Monday, May 04, 2015

PPS numbers: internet saviours?

Bank Holiday Mondays are quiet news days, making them a good time to get any old nonsense into the newspaper. Today is no exception as the Irish Times appears to have taken the opportunity for a special edition of breathless internet fear-mongering.

The prime example is this piece which makes the literally incredible assertion that "The PPS number provides the Irish Government with an opportunity to dramatically improve the safety of children and young people online." (Following on, no doubt, from the success of PPS numbers in the delivery of water services.) In effect, the author is demanding internet identity cards for the wider population. This is an astonishingly bad idea, as anybody with even a passing familiarity with the Korean internet ID fiasco should know.

So why is the author pushing this? The byline reveals that the author is "founder and CEO of TrustElevate, a technology products and services company that specialises in regulatory, policy and compliance online." But what the byline doesn't say is that her firm is selling the technology which the article promotes. According to its own site, "Trust Elevate is a UK-based technology solutions and advisory company. Our focus is on identity, privacy, security and safety from the perspectives of reputational compliance and commercial opportunities."

In short, the author is shilling her own service under the guise of an impartial opinion piece. This is bad enough in itself, but more fundamentally it is a distraction from what really needs to be done to protect children online.

At the most basic level, gardaí are dramatically under-resourced in dealing with the internet. The 2014 Garda Inspectorate report revealed there have been up to four year delays in analysing seized computers; that the Paedophile Investigation Unit had one (!) computer to receive and download evidence; that 40% of Garda stations are not networked and have no access to PULSE or internal email; that evidence cannot be shared electronically; and that even in networked stations many gardaí have no access to social media or external email.

One might expect that those genuinely interested in child welfare would address these basic points first. But where's the profit in that?


Some excerpts from the Garda Inspectorate Report - emphasis mine:
The current Garda Síochána IT system restricts the sending of evidence electronically, resulting in investigators having to travel to Dublin to view evidence. PIU only have access to one standalone computer to receive and download evidence, as they are unable to use PULSE. This is a fundamental tool for investigation of these crimes. When evidence arrives, it can take days to download information and this removes the availability of the computer to be used by investigators coming to the unit to view evidence for other cases. PIU gave an example where one case had over 8,000 videos.

Another problem area is the restriction placed on districts accessing social media sites. As a result, the PIU is swamped with requests from districts for help in cases under investigation. Since 2001, the unit has used a paper system for managing investigations and would like to move to an electronic system. Internally, the PIU uses an electronic spread sheet to monitor cases. There is a concern that two investigators could potentially be looking at the same suspect, without knowing that another garda is also investigating a crime against the same suspect. Like the SOMU, all PIU staff work on the same roster and again are all off-duty at the same time.

The delay in obtaining evidence from analysis of computers has contributed to a situation where no PIU investigation case file has been sent to the DPP for directions in the last four years of operation.

A consistent theme throughout the inspection of national and district intelligence units was that outdated IT equipment blocked them from accessing or viewing evidence about a crime. The Inspectorate was informed that the National Intelligence Unit is working on outdated software and is unable to load PDF documents and to view photographs. CIOs in particular experience daily challenges in accessing the necessary IT applications and equipment to perform their role effectively. CIOs often use personal laptops and computers to view CCTV footage, to download stills and to turn those stills into briefing documents and bulletins. This represents a risk of breaching security of intelligence data, but their motive is to ensure that intelligence is provided to local gardaí.

The access of gardaí to external e-mail was very inconsistent across the seven divisions. Some members stated that they had no external e-mail access and other gardaí explained that if you apply for access then it will be given. Many victims would like the option to use e-mail to communicate directly with the garda dealing with their case and it would ensure that the member actually received their message.