AustLII Home | Databases | WorldLII | Search | Feedback

Australian Federal Police - Platypus Journal/Magazine

You are here:  AustLII >> Databases >> Australian Federal Police - Platypus Journal/Magazine >> 1998 >> [1998] AUFPPlatypus 16

Database Search | Name Search | Recent Articles | Noteup | LawCite | Author Info | Download | Help

Editors --- "Organisations have much to learn in gaining best use of Web technology" [1998] AUFPPlatypus 16; (1998) 59 Platypus: Journal of the Australian Federal Police, Article 4

Organisations have much to learn in gaining best use of Web technology

Various law enforcement agencies worldwide, including the USA's FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, have established their presence on the World Wide Web.

While the Web offers some tremendous communication opportunities, there are significant downsides.

AFP Media Director examined these issues in a paper he delivered to a public relations conference recently.

The following is an edited version of the paper.

It is beyond the scope of this paper to provide a definitive users guide to the superhighway. What I plan to do is to take a quick skirmish through the electronic ether to give the reader a feel for the size and scope of the Web, look at some examples of its applications, and identify some potential problem areas.

The new technologies

When we talk about the ‘New Technologies' we are basically talking about linked computer data banks. These data banks have phenomenal capacity, for example there are ‘bookstores' on the interweb that offer over three million titles — many of these available in foreign language versions. Access to the databanks can be unrestricted in the case of the interweb, or restricted to users within an organisation via an intraweb network.

Let's look at some figures and examples to get some idea of what we are talking about.

At a glance:

• The number of Internet users, worldwide, is expected to be 200 million by 1999, currently there are around 36 million users.

• It is estimated that 1.2 million Australians have access to the Internet

• 220,000 Australian shoppers spent $35 million online last year.

So let's look at some examples of where the Internet is having an impact.

Zippergate: an example of the Web's impact on news

Rupert Hugh-Jones, Associate Director, Turnbill Fox Phillips has observed that the Internet gives individuals the capability to initiate and then nurture discussion which can ignite controversy with dramatic results.

The so-called Zippergate affair involving President Bill Clinton is a graphic example of this process. A report in the IT section ofThe Melbourne Age of February 10, claimed that the speculation about the President's sex life began in an Internet gossip column based on leaked information from Newsweek magazine's newsroom. It is claimed that anti-Clinton partisans spread the word through Usenet newsgroups and e-mail servers (two forms of discussion technology made possible by Net technology). According to the author of the article, Charles Stough, all this occurred two days before The Washington Post broke the story and one week before Newsweek hit the stands.

By January 13 the story was in every mainstream newscast and newspaper virtually worldwide. Stough argues that the stellar nature of the Internet compresses news into a much shorter timespan. What could have been months of anguish during Richard Nixon's days are now only a few days for Clinton with Zippergate.

Michael Hutchence inquest: another news example

The death of pop star Michael Hutchence at a Sydney hotel generated massive media interest and provides an insight into the emerging relationship between the old and new media. The Australian newspaper, for example, carried a summary of the coroner's findings and referred readers to a web site for the full text of the coroner's report.

Netsport: an example of the impact of the Web on sports broadcasting

Another example of the accommodation between the old and the new media was the Winter Olympics. "Apparently, for the first time, a significant chunk of the coverage will appear first, and only, on the Web." (The Canberra Times, February 16, 1998).

While TV had sporadic coverage of the Olympics — only three hours of prime-time in the USA — the Net contained reams of data about even the most obscure sports, as well as athletes biographies, video footage, live results, weather reports and panoramic pictures of the venues.

John Laws: an example of the Web's impact on marketing

The Sydney Morning Herald of January 20 reported that an Internet starter kit being promoted by John Laws, ‘The Internet My Way', through Woolworths supermarkets had been abandoned. The idea was to sell a CD ROM set-up package which would also provide access to the John Laws Web Site. The cost was about $20. So while Mr Laws has had phenomenal success in the past selling a broad range of products, middle Australia may be a little slower to embrace the information superhighway.

