Interesting elsewhere – 28 February 2011

Things which caught my eye elsewhere on the web

  • Why I don’t believe in conspiracy theories | Flip Chart Fairy Tales No-one is in control of the world. The most governments can hope for is to control some parts of it for some of the time. The same is true for leaders of large organisations. Kings, presidents, prime ministers and chief executives spend much of their time trying to make sense of what is going around them while trying to reassure people that they are in control. Running a conspiracy would be way beyond them.Conspiracy theories are rather like impossible structures; they entertain us and feed our imaginations but they would be impossible to construct and maintain in real-life. The world is a messy and chaotic place. It’s fun to imagine a group of people manipulating events behind the scenes but the truth is that no-one, anywhere in the world, is that good.
  • Dispelling myths and stereotypes about public sector workers | Cabinet Office I cannot think of a single skill that one needs in the private sector that people don’t develop in spades in the public sector.
    Operational management? What about running a prison of sex offenders. Technology skills? Nothing comes close to the scale and complexity of the tax and benefit systems. Commercial skills? Have you ever let a contract for a science facility that accelerates electrons to near light speed? Customer relations? We serve everyone from the young and old, rich and poor, ill and healthy. Turnarounds? A failing company is one thing, a failing secondary school on a sink estate is quite another. Mergers and acquisitions? Try taking over a collapsing bank in a weekend. Human Resources? Just imagine what is involved in sending civilians to Helmand province. Security? I’d have to shoot you if I told you what our security services do on a daily basis, but, trust me, we are lucky to have them. Public relations? Well, we are always in the Thick of It!
  • What government IT can learn from cycling in London | Blog Agile turns the traditional logic on its head. Rather than specifying detailed requirements in advance you let specifications evolve over time. Functionality is built in from day one, with users involved continuously rather than during a ‘test’ phase at the end. Flexibility is valued over following a predetermined plan. It’s the IT equivalent of cycling with your eyes wide open, and being fully prepared to change direction when necessary. Wise advice for cyclists and chief information officers alike.
  • Cloudsourcing « The Great E-mancipator G-Cloud gives government the opportunity to dictate standards, quality and support to a level that the current regime of ‘divide and rule’ by suppliers has never permitted. It starts to give government IT the upper hand for once, so I can see why some won’t suppliers like it, but as to willy-nilly data-sharing –I don’t think so!
  • US Congressional Report Challenges Open Government: It Was About Time Opening up government data isn’t a substitute for opening up government. Recycling my bike won’t save the planet. But it’s a whole lot better than keeping it shut up under the house where no one can use it.
  • Indifferent government is so last decade | Helpful Technology Indifferent sites don’t much care what you do. They’ve put the information (or consultation, or campaign message) out there. The rest is up to you. Some people take it, most people leave it. It’s not the website’s fault if you don’t like the message. […]The web is a communication medium, to persuade and influence, or even just to help people scan, prioritise and complete their tasks quickly. Indifferent design, as a symptom of indifferent public services online, is so last decade.
  • The Department of ‘No’ – The Privacy, Identity & Consent Blog This means that incidents will always happen. This may be because security controls are judged to be disproportionately expensive (for example, spending many millions of pounds on security to protect assets worth only some thousands of pounds); because individuals failed to comply with the instructions given to them (for example, downloading unprotected files on to a memory stick to take home, then losing that memory stick); because the system is attacked by a capable and dedicated enemy (for example, an authorised user taking copies of MP’s expense claims); or because of a ‘zero day’ exploit (for example, a hacker breaking into a system using a weakness that was previously unknown to the security officer).Whatever the cause, security incidents will always occur, and the public sector culture is to look for someone to blame – remember how the HMRC incident was almost immediately blamed upon a ‘junior clerical officer’ before it was revealed that systemic failures were at the root of the problem? Security officers are rightly fearful of being blamed for incidents, and in the absence of someone who will act as an advocate for them when things go wrong, they are forced to fall back on the only safe path available to them, which is to say ‘no’ when the business wants to do anything which might carry an associated security risk. The likelihood of the current information assurance community being willing to support the government’s cloud computing ambitions seems slim indeed.As a result, most public servants view information assurance as an obstacle, not an asset. Because of poor leadership, excessive bureaucracy, and a culture of unnecessary secrecy, public authorities are unable to obtain cost-effective information security controls. The current infrastructure will neither permit nor support the new commitment to respecting personal data, making government data available, or protecting data that needs to be kept secret.
  • Schneier on Security: Societal Security Humans have a natural propensity to trust non-kin, even strangers. We do it so often, so naturally, that we don’t even realize how remarkable it is. But except for a few simplistic counterexamples, it’s unique among life on this planet. Because we are intelligently calculating and value reciprocity (that is, fairness), we know that humans will be honest and nice: not for any immediate personal gain, but because that’s how they are. We also know that doesn’t work perfectly; most people will be dishonest some of the time, and some people will be dishonest most of the time. How does society — the honest majority — prevent the dishonest minority from taking over, or ruining society for everyone? How is the dishonest minority kept in check? The answer is security — in particular, something I’m calling societal security.