Ben Laurie blathering

All Your Data Are Lost By Us

Don’t worry, if we put all our data into central government databases, it’ll all be fine. Except when it isn’t. Our esteemed Prime Minister says

“It is important to recognise we cannot promise that every single item of information will always be safe because mistakes are made by human beings. Mistakes are made in the transportation, if you like in the communication, of information.”

in the aftermath of yet another ridiculous data breach: this time, people’s passwords to the Government Gateway on a memory stick dropped in the road.

Perhaps it is uncouth to point this out, but … if the system had been designed by people with any security clue whatsoever there would have been no passwords to put on a memory stick in the first place.

I notice that Gordon thinks the contractors in this case (Atos Origin) are responsible and action should be taken against them (though how he squares this with his statement that such events are inevitable only a politician can tell you). Well, sure. But why is he not taking action against the morons that designed and approved a system that made it possible for Atos Origin to have the passwords in the first place?

My theory? Policy makers think that it is beneath them to actually understand the technologies they make policy about, or to consult anyone who does. So, it has not occurred to Brown or any of his advisers that this is actually an avoidable error.


  1. It is indeed interesting that politicians are quick to blame human error, rather than systemic design errors. It is probably easier to fire a low level civil servant or contractor, than the people involved in drafting the security requirements (or check whether there were any).

    Comment by George — 2 Nov 2008 @ 15:27

  2. Agreed. In this day and age, it is completely unthinkable that such important passwords are stored in an unencrypted fashion anywhere at all!

    Comment by Jason Davies — 2 Nov 2008 @ 21:48

  3. The rhetoric is especially depressing here. Kudos, Ben, for insinuating so prettily that passive voice is used by the Government in this case to deflect attention from those responsible for creating the problem. Orwell warned us….

    It’s poignant that government in this case appears not to have any aspirations toward excellence; after all, what is automation for, if not to prevent predictable error? And yet here we have the Prime Minister blaming human error for the predictable (and likely actually predicted) failure of an automated system?

    Comment by Bob Blakley — 3 Nov 2008 @ 6:52

  4. Well said. Unbelievable situation to have got into, absolutely stupid. What gets me, though, are the yet more unbelievable excuses. I’ll concede one thing the PM’s right about about: it IS down to human error.

    Comment by Peter Chamberlin — 29 Nov 2008 @ 19:20

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