Tories slam ‘gimmicky’ web voting and call for urgent action on e-crime

The Conservative Technology Forum focused on online crime. Shadow home affairs minister, James Brokenshire, said, "There is a lack of any real urgency within government about tackling online crime, or obtaining any proper data on the true scale of the problem.

IT skills, electronic elections and online security were the main IT issues discussed at the Conservative Party conference last week.

The Conservative Technology Forum focused on online crime. Shadow home affairs minister, James Brokenshire, said, "There is a lack of any real urgency within government about tackling online crime, or obtaining any proper data on the true scale of the problem.

"Efforts to combat cyber-fraud are being let down by a lack of co-ordination and strategic direction."

Speaking at the conference, Micro­soft chief security adviser, Edward Gibson, said fast action was needed.

"Most man-made catastrophes are the result of several smaller failures, which, if left unresolved, lead to much bigger problems," he said.

"Online security is a major concern for us all, yet we are not taking the necessary steps to protect UK citizens. We do not want to look back five years from now and say we missed these small failures."

Malcolm Harbour, chair of the Technology Forum, said the lack of a holistic government policy on technology was tied to a general ­under-investment in IT in the UK.

Elsewhere at the conference, e-elections were branded "gimmicky" by an Open Rights Group fringe meeting. Jonathan Djanogly, MP for Huntingdon, said, "The key to healthy democracy does not lie in gimmicky use of text and internet votes. Simply computerising the system will not increase turn-out."

Group member Jason Kitkat, who had seen several trials of e-counting, said observers could not express confidence in computer-counted results. "There were serious technical problems with the process - serious enough to threaten its integrity," he said.

Kitkat added that very slight changes in ballot papers, imperceptible to the human eye, could change the way computers read the vote.

"E-voting may be possible one day, but within the next 10 to 15 years, and within the current technological limits, it will not be," he said.

On IT skills, David Willetts, shadow secretary of state for universities, innovation and skills, said maths was the most important subject for future IT professionals.

"IT skills are incredibly important for the 21st century and the economy, but it is maths that is really valuable. It provides an intellectual framework on which these specific skills are based. So as computer languages change and develop, professionals are equipped to cope," he said.

The debate on skills also emphasised demand-led, employer driven training schemes.

Chris Humphries, former chair of the Skills Task Force and former director general of the British Chamber of Commerce, said, "We have got to engage more successfully with employers, because they are the lifeblood of economic competitiveness."

Will Hutton, chief executive at consultancy the Work Foundation, said IT skills needed to take centre stage. "What can you do if you haven't got IT skills? At the moment, IT does not sit at the centre enough in terms of importance," he said.

Donald Clark, board member at the University of Industry, said IT workers provided a model for learning. "IT professionals are very good at re-skilling themselves. Every year they have to learn something new, and they do it in a very dynamic way, through work-based learning. I think that is the model for the future," he said.

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