Who’s to blame?

So much for thinking that I’d have another post up within a week. Fortunately, news stories of mislaid data from UK government departments arrive about every week, so this is still a topical issue… As I mentioned in the last post, the UK tax revenue department lost two CDs containing confidential information relating to about 25 million UK residents. This is a lot of people, and many many families – including mine – were affected by it. As far as I’m aware, the CDs are still ‘lost’. There have been lots of other stories of people or companies losing confidential data since, but this is still the one that sticks most in my memory.

One of the reasons for this is that I’m an IT manager, responsible to some extent for my organisation’s data. What if some of our organization’s data were to be mislaid too! The thought sends shivers down my back, and is enough to make sure that this whole area is looked at long, hard and regularly. I can’t but ask, however, how such a colossal mistake could possibly be allowed to happen?

But wasn’t it just a mistake? We all make them. It’s just that this one had such huge consequences, and hence made the news. Was it the fault of the poor guy who put these CDs into an envelope and then into the internal post? No doubt a large part of the blame has to be directed towards those higher in authority – those who gave the orders and who were responsible for making sure that things were carried out properly. Whatever, it’s unlikely that it was done maliciously, or with any real awareness of how serious the consequences of such a stupid action might be. Can we really get so indignant about what happened?

Yet we (rightly I think) feel that we can’t just pass this by as another everyday mistake. The stakes were too important for such mistakes to be allowed. Yes, a junior official my not understand the potential ramifications of sending such data in such an insecure, and easily lost, way. And more senior ones may not undersand all the technical options for securing, reducing, or transmitting the data. But there were surely others around who did and do understand such things – they could and should have been asked, and the ‘mistake’ should have been avoided.

And this is a ‘mistake’ which all of us too easily fall into – thinking we know enough about what we should do, and being too proud / not bothered enough to ask. We are human and can’t be expected to know everything, or have the wisdom to always make the right decisions. But there are others around who know more about the things that we don’t understand, and we are all at fault when we don’t make the effort to find a better answer elsewhere. 

“If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure” (The Message) 

One Response to “Who’s to blame?”

  1. Mike Harmon Says:

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Mike Harmon

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