Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 880 - 894)



  Q880  Lord Young of Graffham: At different times in my life I have applied for a wire line licence and also a mobile licence and all of them had pretty robust conditions about 999 emergency services. I understand the point that the Association of Voice Over IP Operators wishes to provide those services, but there is no way it can provide the same robust services. Are there plans within either department to begin to vary these conditions to enable them to do the same?

  Margaret Hodge: Ofcom on the Government's behalf is currently in discussion and negotiation with the EU Commission to look at those regulations to see whether they cannot be more appropriate to the new methods of communication, so I completely take that point, but I would again make the point that the certainty of access to a line when you have 999, if we are not going to have it with some of the new platforms then we have got to do a lot about consumer information so that they do not rely on it, and we have got to do a lot about ensuring also that providers do the best they can given the limits they have in that they do not control the network.

  Q881  Lord Howie of Troon: There is very little research into computers done in British universities. Only a very small number do it. Do you think that the research base is being adequately funded?

  Margaret Hodge: I am told that there are about 30 projects currently in the UK university sector which are funded and are looking at computer security, and I am told that relative to the "asks" this is not a bad take-up. We have got a number of universities, Cambridge is one, which have five stars.

  Q882  Chairman: Our present adviser is one of the staff!

  Margaret Hodge: There you are! There are others, a list of six universities, Cambridge, Imperial, Manchester, Southampton, York and Edinburgh who have got a five star rating in the last RAE, so we have a good competence, as with your adviser, in our university base and they are presumably applying and I am told not doing badly. The only other thing I would say is that we have got this Knowledge Transfer Network, which is an important mechanism for the sharing of knowledge and information between academics, and between the academics and the industry, and we are also developing an innovation platform around network security, which I am sure your advisor is also linked into. Those are two mechanisms where we have been successful, really developments within the DTI, to look at cutting research areas, of which this is one. So I am told there is not a problem, which is why I was quite surprised to see your interest in this. You will never get all the money you want, the world being what it is, but I am told that we are not doing badly in this area.

  Q883  Chairman: It is a subject of broad social interest, is it not, so a personal observation of mine is that perhaps there could be more research—and there is research in Oxford and places—on the sociological aspects of some of these issues.

  Margaret Hodge: Yes.

  Mr Smith: Could I just add, that is the reason we established the network and information security platform to take this kind of horizontal view of the problem, and the platform idea is to actually take these big issues and then try and bring in a kind of multi-disciplinary approach to research in this area. We can certainly provide more details to you on how that platform is working.

  Q884  Chairman: We did visit CITRIS, just such an institute at Berkeley in California, and that was quite a large team of people with tentacles all over the country, which was quite impressive.

  Margaret Hodge: Funded by?

  Chairman: It is funded by NSF partly. I think it is largely NSF and from industry.

  Q885  Lord Howie of Troon: It is a partnership between the academics and industry.

  Margaret Hodge: Clearly, the more we can do, the better. We always like to be at the cutting edge.

  Q886  Lord Harris of Haringey: When is the Crown Prosecution Service going to produce guidelines which will reassure those witnesses who have talked to us, who specialise in IT security and whose work is in danger of being criminalised by the Computer Misuse Act?

  Mr Coaker: We expect that to be by the end of the summer.

  Q887  Lord Harris of Haringey: "Summer" defined as being -

  Margaret Hodge: A civil service summer!

  Q888  Lord Harris of Haringey: You mean sort of November, yes! Early summer?

  Mr Coaker: The end of the summer. If I said early summer, Chairman, I think I would not be as frank with the Committee as I could be. End of the summer is the best estimate. We know this is an important issue for industry and we know that they are expecting the guidance to clarify the position with respect to the new Schedule 3A offence. So it is an important issue and we are aware of the need to ensure that that is done as soon as possible. As I say, without trying to be unhelpful to the Committee, we are looking at the end of the summer for that.

  Q889  Lord Howie of Troon: Could you add the year?

  Mr Coaker: This year! I can say, Lord Howie, if you want certainty in our answer, this year!

  Q890  Earl of Erroll: So what is industry doing in the meantime, crossing their fingers and praying?

  Mr Coaker: We are consulting with them. We are trying to ensure that the industry's views are taken on board and we are discussing that with the DPP so that we have the appropriate guidance which will give industry the reassurance it needs.

  Q891  Lord Harris of Haringey: But has that section come into force?

  Mr Coaker: Yes.

  Q892  Earl of Erroll: Just a quick question. Education keeps coming up. Do you think online training and education should be part of the National Curriculum?

  Mr Coaker: As you know, ICT is compulsory in the key stages of education and the QCA is looking at ensuring that online safety is part of the ICT study arrangements for key stage 3 from September 2008, so I think that is something which will be of value, but on its own it is not sufficient and it is good to see that in all stages of education, including primary schools, there is increasing emphasis on this. It goes back to Lord Mitchell's point about the importance of education from an early age, not only with parents but with young children, and so on, to teach them that this is a fantastic tool which opens up all sorts of opportunities and educational possibilities, but it is also something, we need to be aware of, which can be misused. There is increasing work going on in school and it will be a requirement from the QCA, as I understand it, in key stage 3 from September 2008 for there to be safety online.

  Q893  Earl of Erroll: One of the problems, of course, is that there is a lot of different websites. You have got Bank Safe Online, Get Safe Online, and I heard a rumour the other day that the Get Safe Online funding is falling back. I do not know whether it is true or not, but it is very difficult to know which website you go to. Different people are recommending different sites. Should there be perhaps a bit more of a joined up approach, because one of the things which is coming out is that with a lot of people, because they find it difficult to find the resource for this, there is a sort of "blame and frame" culture of saying, "Well, it's their fault. The 80 year old should have known how to do it," or, "The 15 year old should have known better than to go online," so should we have a more joined up approach to all this?

  Mr Coaker: I think that is a very fair comment to make and actually if we talk about crime or the use of the Internet the technology is advancing at such a pace that we need to run a bit more to keep up, and I think coordination and looking at what is happening across all of the various bits of government, all of the various bits of industry, is something we need to become smarter at. No doubt in the evidence you have taken, and in the evidence my fellow Minister and I have tried to give we recognise that coordination of the activity and looking to see how we can make that more effective will have to be part of the work we do in the future. I think it is a very fair comment you have made.

  Q894  Earl of Erroll: Yes, and giving a bit of money to the Met's fraud alert site, for instance, to keep it going?

  Mr Coaker: All these things will be considered!

  Chairman: Thank you, Ministers, very much for your time. It has been a long session and we have had a lot of questions, and as you have just said and as Margaret Hodge said as well, this is changing so rapidly, this field, and we recognise this and it would be impossible to have all the appropriate regulations in place for something where we do not know what it is part of the time. So thank you very much for your time, and thank you, Mr Smith and Mr Webb. It has been very useful for us and if you have anything else which comes to mind which you think will be useful for us—and I think a few items you were going to follow up on—we will be going on with this inquiry for another couple of months and we would appreciate it if you would send them to us. Thank you very much.

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