So the Guards are tightening up access to their PULSE IT system, are they?
Don’t hold your breath.
For years, individual police have been copying details off the PULSE system and putting confidential information about private citizens on their own PCs. Ask anyone who ever worked in maintenance of systems at police stations what their experience has been. Ask any tech-geek who did some guard a favour by looking at his laptop: what did they find on those machines?
Will I tell you? They routinely find files on innocent civilians, containing speculation, innuendo and information that would be libellous, or even life-threatening, if allowed into the public domain. And yet, these same Gardai are taking their laptops home and accessing the internet, with no security, no firewalls and no awareness of the dangers.
Ask any maintenance tech how they get into the Garda station IT rooms. It’s simple. They walk straight into the public office, carrying a bulky tool-case, and they point at the door. The cop behind the counter automatically pushes the unlocking switch and they’re in, with no security code and no check on their identity. Once in, they have access to every last item of information on the PULSE database, some of which is factual, some of which is highly sensitive and some of which is no more than idle gossip. (In policing circles, gossip is known as soft information).
It’s that simple. The Gardai have almost no procedures in place to protect their data, and very few staff members who have the slightest understanding of basic domestic computers, never mind a complex system like PULSE that could easily contain sensitive information, and unverified gossip, on every single citizen of this country.
The Guards are a quintessentially Irish organisation, and as such, they inherit all the characteristics of our nation, including a lamentably relaxed attitude to strict procedures. Ask anyone selling a car if they ever got a call from a garda on behalf of a friend having looked up their details on PULSE.
This is Ireland, I’m afraid, and as with so many other things in our society, when it comes to IT or data confidentiality, the Gardai just don’t get it.
So, by all means, let’s welcome this latest announcement of a tightening on security, but let’s not take it too seriously.