Tuesday, 29 October 2013

GDS – who's silly now?

A correspondent kindly sent a link this morning to an article in the US press, U.K. Official Urges U.S. Government To Adopt A Digital Core. Ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, executive director of the Government Digital Service (GDS), was over there recently to talk at a meeting of the Presidential Innovation Fellows, presumably about public service IT.

The gist of the article is that what the US needs is something like GDS and someone like ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken to save them from cock-ups like healthcare.gov but the article also includes this: "Parliament ... appointed Bracken, a tech industry veteran, as the first ever executive director of digital – a Cabinet-level position".



"These journalists", you can't help saying to yourself, "they're so silly, can't they get anything right?".

GDS & assisted digital – the project that keeps on starting

When Martha-now-Lady Lane Fox decreed that all public services should be digital by default (14 October 2010) she created a problem – how do you avoid all the people unversed in digital ways being excluded by default?

The problem was given to the Government Digital Service (GDS) to solve. A strange choice. GDS's expertise is in building websites, not helping old ladies to fill in attendance allowance forms. What special knowledge would they bring to bear? None. GDS's natural inclination would be to devise a digital solution. That's their approach to all problems but in this case it's definitively inappropriate. It's strange that GDS accepted the rôle.

But accept it they did and they gave the problem a name – "assisted digital" – and they started blogging about it (28 July 2011). Nearly a year later (30 May 2012) they published Getting started on assisted digital.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Kofi Annan, the NSA and GCHQ – maybe this time

NSA monitored calls of 35 world leaders after US official handed over contacts it said in the Guardian yesterday and in every other newspaper.

That comes as news to most of us.

But then we remember: "News that Kofi Annan and other senior UN figures may have been routinely bugged by US or British security services has caused a huge political row around the world. But it will also have caused alarm among other people in the public eye who deal with sensitive information - or anyone, indeed, who values their privacy" – that's from the BBC News website, 2 March 2004, 9½ years ago.

It didn't cause "a huge political row around the world" then.

Maybe this time. Maybe the penny is beginning to drop.

Next week's news

Just to remind you, some time over the next 168 hours, as promised, we shall see the first ever fruits of the Government Digital Service's identity assurance programme. We shall all be able to amend our tax codes through an on-line connection to HMRC.

Extraordinary, but they won't have the field to themselves.

Remember midata, the latter-day South Sea Bubble being blown by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills? They've been "fanning the flames of innovation" round at the midata Innovation Lab and some time over the next 168 hours we are promised a glimpse of the fruits of their labours, too.

At last, new apps to empower us and improve our lifestyles and make the economy grow.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Cloud computing and the sizzling Stephen Fry

Mr Fry has made only one appearance on this blog so far. That was in connection with the UK government's vile bid to introduce press regulation.

Many more posts have covered the inept marketing device of comparing cloud computing with the utilities:
The reputation of the utilities for the past year and more has taken a beating and it defies logic how anyone could believe that comparing it to a utility would make us want to buy any service.

Hyperinflation hits the unicorn market

We live on a diet of data hacking stories fed to us by the media. Have done for years.

There's no defence. Not for us mooncalves. Not even for US defence contractors, who should know all about cybersecurity but who nevertheless managed to lose, among other things, the designs for the F-22 and F-35 fighter jets.

"Every day, all around the world, thousands of IT systems are compromised", says Iain Lobhan, the Director of GCHQ. He should know.

The upshot is clear – there is no such thing as a secure website. Secure websites are like unicorns. They don't exist.

1st cloud in Skyscape Cloud's sky

Readers will remember the immaculate conception of Skyscape Cloud Services Ltd, the company incorporated on 3 May 2011 which won four government contracts, some of them before the company had submitted its first set of accounts to Companies House.

The Government Digital Service (GDS), HMRC, the MOD and the Home Office all chose Skyscape in preference to long-established cloud services companies.

Now GDS have parked their harp on another cloud.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

GDS and the Electoral Commission

Have you recently received your voter registration form?

If so, you may have noticed that, depending on where you live, you can now register on-line via www.elecreg.co.uk. This website is operated by a company called Halarose Ltd, who have contracts with 80 UK local authorities to provide "democracy through technology", as they call it.

The briefest of investigations on the Companies House website suggests that Halarose has a paid-up share capital of 9¼ pence, which looks like the start of an interesting story, but that's not why we're here today.

