Year in Review: Public Sector in 2009

Year in Review

This year saw the last full year of Gordon Brown's Labour Government before the next general election and technology played a key role in some of the biggest stories.

We take a look back at what happened with technology in the public sector throughout 2009.

The path towards a Digital Britain

The biggest technology story to have taken over the public sector this year is how to bring Britain up to date in the technological world we now live in.

The first part of the year was spent waiting for Lord Carter's Digital Britain report to be released. Although we knew most of what was to come, the report being made public also created quite a stir.

One of the major recommendations was to ensure everyone in Britain had access to a minimum of 2Mbps broadband by 2012.

During a year when big companies like Virgin Media and BT were trialling superfast broadband of up to 100Mbps and more, it sounded feasible but with ongoing problems in the UK's infrastructure, especially to serve rural areas, it is a waiting game to see if this will be achieved.

Another recommendation came out as a more controversial topic. To pay for improvements to the infrastructure Lord Carter suggested a 50 pence monthly tax to be placed on landlines. Although the amount was relatively small, a number of critics came out against it including a very outspoken ISP, TalkTalk.

The Digital Economy Bill, born out of the Digital Britain report, is now going through the legislative process and has controversies of its own. The main is focused on Business Secretary Peter Mandelson's proposals to cut off illegal filesharers from the internet.

Both ISPs, MPs and consumers are lobbying against the move and thanks to Europe, users will not be able to be cut off without a full court procedure, which Mandelson's plans saw fit to leave out of the process.

The bill has only just had its second reading in the House of Lords so we will have to wait until 2010 to see the outcome.

Keeping an eye on ID cards

Many may have thought that ID cards had their year back in 2008 but 2009 has seen even more discussion, controversy and even some implementation on these contentious little bits of plastic.

The cards have already been implemented for Foreign Nationals but the looming thought of compulsory ID cards for all, storing more information on citizens in government databases made many increasingly feel at ease.

Summer saw the start of the pre-election warm up with the Conservatives claiming they would scrap the scheme if they were in power as more public bodies got on Labour's case.

So when party conference season came about Prime Minister Gordon Brown conceded and told the public ID cards would not become compulsory for UK citizens and the information needed for them would be reduced to that which was already on a passport.

A trial of ID cards began in Manchester late last month making them available to the public for the first time at a cost of 30 and the cards are due to roll out across the North West in January.

But the controversy has yet to die down, with Liverpool Council voting to ban the promotion of them within its own offices.

Seems like Brown and his cabinet have some way to go in convincing us these cards are the way forward.

Once more into the data breach

It doesn't seem that long ago that HM Revenues and Customs lost two disks in the internal post containing data of over 25 million people does it?

This was back in 2007 and since then a plethora of data loss stories have come into the limelight.

This year the local council seemed to become the biggest culprit. The month of May saw the turn of Leicester City Council, which lost an unencrypted USB stick containing personal information on 80 children from a council-run nursery.

Yet the council only got a slight tap on the wrist and was told by the Information Commissioner's Office to better train its staff.

Barely a month had gone by when in June Manchester City Council also lost valuable personal data in the form of two council-owned laptops from its Town Hall.

One of the laptops contained personal details relating to 1,754 employees at local schools and neither were encrypted.

Here the ICO went a bit further than training and insisted that Sir Howard Bernstein, Manchester City Council's chief executive, signed an agreement to ensure all laptops and other removable devices were encrypted from then on.

As the Summer ended, the Autumn scandals arose and this time north of the border in Scotland. In September, NHS Education for Scotland admitted to losing an unencrypted laptop which contained information on 6,000 medical trainee applicants.

The continuing loss of data and lack of security by public bodies has led to calls for Data Encryption laws similar to those in the US and Germany, forcing public bodies and companies to take the risks more seriously.

But we will have to wait and see what 2010 brings and whether government will listen to its critics.

Jennifer Scott

Jennifer Scott is a former freelance journalist and currently political reporter for Sky News. She has a varied writing history, having started her career at Dennis Publishing, working in various roles across its business technology titles, including ITPro. Jennifer has specialised in a number of areas over the years and has produced a wealth of content for ITPro, focusing largely on data storage, networking, cloud computing, and telecommunications.

Most recently Jennifer has turned her skills to the political sphere and broadcast journalism, where she has worked for the BBC as a political reporter, before moving to Sky News.