Gmail for official government work?

Clearly, at a time when the world is moving towards modern and faster communication systems, the government is struggling to keep pace and needs to hasten the use of the official email ids system in various bodies.

Sample this. For instance, in September 2012, the hon’ble Punjab and Haryana High Court sent summon notices to officials in the Haryana state government bodies and received bounce intimations simply because the notified government email addresses were lying disabled by the email system, thus resulting in non-delivery. The State IT dept, going forward, suggested remedial measures –

  • Officials should check and read their official email accounts at least once in a day…
  • Officials should follow the policy on e-mail usage for all official/Government communications…(given earlier vide Annexure 1 – letter dated 1/5/2009)
  • Officials should get their disabled email accounts reactivated for usage.. .

 

Agreed there exists an official IT email policy in Haryana state and its IT dept regularly audits it and takes actions to keep its web and email system updated, however, a look at the list of email ids in the above case reveals the glaring existence of some officials of the ranks of director, commissioner, etc, having Gmail/Yahoo ids. Are these official ids?

Other instances include some states getting bids for projects through e-procurement, but vide Gmail/other ids; contact email ids of government body officials listed on the website data.gov.in’s beta version reveals at least one-sixth of them being Gmail/Yahoo ids.

In all these instances – there are innumerable such instances – there do not seem to be any uniformity or an official tack being taken for implementing an official email system. Is it advisable for government officials to carry on using their private/Gmail ids rather than official ids?

That is hardly the norm the world over, say analysts. “Usage of personal emails for official purposes are discouraged across the globe even in private sector leave alone government,” says Sivarama Krishnan, executive director, PwC India. In fact in recent times, events have led to fall of governments and officials falling from grace because of their Gmail communications being leaked/hacked (the Gmail/Petraeus case).

The official communication in the Haryana government clearly mandates that the “official email addresses on http://hry.nic.in mail server shall only be used for official communications. The designation wise email ids shall be treated as official email-ids”. The state has an elaborate web and email services system in place.

When queried on the status of official email accounts in government bodies, official sources informed Dataquest that as part of the e-gov initiatives, not all officials have been allocated the official @nic.in ids. “No. At present email accounts are created on the government email server maintained by National Informatics Center (NIC) for the users who have approached NIC for the same.”

 

A look at the state of email services in various government bodies as seen in the above instances reveals that several of these are yet to adopt a firm policy.

Further, in the near future email accounts are expected to be created for all government employees. A policy in this regard is being formulated by DeiTY/NIC. Subsequent to release of this policy, guidelines would be sent to all offices in Government of India for using government email services, added the sources.

Alarming Situation
This is an quite an alarming situation considering that until a firm policy is adopted, usage of private or Gmail/Yahoo ids is going to continue and be susceptible to threats of hacking, leaking of government information etc. Says Sivaramakrishnan, “The private emails do not offer any level of confidentiality, audit capabilities and non-repudiation with respect to both the sender and receiver. Further, there is also potential security threat that the emails can have Trojans/viruses to gain access to the government laptops/PCs etc. Hence it’s both the issue of lack of confidentiality as well as threat to Government IT network.”

Security easily is under threat and likely to be compromised. He adds, “The private emails have limited capabilities to assess viruses/ Trojans, etc. in the emails in the form of attachment or built within the attachments, etc. Hence, there is a potential risk that the government system used to access the private email is compromised and or used to spread viruses.”

Even within Gmail, Yahoomail, etc, a utility tool allows a user to add on his other email ids, like his official email id (for example @abcgroup.com). It fetches all his email from added-on ids and allows him to send email from this portal, with the added-on email id in the ‘from’ column. This was done for user convenience, providing that user a single email id window to access email from multiple ids. This exposes the casualness with which an official email can be treated with.

In terms of readiness, when the policy is formalized and necessary infrastructure is in place, the process of providing government email account to all employees will be implemented, say the official sources.

Sivarama Krishnan however asserts firmly, “The only challenge is change management. The government today has adequate infrastructure and systems to provide official emails to all the government employees. It is just a change of mind set that is required.”

Is the government listening? Speed is indeed of essence to get the secure and safe official email services cracking.

 

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