What follows in this paragraph and the next would be correct if NSLOOKUP was correct ... NSLOOKUP suggests that the IP address of www.elecreg.co.uk is and if you look that up on RIPE you draw a blank. Which is odd, because RIPE is where you'd expect to be able to find the details of a European website.

... but NSLOOKUP isn't correct so, in the event, there's no UK-electoral-rolls-stored-in-the-US story here ... But the electoral rolls of these 80 UK local authorities aren't being stored in Europe. They're being stored in the US, on Amazon servers, according to ARIN, the Regional Internet Registry for North America. That looks like the start of another interesting story but, again, that's not why we're here today. ... please see update below 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Identity assurance, GDS and HMRC – the tension mounts

Here in the UK, this month is Identity Assurance Month. This is the month that the Government Digital Service have to deliver.

It's the 8th of the month and there's no news. Will we soon be able to alter our tax codes on-line? The tension is mounting.

Are you starting to wilt?

Here's a little mental stimulation to divert you and keep you going.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Has anyone heard from the Home Secretary?

Communications Data Bill? Unnecessary. That was the question on the DMossEsq blog on 7 July 2013. And the answer. Judging by the Edward Snowden revelations, we don't need this Home Office Bill. The security services already have all the tools they need to try to keep us secure against terrorism, the Bill adds nothing.

Six days before, on 1 July 2013, the (London) Evening Standard published an article by John Kampfner which includes this: "Plans to introduce the Communications Data Bill or “snoopers’ charter” have been put on hold thanks to determined resistance by Nick Clegg and others ... Now we know they didn't really need the legislation – they've been doing it anyway, without bothering to recourse to the law".

It's not just Mr Kampfner and DMossEsq. Hugo Rifkind had an article in the Spectator the other day, 28 September 2013: "Six months ago we were tying ourselves in knots over the Snooper’s Charter – all about what invasive powers the state required into our digital data – and never was it admitted, even in passing, that our security services had the capacity to do all this stuff anyway, whether granted the new powers they desired or not".

So that's three of us. Including the son of Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind KCMG QC MP, the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

And d'you know what?

GDS, agile PAYE on-line

This is the month when the Government Digital Service (GDS) have to deliver.

December 2012

PAYE Online
A new online service for taxpayers who use PAYE to pay tax via their employer. The service will allow individuals to get guidance and information on their tax code and to inform HMRC when they make a change that affects the amount of tax they pay ... (p.17)

The Digital Solutions Programme, together with the Government Digital Service, is developing an Identity Assurance (IDA) capability that can be re-used across all departmental and governmental services. The ID hub is based around the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) standard and gives a route for government to utilise existing, trusted identity providers in the market. A pilot IDA service, using point in time verification (a necessary part of the PAYE online exemplar) to make things simple and easy for one-off transactions will be used in October 2013 with wider IDA capabilities becoming available from October 2014. The new IDA capability will replace the current Government Gateway authentication used by HMRC’s online services with customers being migrated from the Government Gateway in 2015 ... (p.17)

Addressing the user problem
Under PAYE Online, we are giving customers the ability to update information that helps us better calculate their tax code. We are starting with company cars and medical benefits in October 2013. (p.20)
We expected a prototype by the end of 2011, the first public services were due to be tested by February 2012 and live by the autumn of 2012. Nothing happened.

Then we expected it to be fully operational for 21 million people by 31 March 2013. Nothing happened.

Now, we must assume, at last, identity assurance (IDA) is going to see the light of day, this month, October 2013.

What will we see?

Go back to HMRC's December 2012 digital strategy.

HMRC want us PAYE taxpayers to be able to report to them on-line any changes to our circumstances which affect our tax codes.

Until this month, if you wanted to change your tax code, you had to ring HMRC or send them an email or a letter. Now, for benefits in kind, specifically company cars and medical insurance, you'll be able to fill in a form on-line. No more phone calls, emails or letters. That's the promise. "Digital by default", as they say.

Of course, HMRC need to know it's you and not someone else trying to vandalise your tax code by telling HMRC that you're receiving benefits in kind when really you're not. That's where the "trusted identity providers" mentioned by HMRC come in.

This service could be offered over the existing Government Gateway but, no, GDS and HMRC want to operate it on a new pan-government "ID hub".

Will IDA be a reality by 31 October 2013, a year after it was meant to be?