Shocking Government iGnorance That Puts Us All In Danger


Let’s be fair about this. Let’s take a moment to applaud Apple, Google and Samsung’s Sales and Marketing efforts. They have between them convinced consumers that it really is ‘just a phone’, that what happens to their data doesn’t matter. That they are safe as houses. That, despite all the evidence to the contrary, they can be trusted and the brand loyalty their customers give them is paid back in spades. Which, of course, it isn’t.

Ironically, of course, if you ask the vast majority of the population how they would feel if they knew someone could randomly get their address, age, height or select their bank details remotely, they’d be up in arms. Tell them it can be done just because they own one of these devices and they look at you and pat you on the head for being ‘Mr BlackBerry’ and walk off chuckling at your stupidity.

That’s how good this propaganda has been.

A fool being parted from his money is one thing – that’s their choice. But what if you don’t have any choice? What if your details are stored elsewhere? What if it’s the very people sworn to protect you who are providing that list?

What if it’s your Government??

That’s when it gets scary. As Brad has recently outlined, Australia’s Parliament, despite recent terrorist attacks, now believe ‘it’s just a phone’ and so have decided on getting themselves a load of nice leaky iPhones, EVEN DESPITE their Foreign Minister being hacked only recently through the very same route.

Seriously – you really couldn’t make it up.

Here in the UK the Prime Minister, David Cameron, still sensibly uses a BlackBerry as does Barack Obama in the US. As Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, found, switching away from one to an iPhone meant anyone, including your allies, can get pretty much what they want off it, including listening in to your calls. A lesson obviously lost on Australia’s rulers.

But what about us? The little people? Surely Government agencies are as careful with our information as they are their own?

No… ‘it’s just a phone’, you see…

I have been sent, by a concerned UTB member, a UK Local Government Association (who advise local UK councils) document called Transforming Local Public Services Using Technology And Digital Tools And Approaches (snappy title!) in which the Local Government Association urges local UK councils to embrace technology as a way of increasing efficiency and driving down costs.

There’s some great stuff in there. Really great examples of how Local Government can save their taxpayers an absolute fortune by just utilising the technology at hand.

Unfortunately there’s also something missing. See if you can spot it in these examples of Council success:

Meanwhile, advances in high-speed broadband and in data storage now offer councils the opportunity to buy ICT services as and when required, rather than having to invest in a fixed infrastructure of hardware and software that is both expensive to buy and costly to maintain.

These advances in ‘cloud computing’ bring their own challenges – over data security for instance– but are now a recognised part of the business world. Central government too has established a G-Cloud framework where suppliers offer their services to the public sector via CloudStore.

The London Borough of Hillingdon became the first English council to move to Google Apps, saving £750,000 a year, and Norfolk County Council undertook the largest roll-out of Google Apps for Education, in terms of user numbers, deploying it to 148,000 registered users – school staff and children – in 2012. Wiltshire Council is using the cloud-based Microsoft Office 365 suite of apps and cloud-based Exchange Online email (a competing cloud-based email and document service) across over 4,000 employees, and the London Borough of Lambeth has also moved to Microsoft Office 365.

Local government has made extensive use of G-Cloud and open source. Both Westminster City Council and the London Borough of Hounslow have procured a range of Salesforce services – in the case of Hounslow, saving £600,000. Wiltshire Council procured, implemented, and trained staff in a new legal case management system in six months end-to-end; Shropshire Council’s Project WIP website service saved £204,000 over an initial five-year period; and Solihull MBC, using Red Hat Linux for over a decade, have saved more than £1 million since 1999.

