FoIA exposes a public sector rife with misuse

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FoIA exposes a public sector rife with misuse

Computer misuse within major public sector bodies is rife.

According to information that has been released under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), a study of 20 public sector bodies revealed dismissals, reprimands and year-on-year rises in cases against staff misusing computer systems.

The worst performer was the Inland Revenue, with 35 dismissals and 409 reprimands last year.

"It shows that this is still a problem," said Mike Davis, senior research analyst at IT analyst Butler Group. "Staff will always push boundaries, it's up to management to catch them at it."

The Inland Revenue was criticised after a Liberal Democrat study into computer misuse found evidence of email abuse and "cyber-slacking."

But Davis defended its efforts. "To me, it inspires confidence," he said. "Is it worse that the Inland Revenue dismissed 35 people or that the NHS claimed it only dismissed one?"

In a statement to SC Magazine, the Inland Revenue said it took its computer systems and confidentiality of data extremely seriously. "People should be in no doubt how serious the Inland Revenue is about protecting the data it holds," said a Revenue spokeswoman.

The information arrived as part of a two-month study into computer misuse using new powers afforded by FoIA. Under the act, public sector bodies are obliged to service information requests within 20 working days. The Act, which came into effect on 1 January, has been championed by many for encouraging openness in the public sector, but has also been criticised for its potential as a time-waster's charter.

"FoIA has turned out to be a bit of a double-edged sword," said Tamzin Matthew, who heads up FoIA cases at legal firm Morgan Cole. "I think everyone in the public sector believes in the general principle of openness, but Joe Public has been slow to exercise his rights, while the press and those using it for business have been quick to grasp the opportunity."

Next month's SC will feature a full report on public sector IT security

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