Friday, November 23, 2007

Tag Closing: News Grab-Bag

Some Stuff I Have Been Meaning to Post But Not Got Round to Doing So Yet. Until now.All for now.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Data Sensitivity: All About the Money

As a follow up to my last post, it looks like the cost of securing information is perhaps to blame - or rather, the pressure to cut costs is...
The department was under pressure to cut costs and it did not want to pay an IT firm to remove sensitive information from the Child Benefit register, the Tories say.
Money and efficiency vs doing things properly, the inevitable dilemma of our time?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hacking Bureaucracy gets you in Bureaucratic Trouble

There's a small story going round at the moment about the government misplacing* 25m peoples-worth of data. As ever, SpyBlog dig out the pertinent details and asks the relevant questions. Meanwhile, back in press-coverage land, the focus has shifted from Darling to Brown, and one can't help but think the question of accountability has gone with it. Which is a shame. The question of accountability is a good one, but only as a starting point.

* preferable to the word "losing" as the originals are still there...

Rather than arguing over who's responsible and whose job is on the line, maybe we should take a step back and question the possible link between accountability, management bureaucracy, and why the loss occurred in the first place. It's clear that the request and task of sending the data off landed on the desk of a junior worker. Naturally, ignorance of the importance of identity data is still abundant these days (mostly due to people over-hyping identity theft and other problems, such as actual passwords or cards being stolen, being generally bigger). Procedures should have been in place to have such a request escalated - certainly the rules were.

But is this the problem? Anyone who's old enough to smoke (not that that's relevant) knows how much emphasis is placed on bureaucracy in the public sector. Bureaucracy is there to ensure transparency, enforce standards, and keep in place some form of accountability. What it does not do is make things more efficient. Both are important, and hence getting the balance right between the two extremes is the challenge of the day.

Can this shed some light on why this happened then? Can the task of getting data out be explained in terms of a resistance to over-bureaucratisation, a workaround to avoid the inefficiencies of the system? Those who have worked know how tempting it is to just slip something past, just look the other way while something we know should be done is hodge-podged, because if it isn't, that deadline is never going to be hit, and/or someone's going to shout a lot. (The irony is, of course, that bureaucracy loves deadlines too.)

This isn't to defend the actions of anyone. It's merely to suggest a link between the accountability we want in the system with measures to work around the "side effects" of that accountability. Concentrating solely on who's going to take the fall seems to be the (again bureaucratic) modern approach to such issues, but this fails to work out why this actually happening. (This is why party politics no longer matters - the system is bigger than the parties now, and things would be the same no matter who was in power.)

Meanwhile, scant details and increased finger-pointing just leave the public to ring up companies in their panic. At least it's slightly better handled than the Northern Rock PR fiasco, but we're still not getting out of the Groupthink Ditch that blights most national-scale problems. Here's a nice video to at least facilitate laughing the whole thing off until next time:

Elevator Candid, Must See... - The funniest movie is here. Find it