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UK Politician Criticised For Using Hotmail 151

Posted by samzenpus
from the make-better-choices dept.
nk497 writes "The UK justice secretary Jack Straw has been criticised for using Hotmail as his official government email account after he apparently fell foul of a Nigerian spammer in a phishing attack. A security researcher said using such an account not only left the government in security trouble, but meant any emails sent could not be necessarily accessed via the Freedom of Information Act."
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UK Politician Criticised For Using Hotmail

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  • by todslash (1025980) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @05:59AM (#26995501)
    It was not his official government email account, it was his constituency email account.
    • by Candid88 (1292486)

      Which also invalidates much of the compliance with Freedom of Information concerns since nearly all communication between constituents and their MP isn't covered by Freedom of Information laws anyway. Nor should it be anymore than consultations with your lawyer or doctor.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by TheRaven64 (641858)

        And so, equally, shouldn't be disclosed to a foreign corporation, which is what happens if you are storing them on a Microsoft-owned and controlled mail server. If I found out that my doctor or lawyer was storing my case details in Google Docs I would be equally appalled.

        MPs can claim around £30K in expenses per year (last I checked, which was almost a decade ago, probably more now) for their constituency office. If the parliamentary Labour party can't manage to run a mail server for their me

        • by cayenne8 (626475)
          "And so, equally, shouldn't be disclosed to a foreign corporation, which is what happens if you are storing them on a Microsoft-owned and controlled mail server. If I found out that my doctor or lawyer was storing my case details in Google Docs I would be equally appalled."

          You know...there's really no way to know (unless you start looking over all the header info on your emails) if anyone IS using google servers for email. It is easy to set them up to use your domain with gmail. I recently set it up for a

        • by mpe (36238)
          And so, equally, shouldn't be disclosed to a foreign corporation, which is what happens if you are storing them on a Microsoft-owned and controlled mail server. If I found out that my doctor or lawyer was storing my case details in Google Docs I would be equally appalled.

          The Information Commissioner's Office would probably want some explanations were that to happen. Since it would be hard to do this without breaking data protection laws.
        • by jonbryce (703250)

          dig new.labour.org.uk mx suggests that the labour party are capable of running a mail server for themselves.

          I still recon their health & safety officers would tell them the aren't able to organise a piss-up in a brewery.

    • It does seem kind of silly. I've been using yahoomail since the 90s. If I suddenly get elected to office, am I supposed to just stop using my old email?

      • by rtb61 (674572)

        'ER', fucking yes. You are now an elected representative and the business of your office is the business of the people. You can go back to your previous email provider when you are no longer in public office. They choose to take up the position now they should take up the responsibilities of the position not just it's perks.

        The criticism is well justified and to be blunt some people are just too stupid to be politicians, 'Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S

        • "Congratulations on your new job as an engineer. Since you will be working on a government project, you are required to stop using your private email account immediately. Also no privately-owned cellphones allowed either."

          If you received such a directive, you would consider it onerous and unacceptable. And you would be correct.

    • by jonbryce (703250)

      He should be using is jack.straw@parliament.uk address for that.

      He will have something along the lines of jack.straw@justice.gsi.gov.uk for his ministerial duties.

  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @06:01AM (#26995519)
    From a link in the article:

    Justice Secretary Jack Straw's email account has been hacked by internet fraudsters who sent out messages to hundreds of his contacts which claimed he was stranded in Nigeria and needed 3,000 dollars to fly home.

    I would think if a government minister was really stranded somewhere in Africa, they would contact the nearest British embassy, which would surely know their whereabouts anyway, and the embassy would get them home easily. There are dangers on the internet; this is not one of them.

    • by creimer (824291)
      A more effective email campaign would state that dear old Jack was being held hostage by pirates off the coast of Somalia and that a generous donation to ransom fund would free him.
    • by confuto (1453393)
      Also, why would the British Justice Secretary be asking for Americn currency in Nigeria? It's Pound Sterling or the Naira. Spammers need to research! I hope no one in his address book fell for this as well. We British are not looking good in this article so far, CURSE YOU JACK STRAW!
    • There are dangers on the internet; this is not one of them.

