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MoD sticks with 'most decrepit browser in the world'

Labour MP suggests use of IE6 is 'workplace cruelty'

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Members of the armed forces will carry on using Microsoft's outdated Internet Explorer 6 browser, contravening the government's own advice on internet security.

According to parliamentary written answers received by Labour MP Tom Watson, the majority of departments still require staff to use IE6. Most have plans to upgrade to the more secure IE7, and some to IE8, but the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has no plans to change.

The MoD is implementing a secure desktop computing service for 300,000 users worldwide through its Defence Information Infrastructure (DII) programme, but defence minister Quentin Davies said: "DII currently uses Internet Explorer 6 and at the current time does not have a requirement to move to an updated version."

Watson expressed his dismay at the response.

"Many civil servants use web browsers as a tool of their trade," he told GC News. "They're as important as pens and paper. So to force them to use the most decrepit browser in the world is a rare form of workplace cruelty that should be stopped.

"When you consider that the government supported Get Safe Online initiative advises that companies should upgrade from IE6, you would imagine that permanent secretaries would like to practice what they preach," he added. "Why civil servants should not be given the choice to use Firefox or Chrome or Safari is beyond me. UK web workers deserve better."

Some departments have already begun transferring from IE6, according to replies to Watson - although all that mentioned an alternative browser plan to stick with Microsoft. International Development already uses IE7 and is evaluating IE8, and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has also moved to IE7.

Home Office minister Phil Woolas told Watson that his department, the UK Border Agency and the Criminal Records Bureau are planning to upgrade from IE6 in February 2010. The Identity and Passport Service is due to move to IE7 in mid-2010.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister Chris Bryant said that 57% of its networked computers had moved to IE7 by the end of June 2009, and the department expects to update the rest by end of May 2010. Department for Work and Pensions minister Jim Knight said his department plans to upgrade from IE6 to a more recent version by the end of this year.

Transport minister Chris Mole said his department moved to IE7 last year, while most of its agencies are either moving or working on moves away from IE6 - although the Highways Agency and Vehicle and Operator Services Agency have no plans to do so.

Justice minister Michael Wills said his department and its agencies were either moving already or planning moves. Culture, Media and Sport plans to complete its move to IE7 by the end of August, while Children, Schools and Families expects to transfer from IE6 during 2010-11.

Other departments including health, business and energy said they planned to end use of IE6 but had not decided when and how. But Communities and Local Government minister Shahid Malik said his department has no plans to end its use, and would do so only when "the benefits for doing so outweigh any disbenefit or cost".

This article was originally published at Kable.

Kable's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.

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