Without a trace

 作者:盖几谘     |      日期:2019-03-08 05:05:02
By Barry Fox YOU ask a government department for information. Sorry, comes the reply, the relevant correspondence has been deleted. Such a scenario seems all too likely after Britain’s telecoms regulator, Oftel, admitted that one of its employees was allowed to set up their mailbox to erase e-mails before they had even been read. Critics say such flaws in the way e-mail is handled are incompatible with accountability—and make a mockery of the government’s plans for a freedom of information act. The practice came to light recently when Oftel upgraded its intranet software with a new version from the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency. The Government Secure Intranet (GSI) software lets officials exchange confidential messages on an intranet as well as sending and receiving e-mail securely over the Internet. But the system soon started losing e-mail messages, and it was while this was being investigated that the erasing of e-mails came to light. Dermod Quirke, a telecoms and e-commerce specialist, sent a series of e-mails to Oftel which could not be found. Oftel told Quirke that this was because the intended recipient in Oftel had “written a rule”—a simple automated routine—to reject some e-mails as soon as they arrived. And when telecoms consultant Richard Cox sent e-mails to Oftel they were returned to him. He found that they had been bouncing between two Oftel servers, each trying to send it to the other, until both gave up and deemed the e-mails undeliverable. Oftel’s head of IT, Laura Dawson, blames the GSI upgrade for both problems and says it has now been abandoned. Whatever went wrong with the upgrade, Cox and Quirke are alarmed by Oftel’s handling of e-mail. When Quirke asked Oftel how an employee could be allowed to delete incoming e-mails automatically without notifying the sender, he was told the employee had left and that Oftel had already deleted his mailbox. “So there’s no guaranteed audit trail, or lasting record of mail transactions,” Quirke concludes. “Apart from the security implications, this raises major questions about the forthcoming freedom of information act,” says Quirke. “If government departments can simply destroy records of correspondence,