Revenue's security glitch a warning for e-government

The future of government projects to put services online hangs in the balance this week after public confidence in returning tax...

The future of government projects to put services online hangs in the balance this week after public confidence in returning tax data online was shattered by a high-profile security glitch.

The prime minister wants the Internet to be used to deliver local and national government services. But the ability to provide services securely is in doubt after users of the Inland Revenue's online Self Assessment system were able to view other tax-payers' accounts.

A spokesman for the Revenue confirmed that it withdrew its Self Assessment (SA) Online software application last week after a number of users reported being able to view other people's tax returns. "A very small number of people have told us that when they used SA Online a few days ago they were able to see some information about another person. When we learnt about this we withdrew it while we identify and solve the problem," he said.

Chas Roy-Chowdhory, head of taxation at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, said, "If the Inland Revenue has problems when a small percentage of people file electronically, I seriously doubt its ability to handle anything bigger." If the Revenue, which has pioneered e-government, has had such problems, he said, it must call into doubt the ability of other departments with less experience to deliver effective, secure online services.

SA Online is delivered through the government Gateway, a joint effort with Microsoft to put a host of public sector services online. Both the Cabinet Office and Microsoft have denied that the problem is with the Gateway. The Revenue spokesman could not confirm when it would be available again, but said staff were working hard to find the cause of the problem.

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