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Overbearing oversight without, Inexpert scrutiny within

16 July 2003

A number of well-informed commentators have drawn attention to the scandalous disbursement of public funds on IT systems for the security services. In 1992, the whimsically named 'Durbar' (the court of Indian kings and princes) system for MI5's then T Branch (counter-terrorism section) was considered out-of-date by the time of its implementation. Former agent David Shayler in his submission to the review conducted in 1998 by John Alpass , the government's Cabinet Office Intelligence co-ordinator, indicated that the 'Grant' computer-based document management system was binned in 1995 after an estimated cost of £25 million. Earlier this year, the Government confirmed that it has scrapped the web-based Hazmod system, regarded by some IT specialists as a network to assist in anti-terrorism work (Computer Weekly, 27 February 2003). Today (16 July 2002) the Financial Times reports on the findings of the National Audit Office on GCHQ's endeavours:"the cost of moving computer systems to the government's secret eavesdropping centre has ballooned to £308 million, more than seven times the original estimate".

The problem may rest in cosy relationships and misplaced trust in the large multi-national IT consultancies awarded such contracts. The National Audit Office last year reported on the appointment of a supplier on a crucial project relating to the Census on the basis of single tender, a breach of the rules. The NAO watchdog has its work cut out as the Government embarks on Orwellian schemes such as the UK electronic identity card (currently estimated at £1.3 billion) and the development and use of biometric testing of traveller's eyes as a means of checking identity at international border crossings.

Defending the Realm - MI5 and the Shayler Affair, by Martin Hollingsworth and Nick Fielding, Andre Deutsch, 1999
Computer Weekly, Census IT under fire from the audit office, 24 October 2002
The Guardian, 16 July 2003 'How £20m IT system cost £450m,3605,998793,00.html

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