Companies take stock: an insight into how business views the Web

Another newspaper report (The Sydney Morning Herald, January 20, 1998, p.32) revealed that a web strategy was becoming essential for all major businesses. Seventy per cent of companies surveyed used the Web for brand awareness; 17 per cent used the Web as a marketplace. A consultant had identified one of the major challenges facing businesses was working out what they were trying to achieve through Web exposure.

From this overview it is clear that the Web is growing exponentially as a communication tool. The difficulty that most of us face is understanding the rapidly changing new technology and deciding what best use might be made of it. Early concerns that the Web would make existing forms of communication redundant have not as yet materialised; instead we are seeing an accommodation between the old and the new, particularly in the area of news. Clearly, however, the Web does have certain advantages:

• It never sleeps, users have 24 hour access.

• A wide variety of public audiences and users can be reached very quickly.

• Chat forums and e-mail facilities enable instant responses to issues.

• It has the ability to store and retrieve large amounts of data at relatively low cost.

The dark side of the Web

Security and integrity

The Australian National Audit Office undertook an audit of Internet Security management (November 1997). The report provides an excellent overview of the issues associated with Internet security. The following summaries, reproduced from the report, show some of the risks.

Identifying Internet risks

Factors Increasing Risk
Outside users ('hackers') using Internet access to gain unauthorised access to agency data or functions held on internal agency networks.
• Profile of the agency.
• Connection between the Internet server and internal agency networks.
• Attractiveness of information or services.
Viruses being imported from the Internet to the internal agency network
• Connection between the Internet server and internal agency networks.
• Poor staff awareness of virus risk
Disruption or sabotage of agency information technology services.
• Profile of the agency.
• Connection between the Internet server and internal agency networks.
Information Disclosure
Unauthorised interception of confidential or sensitive material transmitted over the Internet
• Poor staff awareness of Internet risks.
• Use of Internet for Email.
Legal Uncertainty
Lack of legal certainty over commercial transactions performed on the Internet due to different legal interpretation, jurisdictions and enforcement ability.
• Provision of services or receipt of payments via the Internet.
Public Embarrassment
Loss of reputation due to security related incidents becoming publicly known.
• Profile of the agency

Identifying assets at risk

Main Risks
Information held by an agency such as data on clients and suppliers or research performed
• Hackers
• Information Disclosure
• Public Embarrassment
Public Image
The reputation of an agency in the mind of the public especially for being soundly controlled and able to protect sensitive information.
• Public Embarrassment
• Information Disclosure
• Sabotage
Service Delivery
The ability of an agency to deliver its services to its clients especially those dependent on information technology.
• Sabotage
• Viruses
Financial Assets
The monetary assets of the agency such as cash and liabilities.
• Hackers
• Legal Uncertainty

Unwanted interest

In 1991 the AFP advertised an information pack in the book Free Stuff For Kids. We still receive daily requests for the information pack, even though it was only available at the time of printing. We also regularly receive requests from law enforcement buffs who want copies of our badge, a history of the AFP, or our approach/policy on a current issue. These requests are extremely time consuming to deal with and represent ‘noise' in terms of our communication strategies and objectives. More troublesome still are the hundreds of inquiries we receive from people wanting to join the organisation given that we have not undertaken any broad based recruitment for the past three years.

The higher an organisation's profile, the louder the ‘noise'. The challenge for those involved in establishing a Web site, is to tailor messages to particular target audiences as opposed to scattergun approaches with open-ended phone, fax or e-mail contact details.

With 200 million projected users, the potential workload in responding to miscellaneous requests could be enormous.

The new technology: the AFP's experience

The Internet

Although a number of law enforcement agencies do have sites on the Web, the AFP does not have a site currently. This reflects a judgement on our part as to the benefits of involvement traded off against the costs of adequate security protection. We simply could not afford to have our systems, or even a homepage, breached by a hacker.

Indications are that we will eventually establish a site and a project group has been established to examine all the issues involved.


The AFP has enjoyed success with Intraweb technology which supports our internal communication strategies.

During its history, the AFP has experienced a process of almost continuous change. Three years ago, the pace of change increased significantly with a major reform program that radically altered the organisation's approach to work and the way in which it was undertaken. It is fair to say that some personnel saw the reform program as change for change's sake and were critical of it. This cynicism was exacerbated by ongoing budget cuts through the application of efficiency dividends over several years. Internal communication processes were poor with rumour being the dominant means of spreading messages.