      . And the millions of fools stupid enough to fall for it, what about them?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Kill them all and let $DEITY sort the dumb fuckers out.

        Never underestimate the power of human stupidity. Never.
        • My pastor has a shirt that says....I can't remember the exact wording, but something like:

          Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.

          Very fitting.

      • by Chrisq (894406)

        There are dangers on the internet; this is not one of them.

        . And the millions of fools stupid enough to fall for it, what about them?

        They don't need the internet to become victims. They will buy "solid gold" watches from a man on the street, or something like that

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The real question is if he was stuck in nigeria. Would anybody really want to bring him back.

      so there was no risk.

    • You use common sense.

      If people using the internet used a healthy dose of this magical and seemingly very scarce stuff, few scams would actually work.

      Essentially, you're right. I can see, though, why his friends would still react to this distress call. Contracting the embassy would be the "official" way, which would also require him to tell just why he got stranded in the first place. This could be embarrassing for a politician (because, let's say, he got his wallet and all stolen while being distracted shag

  • Since when? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GrahamCox (741991) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @06:12AM (#26995569) Homepage
    Since when has Jack Straw been very interested in Freedom of Information? Under his Home-secretaryship Britain has become a surveillance state.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by symes (835608)
      "Freedom of information" is very different from "surveillance" and it is fallacious to infer one from the other, imho.
      • Re:Since when? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Xest (935314) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @06:34AM (#26995705)

        The only thing wrong with his comment is the way he phrased it, the sentiment is spot on. As you say, to infer one from the other is wrong, but to suggest they're linked is right.

        Both are about increasing government power over citizens and removing surveillance and improving freedom of information are both steps that would increase the power of citizens over their government. It is no suprise then with the current Labour government power grab over it's citizens that the two go hand in hand then as both increased surveillance and supression of freedom of information fill their goal of further strengthening their hold over the citizens they are supposed to serve and not control.

        So he wasn't totally out with his comment.

        • by GrahamCox (741991)
          Yep - what he said. I was aware of the non-sequitur when I posted but it's been a loooong day and I was just too tired to figure it out.
      • by horza (87255)

        Jack Straw is in favour of freedom of information... for himself.
        "It has been claimed that information gathered by companies including hotel registrations, bank details and telecommunications data could be transferred to the Government if the bill is passed."
        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/4796788/Big-brother-data-sharing-bill-to-be-watered-down-as-Jack-Straw-retreats.html

        He wants to be able to access any information about anybody at will with no warrant, just "minister approval".

        Phillip

    • Re:Since when? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by teh kurisu (701097) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @06:59AM (#26995835) Homepage

      Oh dear. You would have had an insightful comment if you'd mentioned Straw's veto of the FoI release of cabinet minutes [bbc.co.uk] relating to the decision to invade Iraq.

      Instead, you've made a tenuous link between the Freedom of Information Act and the government's freeing of citizens' information for government use.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The Cabinet Minutes of the meetings, lies and half truths of the Blair Government that lead us into an illegal war, costing lives and national treasure has been supressed by the Government.

      By Jack Straw, in fact, who used his ministerial veto under the Freedom of Information Act to do it [blogspot.com]. So yes, Jack Straw doesn't care about FoI at all.

    • Not for Jack Tweed See story [dailymail.co.uk].

    • Since when has Jack Straw been very interested in Freedom of Information?

      He merely wishes to ensure that the freedom is not "abused" (as Sir Arnold said to Sir Humphrey).

      Under his Home-secretaryship Britain has become a surveillance state.

      But only to prevent "abuses" of other kinds of freedom, no doubt.

  • This name alone is so creepy. Orwellian use of word "Freedom".

