Headlines: April 22nd, 1998

A private intranet for government offices throughout the UK has been launched by Public Service Minister Dr David Clark. Although only a limited number of people currently have access, it is expected that all major departments will be connected by the end of the year. At the end of the three year connection programme some 400,000 people will be able to talk to each other electronically.The network, which is known as the ‘Government Secure Intranet’ or GSI provides an e-mail facility with connections both to other people using the GSI and to the outside world. It also provides access to the Internet. The security features of the system have been tested by the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Although the security is complex and effective, it does not cramp the style of network users. For example, the sender of an e-mail within a government office receives a security warning screen which must be completed with a password before transmission is allowed. The input of the password sets up an audit trail so that senders of messages can be traced.

The significance of the launch of the network lies not in the technology, but in the contribution it can make to the business of government. As the boundaries between government departments and between agencies crumble with increasing cross border working, communication between organisations becomes more important. It will be interesting to see whether the driving force for connection to the network is the technological opportunity or the need to talk to each other as partnerships develop.

It is planned to extend the GSI to local government and the health service. A working party of the Central – Local Government Relations Group, Chaired by Dr Clark, is examining the issues raised by extending the network and considering how joint working can be pursued.