Wed, Feb 26, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Government information systems pose security risk

By Lee Jyh-an 李治安

In the digital age, information systems have become an indispensable tool for countries to promote public services and meet their management goals. Digital technology has greatly reduced the costs involved in transmitting information and has given birth to new management modes.

However, digital technology has also enabled those in charge of the state apparatus to gain shockingly high levels of control, and this poses an unprecedented risk to the public’s privacy and the security of their personal information.

Information systems in the public sector have far greater influence than private business systems. As such, much more attention and care should be paid to the procurement and establishment of public information. The way policymakers misuse and neglect information systems can result in a huge social cost and irretrievable losses and damage.

The safety of government information has attracted a lot of attention internationally. The WikiLeaks case and the issues surrounding former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden showed that the collection, protection and disclosure of information by governments is extremely sensitive because they are linked to personal privacy and national security. These issues also relate to complicated concerns about strategic and international safety.

In June last year, when US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) met, Obama demanded that Beijing deal with its Internet safety problems because highly skilled Chinese hackers had infiltrated the information systems of the US government and private businesses on a large scale, posing serious threat to US economic interests and national security.

Taiwan, which claims to be an information superpower, has for a long time faced a military threat from China. However, the way the government handles its information systems would be more at home in the industrial age.

Those in charge of Taiwan’s information systems commission projects to whomever can do the work at the lowest price. These commissions involve important information systems like the ones used for the household registration of the nation’s citizens. In addition, no serious planning has gone into system requirements, the compatibility of hardware and software, as well as the safety of information.

The Cabinet has tasked Minister Without Portfolio Simon Chang (張善政) with technology-related affairs and asked him to formulate standard operating procedures for the establishment of government information systems. However, this is not a full-time position and only time will tell if he will be able to deliver on his mandate and how much continuity the related policies will possess.

The government has promoted the development of the cloud-computing industry, but when it comes to the construction and planning of public information systems, it is not clear what direction development will take or what the government’s strategies are.

Those in charge have overlooked the specialized nature of information systems, their importance and the various other complicated aspects associated with them — so much so that even without hackers trying to break into them, the government’s information systems could very well collapse.

If this situation goes on any longer, the government’s information systems will become the largest target for assaults on personal information and the largest hole in national security.

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