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Explain. As far as I know there's nothing orwellian in FOIA....

    • by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @07:48AM (#26996109)
      In what way is it an Orwellian usage of the term? It's a legal Act which forces organisations of any type (from businesses to governments) to yeild information when a request is made, and to ensure the information is kept in such a way that it would be available if such a request ever materialised in the future. The only sinister thing about it is that it's not got more teeth.
      • by Sockatume (732728)
        Whoops, conflated the FoIA and the DPA there. The former applies to the public sector, the latter to the private.
        • by BeerCat (685972)

          Whoops, conflated the FoIA and the DPA there. The former applies to the public sector, the latter to the private.

          The public sector is bound by both FoIA and DPA. DPA is about an individual's access to information held about themselves. FoIA is about general information held by (mainly) public sector organisations.

    • Hey, information is free. As in "it doesn't cost a corporation jack to know all about you".

    • by JohnFluxx (413620)

      Who on earth is modding this up? The Freedom of Information Act is exactly that. It's not an Orwellian use of the word at all. The act made a lot of information available that wasn't available before.

    • by xaxa (988988)

      Try making a Freedom of Information request to a UK local authority (local government) for the locations of all the publicly owned CCTV cameras in the area. You'll get something like this: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/search/cctv [whatdotheyknow.com]

      Doesn't seem very Orwellian to me.

  • I'd be interested to know how his account was broken into... particularly if he was bright enough to have a weak password and not keep it secret, or if he actually gave answers to secret questions. (I still find "secret" questions the most bizarre layer of security.)

    Also, what kind of an image does a Hotmail address convey on a constituency?? Hardly sounds official and befitting a governmental website, to me at least.
  • You know, I always thought of these Nigerian scams as intelligence tests...and having someone who fails even such a basic test in a quite high office is somehow scaring me.
    • by prefect42 (141309)

      He didn't fail the test. He's failed many others, but not this one.

    • It wasn't Straw who was conned. It was one of his constituency workers (according to the report on C4 news).

    • by Moraelin (679338) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @07:13AM (#26995911) Journal

      1. Actually, from my experience, I've seen actually intelligent people fall to such scams once greed clouds their judgment. E.g., I failed to convince an otherwise extremely intelligent woman -- and for bonus points, usually she was the one selling snake oil to gullible PHBs -- to not "invest" in a pyramid scam. She understood exponents perfectly, but there was no getting her to accept that she is not in the first ranks who'll get their payoff, and/or that there aren't enough suckers any more to fill more than the first ranks of such a scheme.

      At some point wishful thinking takes over any other kind of reason. They _want_ it to be true so hard, that basically cognitive dissonance rebuilds their mental model to something where they can win.

      That's how the brain works: when you have two conflicting pieces of your mental model, it has to be resolved to something internally consistent one way or the other. And it's extremely uncomfortable while not yet resolved. All animals seem to work that way. What's different in humans is that you can essentially have a piece of the model that's so important to you that it can't be displaced, so something else has to go. Basically you _can_ distort your mental model as far as needed for any kind of wishful thinking, if you wish hard enough, and being intelligent or perceptive has nothing to do with it.

      Among other things, that's why once someone started on such a path, it's harder than ever to quit. Accepting "ok, I've been a dolt, the Nigerian prince doesn't exist, I'll never see that money again" means basically a loss of self-respect, so it's a big no. So something else in that mental model has to be changed to support the idea that you're smart after all, too smart to be fooled in fact, and you only make smart investments. Hence the already lost money becomes a smart investment to be continued.

      If anything, having such immovable ideas about oneself makes it easier to happen. If you're too convinced that you're too smart to be fooled, that just creates the setup for defending a dumb decision against all evidence.

      2. Actually it seems to me like it's a test of honesty. As the saying goes, "you can't scam an honest person." Virtually all scams, from pyramid schemes to Nigerian advance fee scams to "Soapy" Smith's soap-with-banknotes scam to everything else, have the same common denominator: the "mark" thought he's getting some undeserved money at someone else's expense.

