Thought for the day: Thunderbirds are not e-Go

Huge unresolved security and information management issues surround the webification of local government despite the gung-ho...

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Huge unresolved security and information management issues surround the webification of local government despite the gung-ho attitude of those pulling the strings, says Simon Moores.



Listening to the Iraqi voice intercepts being offered to the United Nations by Colin Powell, I instantly recognised the source , as I’m sure you did too. The "Evil Hood" from Thunderbirds. While the voice recognition technology doesn’t appear to have moved on much, it’s good to know that when the series ended, my favourite villain found a new home in Baghdad.

Meanwhile back in Blighty, I spoke at an interesting local government event in the Midlands and I can share some of the views on e-government voiced by those working at the coalface of e-transformation.

As you might expect, e-mail is a problem in many different ways - managing it, securing it, archiving it and complying with government’s statutory disclosure and retention regulations.

Quite recently, e-mail archiving experts KVS software reinforced the conclusions of earlier research by revealing that awareness of the latest regulations on disclosure and discovery under The Freedom of Information Act are still very low.

Apparently, 41% of public sector IT managers don’t have an e-mail management policy in place and only 22% of companies believe they have to keep email for “legal or regulatory purposes”. It appears that many chief executives and directors are unaware of the vicarious liability issue that is associated with a failure to comply with a disclosure or discovery request.

We may think of government in terms of big national projects but at local level, IT managers are still struggling with the simple stuff which isn’t proving so simple after all.

And in the light of public sector IT managers' association Socitm’s research that shows 28 % of authorities without an ICT security policy, it is interesting that one large metropolitan council I spoke with deals with 26,000 e-mails each day and in a single month, last year, experienced 988 separate virus attacks from 26 separate viruses. 

A huge effort goes into content filtering, using Surf Control, and this single example of over 400 local councils in the UK, receives between 10 to 12 discovery requests each month for the purpose of internal investigations involving e-mail and its content.

Few authorities currently have the ability to encrypt data or authenticate citizens in order to handle sensitive or personal data electronically, and managing security at all levels presents a significant problem at local government level.

Two separate comments quite possibly sum up most of the problems encountered by many public sector IT Managers: The first, "Yellow ‘Post-it notes are our biggest enemy”, and the second, “I don’t trust the Microsoft client, it’s a graveyard”, received wide approval, as the discussion around the PKI process and authentication and relying on permissions management and internet securities in an Exchange environment heated up the room.

It’s all very well, I was told, for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to mandate a PC on every social services desktop or for the Department for Education and Skills (DFES) to give a laptop to every teacher, but how on earth does local government, where the buck stops, guarantee security of this information, without appropriate guidance, when people are the weakest link.

Do you have any idea, I was asked, how many teachers' laptops have been stolen with children's confidential information on board?

It strikes me that the public-sector coalface is an unhappy place these days and that behind our Thunderbirds-like strategy of local government e-delivery the characters' strings are starting to show signs of wear.

If e-government represents the legacy of the Thunderbirds generation, then I suppose that makes Patrica Hewitt, Lady Penelope and Parker? The hidden side of e-envoy Andrew Pinder, Guv!

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Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.

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