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Roam is where the heart(ache) is…

The news last week was briefly dominated by the news that the SNP’s Health Minister, Michael Matheson racked up a meaty data roaming bill while visiting Morocco. It serves as a warning that we can leave more than our work clothes behind while travelling on business.

In case you missed it, the story centred on the minister, apparently working while on a family holiday, using his parliamentary iPad to conduct business while travelling only to be presented with a data roaming bill of nearly £11,000 on his return. Remember – that’s an iPad so there are no call charges, just data, and these charges were incurred in a single week.

The problem was that the parliamentary estate had switched away from EE to a new supplier, but the SIM card in the minister’s tablet belonged to EE who – not unreasonably, bearing in mind their status as ex-supplier – refused to waive the charges. After a furore in which the phrase ‘taxpayers’ money’ occurred more than once, the beleaguered minister agreed to settle the bill himself.

So, what does this tell us?

Well, a few things. Firstly, that Scotland is lucky to have a Health Minister who works this hard on family holidays. Secondly, and more seriously, data roaming charges are something of a minefield – and Mr Matheson wandered right into it. The problem is that data providers such as EE will have a different tariff for Morocco as it will for destinations closer to home.

Morocco – and popular holiday destinations such as Turkey – are outside the EU, and even those rules are patchy since Brexit. The EE website suggests buying a data package on landing. He’ll have been alerted to this by a phone text message – but probably didn’t make the link to his iPad, safely tucked away in his baggage. That’s a big, £10,985 mistake.

Roam Service

Of course, had the minister simply logged on to the hotel’s internal network then he’d have been fine, but that’s not a perfect system either, as there may be government security mandates to which he is legally bound to conform. Because hotel Wi-Fi is public access, with no security controls, it’s open to anyone in or near the hotel. Long story short – connect your device to the hotel’s Wi-Fi, and you potentially give the public direct access to it.

Many hotels will give the illusion of security by offering a room number-specific password, but access to the wider network may depend on a single, flimsy password. Few people ask for details on the hotel’s Network Access Control procedures or access to a Virtual Private Network when booking a holiday. So, if that’s the issue, what’s the solution? There are a few…

What’s next?

Drop us a message or call. Unless you’re in Morocco, on an old SIM card, of course.

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