fredag 23 november 2007

Government computer bungle

This week's Inland Revenue computer bungle is beyond belief. Why do the government's departments not have access to each others' data over a secure computer network?

But if there really is no alternative to sending data out on discs by post, why was it not encrypted with a unique encryption key sent separately to the recipient?

Any teenage hacker would know how to do it so why is this not standard practice in government departments?

Perhaps this is the explanation. In British culture, anyone who knows about science and technology is dismissed as a nerd. This has always been the case. At the root of the problem is the idea that the highest form of life is to be a country gentleman landowner with an income ie to be a parasite. This goes back to the days of agricultural enclosures and the slave trade.

When the present generation of senior politicians and civil service mandarins were at university in the 1950s and 1960s, most of them studying at Oxbridge, the science students were dismissed as the Grey Men - who were usually people from the old grammar schools.

There was a pecking order. At the top were men who spend their time with the Christ Church and New College Beagles and usually got Fourths, if they were not sent down. If they took any part in public life at all, they might have become Conservative Party grandees. Next came a self-styled elite, mostly from public schools, who took subjects like Classics, Philosophy Politics and Economics and Law. These became the Civil Service mandarins and politicians. And they were the ones who ran Britain. Few of them had even a clue about anything to do with science and technology, consequently any policy area which requires such knowledge is in a shambles, which is virtually everything the British government touches.

That generation is approaching retirement, but fewer and fewer students have been opting for science and maths, preferring the softer subjects like media studies, while the most able have generally swallowed the idea that the way to make money is to push money around and go into the financial sector. The situation can only get worse.

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