Gordon Brown's dire speech to the Labour Party Conference last September promised, amongst other things,"10,000 hand held computers" for the Police.
Incredibly, it seems that according to this National Policing Improvement Agency press release, and subsequent reports in The Register and by the BBC, each of these hand held computers is going to cost £5,000 each.
Almost none of our worries about the security implications of this scheme have been answered, but it does seem that an incredible amount of central government allocated tax money is going to be spent - £50 million for only 10,000 units i.e. £5,000 each - you could literally get gold plated hand held computers for this amount of money !
How can issuing 10,000 hand held computers, in other words, to only 7 percent of the Police force, actually reduce bureaucracy ?
Surely these inherently physically insecure hand held computers are going to make it easier for ruthless attackers to illegally access sensitive National Security or Confidential Human Intelligence Source intelligence databases ?
Which politician will resign from office, when, not if, someone's life is put in danger, as a result of the loss or theft of these hand held computers, and the inevitable loss of the passwords, either because they are written down, or because a Police Officer or someone else is being held hostage and is threatened with violence, by criminals or terrorists who have access to such a mobile device ?
There are now 139,000 police officers and 16,000 Community Support Officers - more officers than ever before.
And by April 7th next year, every community will have its own neighbourhood policing team. And I can announce that we will provide hand held computers - 1,000 now, by next year 10,000 right across the country - cutting paper work so that officers can log crimes on the spot, stay on the beat and not waste time returning to the station to fill out forms.
So by exactly how much will 1,000 or 10,000 handheld computers reduce the amount of bureaucratic form filling for over 150,000 Police officers and PCSOs i.e. only 7 per cent of Police Officers will be issued with these handheld computers !
Unless and until the mobile handheld computers entirely replace existing desk bound computer or paper form filling, they will actually increase the complexity of the Police red tape overall..
Why not pick one Police force and equip all the Police with such devices as a proper pilot scheme instead of spreading them out "right across the country" ?
Instead of restricting such pilot schemes to , say, low level stuff like expense claims and overtime time sheets, Gordon Brown's speech implies actual reading and updating of the core Police National Computer and other Police intelligence databases via such mobile handheld systems.
Surely the risk ro thousands of authorised data entry or readout devices, out in the field, away from any physically secure Police station premises must pose a huge security and data privacy risk to these systems ? The Police and Security services already have a dismal record on losing sensitive documents and laptop computer, or having them stolen in transit.
Why will there not be a temptation to kidnap and torture Police officers simply for access to their remote handheld computers ?
If the slow Airwave data links are relied on, then thee will be a temptation to download some or all of critical databases into the memory of the handheld units themselves, which will also increase the risk, when , not if, they become lost or stolen.
Which IT companies have been awarded these contracts, and how much public money is being spent ?
Is the funding for these devices coming from central Home Office funds, or from local council taxpayers ?
There is no single pilot scheme for testing the chosen model of hand held computer and the back end databases it is meant to communicate securely with.
There seems to be a hodge potch of different models of hand held and in vehicle devices, spread across 27 different Police Forces.
Are these "hand held computers" seriously meant to be able to be usable, at night, in the pouring rain or in falling snow, when Police Officers are wearing gloves ?
What happened to the concepts of "economy of scale" or "value for money" or "tightly specified project" ?
The Office of Government Commerce, the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and the individual Police Authorities should be scrutinising what appears to be a vast waste of public money, or possible corruption.