Another dot in the blogosphere?

You can’t handle the truth!

Posted on: June 10, 2016

Probably one of the most well-known movie memes is Jack Nicholson’s character shouting “”You can’t handle the truth!” in A Few Good Men.

Video source

Today I reflect on something “truthier” than the truth.

One of the most talked about news bites yesterday and the day before was how Singapore’s public servants will have limited Internet access in government offices in a year’s time.

The news spilled from our shores thanks to the same Internet pipes that will run dry in those offices. CNET reported this:

“There is no right or wrong approach around banning the internet,” says Tony Jarvis, Check Point Software Technologies’ chief strategist for threat prevention APAC, Middle East & Africa. “At first glance, the decision to ban internet access might seem extreme. However, it is important to note that this decision will have been made after careful review.”

He says that the removal of internet access will bring “the benefit of reducing exposure to many threats” at the cost of productivity and organisational efficacy.

There was a fallout among those who will be affected by this policy. Here are examples from a TODAY report:

Calling the move regressive, civil and public servants TODAY spoke to said cutting off Internet access in such a manner was also disruptive.

“It’s like saying ‘your house could get burgled, but don’t spend money upgrading security features like cameras or locks; just move out’,” said one civil servant, who did not want to be named.

Another civil servant who also wanted to remain anonymous said: “I feel like there are relatively simpler solutions but they just decided to use the nuclear option.”

A public servant said that without Internet access on personal work computers, it would be unfair to expect public servants to have to pay for their own mobile data to carry out the work.

A spokesman for the local agency responsible for move responded that the policy “should not be seen as a move backwards”.

I wonder if he would have back-peddled if he could feel the collective disbelief of workers, public servants or not, sweep his way.

The agency prepared a poster that highlighted five myths and five corresponding truths about the move.

I wonder if the agency can handle the “truthier” truths I offer in response to each of their “truths”.

  1. Any agency-provided device will be crippled. That is why the rest of the world has moved on to BYOD. Even if you BYOD, agencies can stifle or block wireless signals. Sometimes they need not do anything; the poor reception is security enough.
  2. SharePoint is an alternative? Is the phrase “enterprise tools” now synonymous with poor design and usability?
  3. Is there a condescending tone to “separating Internet surfing”? As in, disconnected activity is work while your surfing is not serious or important. Modern and connected workers need to “surf” in order to work. Do not take my word for it. Conduct studies and measure it.
  4. Are their email servers are going to be able to distinguish classified and unclassified messages? If so, good for them. Are there no other ways to copy, transport, or manipulate classified messages? If so, they must ban BYOD outright.
  5. There had better not be a drop in e-services and citizen engagement. Otherwise the people will complain and their feedback will go nowhere because the public servants cannot surf the Internet.

In short, the effort looks like one of reducing connectivity, providing options with poor usability, siloing work tasks instead of integrating them, letting policy dominate logic, and travelling back in time. How is limiting Internet access to workers not a move backwards in policy and practice?

All this is not to say that we should ignore computer security. However, there could have been more measured responses.

If you detect a cockroach nest in your otherwise spotless house, you do not chase everyone out, prevent people from bringing food home, or dictate that food only be eaten in an outhouse. You take more reasonable and everyday actions like bagging and promptly disposing of rubbish, storing food properly, and showing others in the household know how to do these things.

The smart thing to do is also the more difficult thing. Before embarking on a multi-pronged strategy, the agency could have asked for stakeholder inputs. Treat people like children and they will behave like them. Treat people like adults who care about their work and you will increase your options.

Among those options will be ideas with strong ownership because they come from the ground up. This is almost always better than poorly understood policies from the top down. That is the truth. Can you handle it?

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