When IT Meets Politics

Jun 11 2011   9:49AM GMT

Copper thieves steal the future

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo

Tags:
Eurim
Merchants
Warlords

In my entry last Thursday I said I would blog next day on the EURIM policy prospectus released at a reception that evening to which the press was not invited. The reception went very well with a great buzz but our plans to update the press release with actual quotes went awry when one of my team was then stuck for six hours on a train after the copper thieves stole cabling in the sub-station which powered the railway signals around Woking. She worked until the batteries of her i-Phone ran out but we decided to put the press release off until monday. I will delay my blog on the announcements until Monday as well.

Her experience, and that of several thousand others, (locked in railway carriages in a way that our great-grandparents generation made illegal after the reasons for the death toll in the Quintinshill catastrophe of 1915 finally became known) adds force to a comment in the EURIM prospectus on the need to “join up UK/EU regulatory structures and initiatives that will … reduce reliance on systems that are liable to catastrophic failure, with all that means for trust and reputational loss”

Most copper thieves appear unable to tell the difference between a copper and a fibre communications trunk. Many also appear to come equipped to steal live power cables. 

In a fortnight I am due to introduce a breakfast workshop on the difference between public and private sector approaches to cybersecurity. One of my points will be that the warlords (alias central governments) are obsessed with hypothetical threats from their peers while not  allowing the private sector take direct practical action against what is already happening, let alone supporting and encouraging them to do so.

Many years ago I said that law and order would be brought to the Internet in the same way as it was brought to the Wild West, by the Pinkerton men and their modern equivalents hired  by the Banks and Railroad Companies to protect their infrastructures, operations and paying customers. In the EURIM-ippr study on Partnership Policing for the Information Society we were urged to look at the model of the British Transport Police – whose origins predate all but Glasgow City Police and the Bow Street Runners. We rejected the model – but mainly because of its current jurisdictional conflicts.

I now realise that we were probably short-sighted. The time has come to bring the models together as I suggested shortly before Christmas. That will be one of the threads in the forward programme of  the Information Society Alliance (EURIM) although it is not among the headlines  for announcement on Monday. 

Another thread, more explicit, is the way in which current regulatory structures may well do more harm than good – the electronic equivalent of locking carriages to prevent passengers from getting out until railways staff have completed their health and safety checks.

One elderly (and once eminent) engineer of my acquaintance had such confidence in modern railway safety that even before Paddington he carried a an old fashioned “needle hammer” (at least I think that is what it was) to enable him to smash his way through the window if necessary. Even at his age he preferred a fine or prison to “extreme discomfort” and death.  

 

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