On BBC R4’s Today programme on Monday I spoke of how IT suppliers successfully lobby for new work, with the result that ministers and their advisers are kept busy with proposals for new surveillance schemes such as the one to monitor all emails, phone calls, and use of social networks including twitter and facebook.
Before the government announced the ID Cards scheme I went to an off-the-record briefing by a major supplier to senior civil servants and Government advisers.
The supplier’s representatives were committed and credible. There was no overt sell. The technology seemed a good idea; fun to work on. This briefing might help to explain why civil servants at the Home Office were quietly working on proposals for ID Cards in 1990s, long before ministers announced the scheme.
Fear, uncertainty, doubt and interesting technology. It works a treat when selling to government, especially the Home Office.
That is, I would suggest, one reason the Home Office has come up with plans for systems to tap into communications service providers.
The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith says the plan is no longer to have a large central database. But still the Home Office plan is to spend £2bn on tracking emails, phone calls and uses of the internet. The money will be much appreciated by some suppliers.
I also pointed out to the Today programme that the Home Office has the worst record of all central departments when it comes to implementing major IT-based projects and programmes.
Its failures are not because of any incompetence on the part of its IT specialists but because of the toxic blend of politics and IT. Big projects are about solving problems. But ministers don’t want to know about problems, and their advisers will tend not tell them things they don’t want to know. The Treasury has gone as far as to ban [unofficially] its senior officials from uttering the word “problem”.
The £2bn being spent by the Home Office on monitoring communications may or may not help with detecting, stopping and prosecuting terrorists. It will have one certain purpose, though. It will fund a quest from what was known into an enthusiastic reaching to the unknown. That beats any ordinary day-to-day office work.
Inside the Government’s facebook monitoring plans – Silicon.com
Plans to monitor all internet contacts – Axxiom for liberty