      E.g., most people actually understand a pyramid scheme and that it will run out of marks soon very well, but they think they can join in early enough to be a part of the scammers not of the losers. E.g., I doubt that anyone in the Nigerian advanced fee scam was actually planning to dutifully give the widow's/orphan's/whatever money once it's in their account. And at any rate they were willing to break some laws and do shady stuff. So even if (ad absurdum) it were just for the promised fee, it's still a wannabe crook willing to break or bend the law for money. E.g., stock tip scams work on people who think that they can move fast enough to sell when it peaks and basically be a part of the scammers instead of the victims. E.g., the dolts who bought the Eiffel Tower from Victor Lustig thought they can give a bribe to get the rights to that metal at substantial discount, i.e., that they can use corruption to scam the state. Etc.

      So basically it's just a honesty test. If you can say "no, that wouldn't be right", you can't be scammed. If you go, basically, "OMG, it's a one in a lifetime occasion to scam someone out of their money" then congrats, it's your own dishonesty that pwns you.

      From there, again, being too convinced that you're too smart to be scammed is just making it actually easier. Those guys who bought the Eiffel Tower too were convinced that they're too smart to be fooled, savvy, good judges of caracter, etc, and know a genuine corrupt government official when they see one. The ones who think they understand exponents or the stock market too well to possibly be wrong about anything, just use that to support and defend the decision to jump on a pyramid scam or stock tip scam respectively, once greed started to cloud their judgment. Etc.

  • by Xest (935314) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @06:29AM (#26995671)

    This is the same Straw that rather than filing a legal challenge to the information commissionars ruling that the Iraq war documents be leaked decided to just outright make the first use ever of ministerial veto against FOIA requests.

    His reasons for vetoing were, from the BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/7907991.stm) and I shit you not:

    "Releasing the papers would do "serious damage" to cabinet government, he said, and outweighed public interest needs."

    I'm not sure why he'd think it's in public interest to keep a corrupt, incompetent, totalitarian regime in power?

    And:

    "There is a balance to be struck between openness and maintaining aspects of our structure of democratic government,"

    Sorry, I thought the whole point of democracy was that we get to decide that balance, not those in power? His decision flies in the very face of democracy.

    So quite why anyone as per the summary would think Straw cares in the slightest about FOIA I don't know. He's just like Jacqui Smith and nearly all the others in the Labour party right now- a wannabe dictator who oppresses freedom of information to cling on to power.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PhilHibbs (4537)

      "There is a balance to be struck between openness and maintaining aspects of our structure of democratic government,"

      Sorry, I thought the whole point of democracy was that we get to decide that balance, not those in power? His decision flies in the very face of democracy.

      Er, so, what if I disagree with you about how that balance should be struck? You want these documents to be released, but I don't. Why does your opinion outweigh mine, if you are so keen on democracy?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by wjh31 (1372867)
        in theory this is what the politicians are for, we elect them so that they can say, 'we were chosen by the people, so any action we take is that which the people want' which saves having 65M people argueing over what to do, but they do still get a say by informing their MP of their ideas/opinions etc which the MP then takes into account when s/he goes off to visit parliment.

        Of course this is all in theory...and we all know how it rerally works out
        • by Xest (935314)

          This is true, but MPs are elected by people in certain areas.

          For example, if a bunch of people vote in a constituent in say Leeds then he should have equal say to the constituent voted in in say, Bristol. Because Straw has made this decision by himself, or at least without a full parliamentary vote, he has basically ignored the democractic process by suggesting he and what his constituents are more important than potentially the rest of the country and that's assuming his constituents were even happy with h

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Xest (935314)

        I'm not sure what your point is really. I never said my opinion outweighs yours but in this particular context no one has been given the choice anyway so even if I had said that then it's still be irrelevant. Of course, if you're defending his action then it's actually you who is effectively saying your opinion is more important than anyone who disagrees, because you're suggesting that anyone opposing your view should be ignored which is effectively what Straw has done.

