back to article Slacking off? ICO probe throws up concerns over instant messaging

Even the most archaic of organisations have been swept up by the march of technology – including the British government. For some time now, that great bastion of glacially paced change has allowed its staff the rather small pleasure of communicating via instant messaging software Slack, instead of relying on reams of dreaded …

  1. ArrZarr Silver badge

    So given that the world + dog knows that a bespoke chat system for gov't purposes will be a terrible idea and a failure, when do we think Capita will get the contract to develop it?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Presumably they will ditch it once they complete the migration to O365 and can use Skype and TeamChat

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    GDS using insecure shadow IT that doesn't comply with their own rules?

    Colour me shocked. Shocked I tell you.

  3. Adrian 4

    Do these systems actually work ?

    Given that it was apparently too much trouble to find the relevant text, and the author's comment that 'El Reg wonders if they know how much crap chatter builds up on Slack on a daily basis? ', what do these systems actually achieve ?

    It seems that exhaustion with excessive email has simply moved to a different platform. Unsurprisingly, since the problem wasn't with email - it was with the desire to involve everyone in everything.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: Do these systems actually work ?

      I have two customers insisting I use Slack. I now have two extra places I can go to view kitten videos.

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    I see Sir Humphrey is still at work

    "The Cabinet Office might argue that the data that cannot be extracted is not actually 'required', and so there is no need to access it."

    I am quite certain that a judge would not be impressed by that argument.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    aaaand ..... there's the reason we don't persist any of our instant chat

    We have to suffer being branded a "behind the times" IT dept that won't support free Slack and thus restricting the collaboration and innovation in the business. We tend to ask awkward questions like "when can we have our data back to archive?" and "where on the globe are our data stored at rest?"

    Of course everyone in the business wants Slack right up until you give them the £400,000 per annum bill to run the Enterprise version, "....but surely we can do without compliance exports and two-factor authentication, can't we ?"

  6. Anonymous Coward


    Next we'll hear these Civil Servants are still savings documents in .docx format rather than the whacky shareware supported Open Document Format that GDS wanted everyone in govt. to adopt.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: OMG!

      .docx format?

      Thought they had just migrated to .wpd format ?

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Archive and export Slack...

    ... we do that using Hanzo Archive ( Been round for ages!

  8. MsScullz

    Last time I checked, the free version of Slack was for personal use only, and regardless of whether the chat is 'mostly non-work related', surely having channels with UK Government in the name constitutes business use? I'm surprised Slack themselves haven't picked up on this and sent them a big fat bill.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "surely having channels with UK Government in the name constitutes business use?"

      They probably thought they could get away with doing stuff via back channels away from FOI requests. A bit like Trump and his Twitter rants.

      1. BebopWeBop

        To be fair, just like Clinton (in the US) amongst others and Gove plus gawd nows how many other politicians in the UK.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "They probably thought they could get away with doing stuff via back channels away from FOI requests. "

        GDS don't have that many brain cells to rub together. They don't see themselves as "proper" public sector.

  9. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Now this might come as a surprise but people in offices - all offices, not just in government - regularly talk to each other. They even talk to each other about business. Hardly any of this is written down except when it involves formally taking decisions. The rest of it just dissipates into thin air. So why should there be any expectation that such talk, extended to cover people who are geographically separated, be any different?

    Yes, I know there are those who want to be able to comb through records looking for whatever form of wrong-doing they suspect. They're unlikely to find it because if there's any expectation of a particular communication channel being recorded anyone seeking to set out on some nefarious has the option of just plain face-to-face conversation. And the official decision taking will be formally recorded just as it always has been.

    1. GoswaB

      just having a chat about...

      This is the issue in a nutshell. Why has nobody else, had the sense to frame it this way?

      It's a chat style conversation, for the purpose of "chatting", just enabling it to be a little further apart, or with the ability to add sound and images, accurately send web-links, etc.

      In the context of recording or auditing; it should not be considered any different. If a verbal discussion is "official" - It's called a meeting, and it has minutes/transcript. If it's a chat with your colleague about if you want to sneak out for a beer tonight, but hey, can you send me those reports after lunch please (but I'm just informally asking). Then it's just a chat - and most morking environments would not record every spoken word...and it would not enter official record. The fact that this just happens to have a capacity for recording; does not mean it should be recorded.

      I think somewhere along the line of implementation; this logic, has been forgotten. The initial statement; that any official outcome of discussion should be recorded conventionally, hold true. It's not valid until it enters an audited channel (email, paper, etc). Turning the chat into an audited channel is as good as burning the whole point....Instant messaging has just become pointless and died.

      When we speak outside of official occasions (meetings). Do we speak in contract? Of course not. We speak from mind. This comes close to wanting to audit peoples minds...It's unethical and an unrealistic expectation.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Presumably telephone calls fall into this category too. Are all internal telephone calls recorded and transcribed? Are there microphones by the water cooler? If not, why should Slack be any different?

    Surely any formal decision is made at a minuted meeting anyway.

    1. Fizzle

      Minuted meetings?

      "Surely any formal decision is made at a minuted meeting anyway."


      Minutes are written before the meeting, I thought everyone knew that!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      In some places; they do record all phone calls. I know that NHS sites do - though I believe the data is not for FOI. It's meant only fo be used as forensic evidence for investigation of disasters or other serious incidents (major fire, explosion,mass murder, terrorism; that sort of thing).

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    speak and be recorded :O

    I'm not going to say that all IM shouldn't be recorded. If it's an official form of communication; ant that's very clearly established in a workplace to be the case - it should be logged like anything else.

    If IM is meant for casual or informal discussions (just the same as a normal voiced conversations in real life) but through an alternate medium - it should be specifically exempt from official logging.

    I've seen Microsoft's OCS product used in a monitored and unmonitored state, in the same public sector environment (even with two OCS systems running side-by-side and in the IT department). I can tell you, it's a no-brainer. The monitored chat is hardly ever used at all. Literally, in 2 years of use; the only messages we ever put over it, were jokes about testing it). The unmonitored system, which used to be partially 'grey' monitored until a change of management; was used as the default. And even this was largely abandoned after the new management discovered the existence of it. Now the chats have moved into whatsapp, so completely out of band.

    This clearly illustrates that ther's a distinction in the use of IMs. If you're going to bother using this style of communicating, at all - you need to respect the privacy of casual, informal discussion.

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