Ermine, security and common sense

Once again, the Lords grasp the nettle and ask the right questions about national IT policy. Take note — and take part

After it mounted the only plausible opposition to ID cards, we're getting used to the House of Lords being the sole provider of effective oversight for the UK's technology policy. This newest of roles for one of democracy's oddest components is further underlined by its decision to look into personal Internet security — a vital part of the nation's economic well-being, but one tackled half-heartedly at best by the people we elected to do the job.

Everyone involved in IT knows how complex network security can be, and how many ways there are to ensnare the unwary. Many of these areas overlap, so the House of Lords' first task must be to identify and prioritise the major problem areas in a way that will help focus the allocation of time and resources in the most efficient way possible.

The initial announcement shows great promise. It proposes that questions be asked about the nature and scale of the problem, about the public's understanding of the issues, the role of hardware and software suppliers, and the adequacies of the regulatory framework and Government agencies in dealing with the problem.

We suggest that attention also be paid to the very poor state of cyber-crime reporting, the role of international co-operation and detection, the education of the public and of the police, and the role played by what is effectively a software monoculture in setting the security environment.

It is also vital that as many citizens as possible get involved in this debate. The worst possible outcome would be for the discussion to be hijacked by entrenched interests and the forces of complacency. They've had their chance. A call for evidence has already been made: if you've got something to say, then make sure you say it.

Once the problems are known, solutions can be suggested. For now, though, it's important to take the opportunity to examine the situation without preconceptions. As we put more and more of our personal and business lives online, we can no longer afford the luxury of ignoring the problems this will bring. If it takes a bunch of old men in funny costumes to safeguard our interests through the application of common sense and a sane methodology, then we're all for it.