Alun Michael 'confused and conflated' car with computer again
19 Dec 2005
Internet (Rogue Dialling)
Mr. Blizzard: All that I asked for was some justice for the people who had already been victims. I fully acknowledge the tremendous work that my right hon. Friend has done to try to set the system straight, but if we cannot catch the fraudsters and hold them responsible, what is to be done for the victims of the fraud, who only had a contract with BT or some other provider? Can the Government not do something for those victims?
Alun Michael: As I said at the beginning, if my hon. Friend had raised that issue with some clarity I could have said more.
In the cases that my hon. Friend mentioned, BT is the provider of a line. The equipment that is placed on the line and its vulnerability to being used are matters of individual responsibility. They are not the responsibility of BT, which provided the computer whose technology and software were not protected against the possibility of a scam.
As I said, this is a complex area. During 2003 initially but primarily during 2004, there was an explosion of activity involving a scam that had not been anticipated. Many people recognise the need for proper protection for their software and equipment, but do not realise until something goes seriously wrong how important that is, and that it is their responsibility and not that of the provider.
If there is a problem on the road, that has nothing to do with the car that is driven over it. Responsibility for the vehicle and its safety is governed by legislation. It must have passed its MOT, and it must be safe. That is entirely different from the provision of the highway. I think that my hon. Friend has confused and conflated a number of issues.
BT discovered within a day that there was a problem from an analysis of charges that were building up, and notified the person whose equipment was allowing that to happen. It was therefore possible to close it down, and indeed to close the access to overseas numbers. There are numerous such examples.
People have been able to perpetrate a scam and disappear with the money. When that happens, there is no one left to blame, although there are victims. The service provider is a victim, the individuals are victims, but there is no one to blame. We have created a system that will hold money for up to 30 days. I was examining a case with officials and experts today. The fact that the equipment was allowing the criminal—the scammer—to programme it to make the calls was identified within 24 hours. Within 48 hours, the number had been blocked, so the scam could no longer continue. The 30-day delay means that money can be retained within the system and there is a possibility of recompense or, if the equipment has not been properly put in place, of fining. I had hoped to explain some of the wider context: there may not be enough time left, but I shall attempt to do so for my hon. Friend.
We are talking about an industry that is rapidly developing. It provides a variety of services that are used on a daily basis. It is an immensely powerful tool, but my hon. Friend will know that every time one connects to the internet, a warning appears asking whether the user really wants to proceed. The point is to illustrate for users that, along with the power of the system, there are also vulnerabilities.