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EDITORIAL: Watch me , if you dare

EDITORIAL: Watch me , if you dare

Maybe George Orwell didn't factor in the dawning of the Age of Aquarius when he wrote his predictions about 1984. His picture was a world of uniformity, society watchdogs and, most importantly, no choices. But one of the major concerns of the post '60s western world has been about choice: the right to choice and freedom of choice.

We live (and work) in environments where we now expect to exercise our rights of choice. In the corporate world we choose how we want to seek information, how we can best communicate, where we wish to conduct our work and so on. How can poor old George have ever imagined the possibilities of telecommuting, e-mail or WAP technology? He was pessimistic about the growing rigidity of society whereas we have let technology offer us more, rather than less, freedom.

Post WWII information technology was, well, not called that. Computers were machines developed to process data and the idea that they could be friendly rather than threatening was probably only the view of some white-coated geeky (not called that either) visionaries. So the presentation of 1984 as a society ruled by the oppressive Big Brother with technology as the implementing army was the best Orwell could guess.

And yet this month's feature on security and all the fear and loathing in the general press about corporate peep made me prickle with Orwellian association. Did he just get the year wrong? Is my IT manager really going to read my e-mails?

Network security has become one of the dominating issues for the enterprise. Many companies are now including IT clauses as a (major) part of employment contracts. The concerns range from obvious ones like bandwidth issues when e-mails with graphic-laden attachments can mortify the system, through the protection of intellectual property to the more obvious Anna Kournikova-type annihilation.

Hacker and e-commerce threats make up a whole _different beehive of nasty stinging implications. The idea of the Web providing secret private passageways down a global highway is naively optimistic. If the essence of the Internet is openness and ease of access, we are kidding ourselves to think we can just let something slip through secretly and privately.

It seems that the talk back show hysteria about the omnipotent IT manger wanting to live his life vicariously through reading your e-mails is just that - hysteria. Corporate peep is about corporate protection and the best news is that security software will take away the watchdog role from the overworked IT manager who really didn't want to read our e-mails anyway.

There is an expectation in most organisations that employees will use the company network for some personal use. Just like personal phone calls, just like pocketing the odd pen.

Thankfully today's work ethos is much more about productivity and a discretionary use of corporate communications systems for personal use is factored in. Corporate voyeurism is meant to be bigger than that!

Consequently authorisation, authentication and administration (3As) software is tipped to be the major security spend as companies strive to manage their data access and enterprise vulnerability. The emphasis will be on assessing internal threats and protecting intrusion weak spots.

So where does all this leave us in a post 1984 world? Do our computer screens become Orwell's telescreens with Big Brother monitoring us? Can we hack into systems to manipulate data and change the course of history like the Ministry of Truth?

The Internet world is meant to be about personal freedom and empowerment - which is much more Age of Aquarius than 1984's world of grey ignorance and boiled cabbage. And yet the remnants of a frightening world of Thought Police hover when an employment contract is more about security caveats than employment benefits.

Think about it when you next e-mail those Hopoate jokes (with graphics) to your 40 best mates.susan_searle@idg.com.auVice President and Publisher


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