinder and I hold opposing views of the problem, but actions speak louder than words, and I’ve seen very little of the former to believe that "Government knows best".
Broadband promotion, I am told, has nothing to do with government, it’s an industry initiative and, as a consequence, it’s up to the latter to tackle the security problems that arise from its use.
And I'm not alone. Others agree that the government could do more to promote internet security. Lots of money is spent on brightly coloured UK Online taxis, but dealing with the nastier consequences of the World Wide Web is mainly left to the likes of BT.
“People have to realise that big [broadband] pipes work both ways and there’s no one-way valve to keep the unwanted side of the internet out," said one of my sources, who once held a senior role in government. "If the broadband ISPs are doing very little in the way of real customer education, then the Information Assurance Co-ordinator should be reconsidering government’s role”.
Fair point. If the government is so keen to encourage us to ride the information superhighway, shouldn’t it be doing more to publicise the hazards of high-speed surfing?
We now run into the "casualties of war" argument and the one I like least. If the government stresses the dangers of the internet too vigorously, then it’s possible that broadband growth will slow as people worry about the risks instead of accepting the greater benefits of being a joined-up society.
The e-Envoy has his trains and motorways analogy, which reminds us that we spend disproportionate millions on rail safety in contrast with road safety and we should accept that the internet is a safe environment for most of us, and that it’s not really up to Government to spend taxpayers' money on promoting the online equivalent of safe sex.
I don’t believe that this argument holds water. The internet is exposing the most vulnerable members of our society to material, which would be unacceptable in the physical world. Chat rooms, spam, viruses, hacking, fraud - the list is almost endless. Government wants everyone to have access to the internet by 2006 and yet to use the Railtrack argument as a response to Andrew Pinder’s transport analogy, the issues surrounding surfing safety are mostly the responsibility of private companies who wish to sell connectivity and not confidence.
Should every broadband internet connection carry a health warning, or are we happy to accept that a percentage of the population, MPs included, will become victims of ignorance?
What do you think?
Should the government spend taxpayers' money on educating society on the safe use of the internet? Tell us in an e-mail >> ComputerWeekly.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.
Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.
Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of eGovernment and information security.
For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit www.zentelligence.com
This was first published in July 2003