        But there's also the argument to be ma

        • by PhilHibbs (4537)

          [blockquote]Of course, if you're defending his action then it's actually you who is effectively saying your opinion is more important than anyone who disagrees[/blockquote]Not at all. I'm not arguing for an unprecedented release of what has always been confidential and secret information. If you want to change something in our democracy, then vote for it. You are welcome to express your opinions about what should be done, and persuade others to take it seriously enough to sway their vote, and perhaps be per

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Xest (935314)

            "Not at all. I'm not arguing for an unprecedented release of what has always been confidential and secret information."

            But this is the whole point of the problem with the veto. The ICO ruled that it wasn't material fit to be protected as confidential and secret, it never actually was fit to have that label.

            "If you want to change something in our democracy, then vote for it. You are welcome to express your opinions about what should be done, and persuade others to take it seriously enough to sway their vote,

    • by Phroggy (441)

      "Releasing the papers would do "serious damage" to cabinet government, he said, and outweighed public interest needs."

      I'm not sure why he'd think it's in public interest to keep a corrupt, incompetent, totalitarian regime in power?

      Read that again, he doesn't. He knows it's not in the public interest; he's saying that preserving the status quo is more important than the public interest. He's corrupt, not stupid.

    • by jabithew (1340853)

      I'm not sure why he'd think it's in public interest to keep a corrupt, incompetent, totalitarian regime in power?

      If you were in one, you would too. He's just looking after number 1.

  • by Bazman (4849) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @06:48AM (#26995769) Journal

    I'd pay Nigerians to *keep* Jack Straw. As would a lot of people. Thank god we can vote him out, and get in... hmmm... well...

    • Yeah, I don't think the scammer quite appreciated the fact that nobody in the UK really gives a stuff if our government ministers are stuck in Africa. As for giving any money to them...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by wrook (134116)

      I loved the BBC radio report that went something like this (from memory):

      "Government officials said that nobody was duped by the emails.

      Indeed. Nobody sent money to free him."

  • by carou (88501) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @07:11AM (#26995905) Homepage Journal

    "any emails sent could not be necessarily accessed via the Freedom of Information Act."

    That may be exactly why he uses it...

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by ilo.v (1445373)

      "any emails sent could not be necessarily accessed via the Freedom of Information Act."

      It's not a bug, it's a feature!

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      That's why Sarah Palin did. She got hacked, too.

      Unfortunately, government email systems are often _not_ as secure or reliable as those of such public systems. I've seen corporate and governmental systems where the It managers regularly lose email and find it impossible to recover, where their mailbox space is extremely small, where they will be censured if they receive or send personal email from that account and where the difference between personal and work email blurs and causes confusion, where the work

  • Suspicious (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Teun (17872) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @07:38AM (#26996043) Homepage
    When I receive an E-mail from a commercial contact and it's hosted at places like Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo I have great trouble taking it seriously, as a matter of fact I find it suspicious.

    When a national politician does it I can only imagine he's got something to hide.

    Business is Business and at the level of mr. Straw this is even more important.
    Even though I am well aware that many government institutions are only recently discovering the net as an integral part of society the various levels of government have since many years the ability to run their own mail servers, including all the extra security you'd expect.

  • It's a sad fact that government based email messages have a tendency to "disappear" when the politician in question comes under internal investigation (US, I'm looking at you).

    Providing a hotmail account is accessed every 30 days, I think Jack would have a much harder time "disappearing" those messages ... so in terms or transparency / auditability, maybe it's better to leave things as they are ?

  • The guy is using Hotmail, and everything is being transmitted in plain text. Just pass a new law that installs as many sniffers as the Brits have security cams, and everyone will have access to the information!

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