Most people’s image of government security classifications is of M sliding Bond a buff-coloured folder stamped TOP SECRET. But where Bond’s cutting-edge gadgets and cars have moved with the times, our security processes are beginning to show their age. The existing system is confusing and often misapplied. When I heard that a milk rota had been marked as “Restricted” I knew things had to change.
One of my team even got in trouble for leaving a document marked “Restricted” on the printer – even though it was otherwise entirely blank.
It’s time for something designed for the digital age. That’s why we asked the Government Security Secretariat to look at how we classify information. Its new system is clearer to understand and simpler to use, which will make it easier to share information between departments. Civil servants should be able to email each other information, and not be forced – as some are now – to run across Whitehall to deliver printouts.
The most important thing for security is that people apply judgement, just as they do with their own information. Complex processes can get in the way of that. In the past, taxpayers’ money was wasted buying customised computers to deal with the superfluous layers of security. The new system will allow us to buy modern, off-the-shelf IT equipment, saving money.
None of this is pulse-racing stuff. But it’s another step towards a more flexible and leaner Whitehall – one where it will be easier for thousands of civil servants to get on with their jobs, delivering public services and serving the country.
Francis Maude is the Cabinet Office Minister