Barnsley Council refuses to hold virtual meetings over porn hacking fears

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Barnsley Town HallImage source, Roger K Moore / Geograph
Image caption,
Opposition councillors are calling for virtual meetings to be reinstated by Barnsley Council

Fears that hackers showing pornographic material could invade virtual meetings has prevented Barnsley Council re-starting its full calendar of meetings.

Councillors have questioned its chief executive Sarah Norman on how the authority has handled full council meetings.

Ms Norman said the platform Zoom had seen "very unpleasant pornographic invasions".

Opposition councillors are calling for the virtual meetings to be reinstated.

According to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, independent councillor Jake Lodge and Liberal Democrat group leader Hannah Kitching wrote to Ms Norman requesting the return of meetings of the whole council saying the "democratic process should continue in full".

Ms Norman responded and said Zoom was unsuitable to hold full council meetings.

She wrote: "Significant challenges remain with holding meetings with larger numbers of participants and I do not believe Zoom is a suitable medium to use until we can be totally assured that the very unpleasant pornographic invasions that a number have users have experienced have been unequivocally addressed."

Ms Norman also claimed in her letter that Microsoft Teams, the council's preferred provider, is unmanageable for large meetings and that they will try to get things running again by September.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Zoom has been used in Parliament for debates and meetings

Mr Lodge described the response as "astounding".

"It feels like they are hiding behind IT issues in order to avoid scrutiny, democracy and proper governance," he said.

"This simply isn't acceptable. We don't care what technology they use, be it Zoom or Teams or something else, but we need to re-instate full council meetings as soon as possible."

The authority said it was running virtual decision making meetings daily including cabinet meetings, planning boards and area council meetings.

Zoom has been used to hold meetings and debates in Parliament during the lockdown.

There have been a number of reports of so called "Zoombombings" where meetings are attacked by uninvited guests who join and share pornography.

A spokesperson for Zoom said they had been "deeply upset" to hear about the incidents but had updated settings and features to improve security controls as well as trying to educate users.

They added: "We encourage users to report any incidents of this kind to Zoom and law enforcement authorities so the appropriate action can be taken against offenders."

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