Spam filter objects to building erection

Summary:E-mail filtering is a tricky balancing act, especially when dealing with subjects such as 'erections', as a UK regional council's planning department found out.An errant e-mail filter caused Rochdale Council to ignore an objection to a planning application because it contained the word "erection".

E-mail filtering is a tricky balancing act, especially when dealing with subjects such as 'erections', as a UK regional council's planning department found out.

An errant e-mail filter caused Rochdale Council to ignore an objection to a planning application because it contained the word "erection".

Ray Kennedy of Rochdale sent three e-mails outlining his objections to a neighbour's proposed house extension. However, the first two e-mails were automatically blocked by the council's security software, apparently because he described the planned work as an "erection".

By the time Kennedy's third e-mail arrived, he was informed that permission had already been given for the extension.

It appears that Kennedy's e-mails fell foul of the council's keyword-based e-mail filter, and the episode highlights the difficulty in tweaking filters to reduce the number of false positives without letting through too much junk.

"The word erection on its own should not have been enough to get the e-mail blocked," a Rochdale Council spokesperson told ZDNet Australia sister site ZDNet UK. The council's IT staff are investigating, and have corrected the filter so e-mails that contain "erection" alongside terms such as "planning application" will no longer be blocked, the spokesperson said.

That on its own is not likely to be enough.

"We get around 2,100 e-mails per month containing the word erection, and very few of them are to do with planning applications," said the council spokesman. "It's a balance between protecting staff from inappropriate e-mails and allowing important messages to get through."

According to reports, Kennedy is considering complaining to the local government ombudsman over the blunder.

ZDNet UK's Graeme Wearden reported from London.

Topics: Collaboration, Censorship, Security

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