- 6 Apr 09, 19:18 GMT
When an e-mail arrived from a reader earlier this afternoon about a story we'd written on new EU regulations on data retention, I have to confess I was rather slow to react. Then I had another look and noticed this in the second paragraph:
...the Home Office is linking to a Chinese porn website.
Mike Riley had been wondering whether the new directive applied to his company. He needed to know if he was a "communications services provider", and so under an obligation to retain his customers' data.
Off he went to the Home Office website, and eventually burrowed his way down to this page. On the right, he noticed several links, including one to a body called the Technical Advisory Board (the link has since been removed). This, according to information elsewhere on the Home Office site, is a "non-departmental public body that advises the Home Secretary on whether the obligations imposed on communications service providers (CSPs) under the terms of RIPA are reasonable". But when Mr Riley clicked on the link he was directed to what appeared to be a porn site.
After reading his email, I too clicked on the link - and ended up on the same site, though it appeared to be Japanese rather than Chinese. I contacted the Home Office press office, and provided them with the first news of this embarrassing glitch.
Within minutes, they had broken the link, then removed it altogether from the page. The press officer thanked me - and stressed that the site had not, as we'd both at first assumed, been hacked. Instead, she said someone had taken over what was a redundant site, which had once belonged to the Technical Advisory Board, and occupied it with something rather different.
So is this a serious matter - or just a moment of embarrassment for a government department which has had its fair share in recent days? Mr Riley says it does matter. He says he's still not sure whether he's covered by the new directive and has "little faith in getting an answer from the Home Office who seemingly are unable to monitor and securitize, their own site let alone the communications data of millions of email users in the country".
On the other hand, this kind of stunt happens to a number of prominent websites - and causes red faces rather than real damage. A bigger threat appears to come from the Chinese group which has allegedly managed to hack its way into government departments around the world in a cyber-warfare operation. But I can imagine the Home Office will be hoping not to hear the word "porn" again for at least a few weeks.
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