Dave Briggs has written a post about browsers and other online tools in the public sector that set me thinking. Dave’s perplexed about why there’s a resistance to a number of tools that he (and lots of us) find helpful:

I’d really like to know the reasons – the real reasons – why, bearing all this in mind, FireFox isn’t at least available as an alternative to Internet Explorer. FireFox is quicker, more secure, more useful. It’s better. Why can’t we have it?!

This is something that annoyed me immensely when I was a councillor; the unilateral decision that we couldn’t go beyond the confines of whatever the IT department decided was good for us. I don’t know whether things have changed in the last two years but reading this piece (paid subscription) by Jonathan Zittrain (his site looks its full of really good stuff by the way) suggests some of the thinking that’s going on around security.

In fact it goes further and argues that the amount of malware, spam and viruses out there is threatening to “drive people away from the internet and towards sterile, stand-alone appliances that be manipulated only with the acquiescence of their manufacturers.”

The iPhone is apparently an example of this in action; you can’t add applications that haven’t been sanctioned by Apple. For most users I’m sure that’s not going to be a problem, but for those who like tinkering it will feel very restricting.

Zittrain concludes:

Safety is, of course, an invaluable promise for consumers. But a lockdown on PCs and a corresponding rise of “tethered” appliances will eliminate much of what we take for granted: a world in which mainstream technology can be influenced, even revolutionised, out of left field.”

In my experience it is certainly the case that innovations like Love Lewisham wouldn’t have happened had Nigel lived by the rules, using council approved technology and processes. Admittedly Nigel’s a bit of a one off, but that’s where innovation comes from and if organisations don’t accommodate that (as to be fair to the IT people in the council they do) we’re stuck with poorer services for fear of spam and viruses.

About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
This entry was posted in Lewisham, Techie and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Lockdown

  1. Not exactly confined to councils, though. We fight exactly the same battles with our corporate IT team.

  2. Andrew Brown says:

    Oh I know, I’m just more familiar with the processes in the public sector.

  3. Dave Briggs says:

    What’s maddening on the security angle is that IE, and in particular the outdated versions still used by many Councils and other public bodies, are full of holes.

    One thing coming out of my survey is the remarkable lengths folk are going to so that they can circumvent the rules: portable FireFox on memory sticks, etc.

  4. Andrew Brown says:

    I agree. But even in my office where there’s no lockdown there are people using IE5 (or they were until I snuck in and upgraded them).

    On circumvention, I think that you’re right those that feel constrained will find other ways of getting what they want.

  5. I’ve made a tiny bit of progress, with Lewisham Council, in getting them to allow the laptops they issue to most councillors (I use my own instead) to be ‘unlocked’ (and not just by me, illicitly!) and for other applications to be installed. The current IT contractor (Sungard) is better than the previous lot (which I’m not allowed to name – they’ve tried suing me once!) in this respect.

    I’ve recently started discussing the possibilities of Web2.0, and a security policy which depends less on the Council having (or thinking they have) a ‘False-Sense-of-Security Firewall’ around every device used to access their IT systems (all those laptops that can get stolen, left on trains, etc, with confidential data on them!); and more on protecting the systems themselves, assuming that they might be accessed using any Web-enabled device. This is going to be a big thing for them to get their heads around, though…

  6. Andrew Brown says:

    All power to your elbow John. I don’t think that officers are necessarily unsympathetic to the sorts of thing that we’re talking about here per say, but that they have other priorities and a legacy of decisions that don’t make change easy.

  7. Pingback: Being Boring « Someday I Will Treat You Good

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