Email filter chokes on 'erection'

Email filtering is a tricky balancing act, especially when dealing with subjects such as 'erections', as Rochdale Council's planning department found out
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

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

Ray Kennedy of Rochdale sent three emails outlining his objections to a neighbour's proposed house extension. However, the first two emails 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 email arrived, he was informed that permission had already been given for the extension.

It appears that Kennedy's emails fell foul of the council's keyword-based email filter, and the eposide 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 email blocked," a Rochdale Council spokesperson told ZDNet UK. The council's IT staff are investigating, and have corrected the filter so that emails 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 emails 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 emails and allowing important messages to get through."

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

Editorial standards