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MPs blast government's "digital by default" plans

parliament

By Shona Ghosh

Posted on 9 Jul 2013 at 07:30

MPs have torn into government proposals to save money by making services "digital by default".

The strategy aims to cut spending by moving government services to the web, such as booking driving tests or paying tax. Cabinet Office Francis Maude has previously claimed the changes would save the taxpayer £1.2 billion by 2015.

However, the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee picked holes in the plans, saying there was no proof the strategy would actually deliver the promised savings - and that it could put users' data at risk.

Committee chair Andrew Miller said the government hadn't provided any evidence showing that moving transactions online saved money. Maude gave evidence before the committee, but said he couldn't speculate on any savings made so far because government data is "not good".

If you want to apply online for disability living allowance, you have to use old, unpatched and non-updated software that is full of security vulnerabilities

"A key justification of the 'digital by default' strategy is savings to the taxpayer," Miller said. "Yet it is not evident that the government is even able to measure these savings."

Security concerns

Miller said that expert evidence suggested the government was using outdated software, potentially leaving personal data at risk.

"We are concerned that inadequacies in government software may lead to security vulnerabilities," said Miller. He added that MPs were "concerned that sensitive, personally identifiable data could be compromised".

Software engineer Dr Martyn Thomas noted that some government services - such as its e-service for some benefits applications - don't actually work with modern browsers. "In other words, if you want to apply online for disability living allowance, you have to use old, unpatched and non-updated software that is full of security vulnerabilities," he said.

Dr Thomas also noted that it was still possible to identify users even from anonymised data. "The government doesn't appear to understand how easy it is to de-anonymise supposedly anonymous data," he said.

"I do not believe the government has kept up with the advances in privacy-enhancing technologies and different ways of doing identification and the strengths and weaknesses," he added.

Miller called for stringent safeguards for personal information. "Public trust is absolutely essential," he said. "The government must ensure the integrity and security of data and give people sufficient control over their stored personal information otherwise, the 'digital by default' strategy will not succeed."

The committee has written to Maude, who will have until October to respond.

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User comments

Whatever

I think they are doing a good job of bringing services together under gov.uk, it's a work in progress but I like what I see. Obviously there are sites straggling behind but the online services offered over the past few years haven't really followed any sort of standard regarding look/feel/security/compatibility. I see that now happening.

By Benih007 on 9 Jul 2013

As long as you use IE6...

Because otherwise the sites won't work.
Recently one of our local government customers moved to IE8. I didn't have the heart to tell the users that the current version was 10.

By cheysuli on 9 Jul 2013

£1.2 billion by 2015

When I was a kid, £1.2 billion was a lot of money. Now that the national debt is measured in trillions, it seems a piddling amount compared to overall government spending.

By Alfresco on 9 Jul 2013

Oh the irony

"and that it could put users' data at risk."

MPs were "concerned that sensitive, personally identifiable data could be compromised".

""The government must ensure the integrity and security of data and give people sufficient control over their stored personal information "

Yes I think data would be at risk, from the government more than any external threat.

PRISM and Tempora anyone.
Or are we still trying to hide that under the carpet

By JustUmmar on 9 Jul 2013

Its deja vu, all over again, again.

Surely not a Government "IT Project" with grandiose objectives and less than stellar\incompetent implementation?
How could such a thing come to be?

This Tory Government is really good at its Daily Mail-pleasing "Policy announcements", less good at actually achieving the supposed outcomes of its plans.

As anyone who's ever had a job, as opposed to being in politics, will know, Plans like these need to have measurable outcomes. If you say its going to (e.g.) Save £1.2 billion, then its useful to know how much it costs now, then you can measure how effective you've been. If Mr Maude is interested, my consultancy rates are a lot less than most Tax Accountants....

The issue of Browser compatibility is critical in most government projects, many of which still specify IE6 generation because that's what they're forced to use internally on their antiquated PCs.

The truth is that our current ruling cadre (in all parties) are just like the First World War Generals and strategists: outdated and out of touch. Now as then we are a nation of Lions, led by donkeys

By wittgenfrog on 9 Jul 2013

ignorant

this government are under the impression all benefit claimant use the local library that used used guess IE6. It the last place you go to fill out a form

By IMACOMPUTERBUDD1 on 9 Jul 2013

Re: imacomputerbudd1

Let me tell you that the library I work in have a lot of people coming in for gov.uk to use universal jobmatch and apply for benefits. It may not be the most secure place but it is happening and benefits/job-related stuff may even become a more common use for libraries than taking out books in the future. A load of job applications/CVs are printed every day and we hold job clubs for those who have difficulty using computers. It's a big growth area for local libraries. Not everyone has a computer, a printer and sufficient IT skills!

By aardwolf on 9 Jul 2013

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