Spelthorne Borough Council identified the need to deliver a mobile app to meet customer expectations, encourage channel shift and improve service delivery. The app allows the council to provide customers with access to services, news, transactional tasks and updates via their smart phones, wherever and whenever it is convenient. The council has benefited from the app which has
resulted in:

• an 18 per cent increase in internet payments compared with 2012/13 for Council Tax

• a 42 per cent increase in internet payments compared with 2012/13 on sundry debt, which includes garden waste, and a 3 per cent increase in sundry debt recovery in the same period

• a 10 per cent reduction to calls into customer services since the introduction of the app. Customer contact savings have been delivered in the region of £33,000 for 2013/14 with a reduction of 1.4 FTEs in the call centre for 2014/15. It is expected that these savings will continue.

During the flood emergency in February 2014, the volume of work the app absorbed would have cost approximately £10,800 for three extra staff to handle the additional calls during the month.

Bristol City Council used mobile technology in a different way – to increase the efficiency of its mobile neighbourhood based staff, reducing office-based hours and increasing reporting of local issues. Sixty mobile officers were identified to receive iPhone and Android tablet devices, pre-loaded with Looking Local’s MyCouncil app and a range of other standard software solutions enabling each officer to complete their daily tasks without having to visit an office.

The range of staff had their roles modified to include mobile reporting of local issues such as fly tipping, and were provided with a short training session on their device and the app. Between June 2013 and May 2014, 565 reports were submitted, resulting in a cost saving of £2,356 and an increased level of reporting from staff. Office hours were reduced for a quarter of the staff, part of a larger programme of facilities reduction which is due to save the council an estimated £10 million over three years.

There’s loads more as you would imagine. But in this entire document here’s the, frankly, cavalier approach that Councillor Peter Fleming, Chair, Local Government Association Improvement and Innovation Board advises:

These advances in ‘cloud computing’ bring their own challenges – over data security for instance…

A further emerging trend is for public bodies to invest in ‘open source’ systems that allow the organisation itself to make changes to the software, rather than having to rely on the original developers. This approach in principle should enable faster, more flexible and cheaper systems development and maintenance, although issues such as who is responsible when things go wrong need to be carefully considered.

Well, er, I think you’ll find your soul has already been sold Peter.

The evidence is that producing a really well designed easy-to-use digital channel or system is only the first step. The service then needs to be marketed, people need to trust it and to feel that their data is being handled securely and that using the service will bring benefits to them and not just to government.

But their data ISN’T being handled securely by the very tools being used to do the job.

Because the truth is, it’s ‘just a phone’ or, ‘just a tablet’. The iCloud and G-Cloud are great…yes? Because that’s where all my data, as a UK taxpayer, including my bank details, address, full name, age and anything else you fancy have been sent, without my permission and without a thought.

And don’t think that because you are outside the UK it doesn’t apply to you. Do you really think your Local Government has even considered what happens to your data?

I contacted a UK based technology journalist on this to seek his opinion, he is of the mind that Local Government is seen as unimportant. That no one would want details on someone’s Planning Permission application so it’s not really worth bothering about. Problem is they are flinging around a whole lot more than that without a care.

Our concerned UTB member points out that when they were a Council employee they had an encrypted email system everyone was contracted to use. But employees didn’t bother with it and no one cared. These include the likes of Social Workers handling incredibly delicate cases. Viruses were seen as normal and dealt with after the event.

In July 2014 David Cameron, in introducing emergency phone and data laws said:

We face real and credible threats to our security from serious and organised crime, from the activity of paedophiles, from the collapse of Syria, the growth of Isis in Iraq and al Shabab in East Africa.

“I am simply not prepared to be a prime minister who has to address the people after a terrorist incident and explain that I could have done more to prevent it.

Well David, maybe you need to look very closely at what our Local Government agencies are being sold, by whom and just what they are promising them along the way because if you don’t you may find you should have done.

Guess what? One of the aforementioned bodies, Bristol Council, have just announced they will be kitting everyone out with a shiny new iPhone.

After all, ‘it’s just a phone’, yes?


Bigglybobblyboo is a legend almost nowhere at all. He is a founder member of UTB and spends his spare time taking out his anger at the world with a fishfork and a spatula. He is also a Cribbage Master, having won 1 fight online as the other guy refused to turn up out of fear for his life.