Year in review: The public sector and Web 2.0

Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty got a first-hand taste of the power of Web 2.0 technology in December, when his government announced plans to tighten restrictions on new drivers, limiting them to a single passenger. A Facebook group sprang up almost overnight, garnering hundreds of thousands of members within days. The government backed down.

But social networking had already been on the radar of government IT departments in 2008. As early as January, Karl Cunningham, head of e-government at Ontario’s Ministry of Government Services, told IT World Canada that a recent ban on Facebook use by public service employees was a play for time as the province developed a comprehensive Web 2.0 strategy.

At the annual Lac Carling conference in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., Web 2.0 was front and centre on the agenda. Former Canadian deputy prime minister John Manley spoke of the power of the medium as evidenced by its role in the U.S. presidential election campaign (“The online president of social networking is imminent and his URL is,” Manley said in a keynote address).

Also at Lac Carling, Service Nova Scotia’s Greg Keefe spoke of investigating the opportunities to offer services and seek policy consultation in a Web 2.0 environment, and Treasury Board Secretariat chief technology officer Chuck Henry described TBS’s 1,000-page wiki as “a trove of information.”

Along with Web 2.0, security and privacy were on government agendas.

The federal government’s Federal Desktop Core Configuration standard mandated security settings on all desktops and laptops, restricting how much end users can change configurations. The FDCC standard was due to be enforced at the end of February.

Ontario privacy czar Anne Cavoukian warned of the privacy dangers of emerging technologies like RFID in a white paper presented to the University of Waterloo in September.

Internationally, the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence admitted it had lost 747 laptops and had 658 stolen over a four-year period, along with USB sticks containing sensitive information.

And one of the year’s odder stories played out in San Francisco, where IT administrator Terry Childs was jailed and refused to hand over the administrative passwords to the city’s wide area network in July. Feeling he was surrounded by incompetents and a manager who was actively undermining his work, he wouldn’t reveal the passwords for almost two weeks. Finally, mayor Gavin Newsom persuaded Childs to tell him the passwords. Childs said he felt Newsom was the only person he could trust with the keys.

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