Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The government's IT credibility problem

Today, Fine Gael’s website published this this (they changed the URL), a piece by Patrick O’Donovan, a Fine Gael TD on the Communications Committee.

Go read it; it’s really quite an amazing piece. I believe it’s supposed to be about the Silk Road, a seller of illegal materials, largely drugs, on the Tor network, and possibly also about Freedom Hosting, also on the Tor network and formerly one of the world’s larger distributors of child porn. It could even be about Tor itself.

The reason for my uncertainty is that it is utterly incoherent. It talks about open-source browsers, and “replacement” open-source browsers quickly appearing to continue the illegal trade. But this is nonsensical. The only non-open-source browser in common use today is the much-in-decline Internet Explorer; while Chrome and Safari are technically closed source, they are substantially open source. Firefox is entirely open source. And there’s nothing illegal about open source browsers. I can only imagine that by “open source browsers” he means “Tor network sites”.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for the recent shutdown of the Silk Road and Freedom Hosting. Freedom Hosting was indeed a big child porn distributor, and Silk Road’s operator was a very nasty piece of work.

I’m not even worried that the government will make bad legislation off the back of this. When it comes to it, the government will not be banning Google’s browser on the say-so of an obscure TD.

My issue is more the amazing carelessness. It would have taken O’Donovan five minutes of reading Wikipedia to, if not have a clear picture of what was going on, at least know better than to write what he did. The computer-machines seem to be a strange focal point of governmental cluelessness; while TDs writing on other subjects are hardly perfect, you’re not going to get James Reilly writing a piece advocating the use of radium to cure The Humours, or something, nor will you find Alan Shatter extolling the virtues of the Freeman on the Land philosophy. This isn’t the first time, though, that a TD has spouted complete nonsense about computers.

It makes it all the worse that O’Donovan is on the Communications Committee. You’d expect he could at least put in a little effort on what his job is supposed to be. I don’t really expect him to know this stuff, though it’d be a nice bonus, but you’d think he could look up what the words mean. I mean, what are we paying him for? Is this all a backbencher does, write nonsensical letters about something they half-remember from a tabloid?

It’s also, of course, embarrassing; you can’t really go on about the Knowledge Economy on the one hand and do this sort of thing on the other. Not really good enough, Fine Gael.