The current pandemic has challenged us to re-evaluate many aspects of our lives, but last week the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) forced us to re-evaluate two words we hadn’t yet considered.
Those words are whitelist and blacklist. In the IT space, these words are often used to refer to something as good or bad respectively.
While seemingly innocuous, the NCSC’s head of advice and guidance, known only as Emma W, pointed out something I hadn’t actually considered before.
“It only makes sense if you equate white with ‘good, permitted, safe’ and black with ‘bad, dangerous, forbidden’. There are some obvious problems with this. So in the name of helping to stamp out racism in cyber security, we will avoid this casually pejorative wording on our website in the future,” said the NCSC head of advice and guidance.
The obvious implication here is that black individuals may find the term offensive as they would have every right to be.
While Emma W has announced the change, they do mention that it was actually a customer who asked the agency to make the change.
“A few months ago, an NCSC customer contacted me to ask if we would consider making a small but significant change to some of the wording we use on the NCSC website. When she asked the question, I immediately smacked myself in the head for not thinking of it a long time ago. And I was really glad to say: yes, we will make this change straight away, and I’m sorry you had to come and ask us to do it,” Emma W wrote.
As Emma W acknowledges, this is not the biggest issue in the world, nor is it even a change that will stamp out racism entirely. It is however something that those of us who aren’t generally victims of racial stereotyping should be understanding of.
“For some of your colleagues (and potential future colleagues), this really is a change worth making,” said Emma W.
We know that some people are going to be offended by the NCSC trying to be more inclusive and cry that this is political correctness gone mad. To those folks, we have to implore you to put yourself in the shoes of an individual who has been berated their who life based on their race and consider how the term might not be all that comfortable to hear.
In place of blacklist and whitelist, the NCSC will now be using the terms allow list and deny list which are also just, well, better descriptors of what those sorts of lists are meant to be for.
Of course this is by no means a magic wand that solves the problem with lack of representation in the sector but it’s a step in a good direction.
This whole matter harks back to the need for greater diversity in the technology space. Hell, this change is so simple and so obvious that I feel like a fool for not considering it before this.
The agency has encouraged other businesses to adopt similar thinking and its technical director has addressed cries from those who disagree with this move in the best way possible.
“If you’re thinking about getting in touch saying this is political correctness gone mad, don’t bother,” concluded NCSC technical director, Ian Levy.[Source – NCSC][Image – CC 0 Pixabay]