To address these problems it was clear that:

• Effective internal communication vehicles needed to be developed.

• The flow of relevant and timely information about the change process and other corporate initiatives needed to be improved.

• Communication content needed to be aligned with core business activities.

The development of an Intraweb was seen as a critical component of an effective internal communications strategy.

Our judgement was that a mix of communication vehicles would be required to reach the diverse AFP membership.

An existing staff newsletter was enhanced and supported by:

Regional newsletters; a video newsletter; cc:Mail; and, Intranet Bulletin Boards.

This mix gave the following capabilities: print based reference material on a regular basis; print based material on special topics; a video-based newsletter which could be shown at general ‘musters', and; immediate dissemination of information in electronic form for those that had access to these systems.

Since this strategy was implemented about two years ago, there has been a quantitative increase in both the amount of information flowing to the membership and the availability of a wider range of communication vehicles.

Information from a range of sources was used to evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy. The results indicate that there has been a qualitative and quantitative improvement in internal communication processes.

A recent example of the opportunities afforded by web technology was a speech by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at an Interpol function. The PM delivered the speech just before lunch; within two hours, the speech was available in full on the Media and Public Relations HomePage on the Intraweb.

The Intranet continues to expand as a communication medium within the AFP.

The Intranet is a radically different approach to communication relying on the target audience to seek relevant information, as opposed to being force fed. Media and Public Relations has been placing a range of AFP publications on the Intranet which has resulted in savings in production costs as well as providing better access to these publications, particularly the more costly items such as the AFP's annual report.

Related to the use of the Intranet is the use of cc:Mail (in that they are both computer-based information systems). cc:Mail use for the first six months of its introduction in 1995 was running around 20,000 messages AFP-wide per month, peaking at 30,000 messages in October 1995. The figure for May 1996 was about 75,000 messages, and it is estimated that current usage is about 100,000 messages per month.

Although this data is somewhat unreliable it does illustrate a significant trend in terms of increased usage.

The maxim in employee communication during times of change is:

"communicate, communicate, communicate" (Barrett and Eatt, 1995).

Clearly it is not possible to over-communicate during such times — the key is, however, to ensure that communication is relevant to the audience while at the same time supporting core business objectives. The use of Web technology has greatly facilitated these objectives within the AFP.


The new technology (Interwebs and Intrawebs) provides enormous opportunities for getting information to specific groups, provided:

• it is used strategically to target people with relevant information;

• it is used as part of a communication mix.

There are inherent dangers in over-reliance on the new forms of communication:

• It can be seen as the only communication vehicle that is needed.

• Everybody does not have equal access.

• Not everyone finds screen based information easy to read.

• Webs have a tendency to grow at alarming rates making it difficult to find information.

• Security and integrity are real concerns.

• Printing from the Web may result in corrupted outputs.

• It can add a lot of unwanted noise to the communication mix.


In presenting this paper I invited feedback from the 100 or so participants about their experience of the new technology.

The experience of the conference seemed to be that very few organisations had approached Web involvement on a holistic basis, with IT areas often forging the link without adequate consideration to operating protocols and management. There also appeared to be widespread agreement on the fact that the Web had generated significant additional workloads in terms of site maintenance (making sure material was current), responding to inquiries (both electronic and oral) and the expectation that the organisation would conduct all of its business electronically.

To ensure that the AFP did not approach Web involvement in an ad hoc fashion a project group was established with representatives from relevant areas of the organisation and, having addressed security concerns, an Internet site was established.

In terms of the Intraweb there was a common chorus over the amount of time required to deal with cc:Mail messages and the impact of electronic communication on organisational culture.

In some organisations, face-to-face communication had been replaced by electronic communication, and senior managers were taking up to two hours a day to deal with cc:Mail messages. Junk messages and the broadcasting of messages to everyone when only a small number of recipients were directly affected were identified as common problems.

It would seem, therefore, that organisations have much to learn about accommodating to best effect the new technologies

AustLII: Copyright Policy | Disclaimers | Privacy Policy | Feedback