Do other governments restrict officials from the web?
Lessons from Estonia, UK and Australia.
As Singapore tightens internet access for officials, GovInsider has looked at other similarly-advanced nations to see how they balance security with digital productivity.
Here’s what we found:
All government work in Estonia takes place over the internet, so cutting off access would effectively bring agencies’ work to a halt, GovInsider was told.
There is no government-wide policy on the issue of internet access at work. It is up to each agency to decide how they want to approach it. Some agencies limit access to certain sites or applications for security, and manage that process internally.
There is no complete lock-down of work devices. Only installation of applications is blocked and managed by system administrators.
Civil servants in the UK don’t always get internet access at work, although the government is currently considering whether to loosen these restrictions.
“Significant numbers of civil servants in major departments still don’t have access to the internet and social media at work,” a 2014 report by the Government Digital Service said.
It announced that it would “work to remove these barriers” and help officials use internet tools at work. “Technology leaders are looking at these barriers and why they still exist. They’re taking steps to remove technology and security restrictions,” it said.
Notably, one senior official - the Government Chief Operating Officer - took a video of his computer starting up in the morning and said the delay was unacceptable. The Cabinet Office has now issued a new policy where officials can choose their own devices from a catalogue, although mobile access and secure email access do face heavy restrictions.
The team has published a guide to “Internet tools for civil servants” to help officials use tech at work. It gives examples of video calling apps, apps that track projects, organise meetings, share files, produce documents and more, that are freely available online.
Australia does not manage things on a system-wide basis, although the norm is that social media access is limited and web browsing is partially restricted.
The Australian Signals Directorate has issued “top four mitigation strategies” for officials to protect government systems.
The rules involve allowing only specific authorised applications to run on government systems; patching serious software vulnerabilities within two days of it being identified; tightly controlling administrative rights; and using the latest versions of software.
Internet blocks are not completely uncommon in government, although system-wide blocks are. Singapore is unique in blocking all officials from accessing the internet on their official devices. Equally, however, the city state is unique in the amount of citizen data that it holds centrally.
It’s clear that all agencies are grappling with this challenge, and there is no clear-cut answer. Singapore’s move will likely prompt great debate in the coming weeks and months.
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