16 March 2012
GOVERNMENT FACES WRONG WAY ON PRIVACY, SURVEILLANCE
The coalition government has talked a good deal about civil liberties, but what has it done?
The Protection of Freedoms Bill is still in parliament, having had its first reading on 11th February 2011. It is in any case a disappointing piece of legislation, the Home Office seemingly doing the absolute minimum necessary to cover the narrowest reading of pre-election promises. In our briefing, we could give it no more than 3/10.
The Identity Documents Act 2010 did repeal the Identity Cards Act 2006, though, as we pointed out at the time, this was at the cost of entrenching in law the idea of an identity document, and some of the spurious ideas about personal identity implied by ID cards.
The Cabinet Office has been putting a lot of work into the idea of having an ‘Identity Assurance’ infrastructure, where you could prove who you were, or entitlement to something, without handing over significant personal information. That is potentially a good idea, and if done right would fatally undermine many of the arguments for more government information collections. In pursuit of that, our General Secretary, Guy Herbert, has been sitting with other privacy experts on an advisory committee, the identity Assurance Privacy Group, for the past year.
But one by one the other Whitehall schemes that we have fought against seem to be creeping back.
* Uploading of medical records to the ‘Spine’ was briefly halted after the election, but resumed very quickly. * Theresa May opted the UK in to the European Investigation Order scheme, which means the (excessive) data gathering powers of British police can be coopted by the authorities of any EU country * ANPR networks and other forms of travel tracking have continued to expand, with no legal controls * The government is also rumoured to have revived an internet surveillance scheme, under Blair called the Intercept Modernisation Programme, and opposed by both opposition parties. (See Sunday Telegraph 19th Feb 2012) . ISPs might be forced automatically to record and trace everything done online by anyone.
And in the last week there has been a very disturbing development. Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude, gave a speech to the Information Commissioner’s conference (March 8th): http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/news/information-commissioners-conference-francis-maude-keynote-speech which has scarcely been reported, but could be very important – and very dangerous. He said (among some entirely harmless, privacy-friendly things):
“One of the most frequent complaints I hear from doctors and care workers and data professionals is just how difficult essential data sharing can be. “This is because we make it difficult, even when data sharing is in the national or public interest. […]” ” …and so we get situations where officials deny access to data despite there being legitimate reasons and significant benefits to sharing it. “We intend to act – by changing the way we work and by revisiting the existing legislation. “In May we will publish proposals that will make data sharing easier – and, in particular, we will revisit the recommendations of the Walport-Thomas Review that would make it easier for legitimate requests for data sharing to be agreed with a view to considering their implementation. “And I want to encourage all of you to challenge the received wisdom, to challenge every assertion, every assumption about what can’t be done. “And where there are real legal or cultural barriers – tell us what they are.”
This sounds like a revival of the ideas in the “Information sharing: vision statement” of 2006 and part 8 of the Coroners and Justice Bill in 2009, as put forward by Jack Straw and defeated by this campaign and its allies. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/03/16/coroners_and_justice_savaged/
We may have to fight that battle all over again.
If there were doubt as to whether NO2ID is still needed, there isn’t any more.
We still lack a Treasurer to oversee funds and fundraising (and liaise with, but not be, the accountant). The ideal person for the role will have finance experience and be able to attend the occasional central meeting in London. If you are interested (or if you have bookkeeping skills and would like to support the Treasurer) please contact Guy Herbert (email@example.com)
+ Volunteers in all roles
If the campaign is to be re-launched, then we will need all sorts of skills. If you have time to do something, get in touch and tell us what you can do.
++ WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
+ NO2ID AGM
NO2ID held its AGM in central London on Saturday 10th March. The meeting was inquorate, so we are looking at online methods for paid-up members to meet virtually and ratify the votes required. The non-meeting was followed by an informal discussion of how to put together a Consultative Council to advise the directors of the campaign as it switches to the new form of a non-profit company.
+ New Newsletter editor
We have a new volunteer newsletter editor after a long gap. Daryl Worthington has agreed to take on the task. If you have news or contributions please contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org
+ Police or MI5 linked to blacklist of troublesome or left-wing workers (Guardian, 3rd March) http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/mar/03/police-blacklist-link-construction-workers
The Consulting Association has been under investigation since 2009 for creating a black list of workers for being either troublesome (one example being a person who regularly highlighted health and safety concerns on a construction site) or having disruptive left wing views or trade union membership. The Information Commissioner’s Office has revealed that information stored by the Consulting Association could only have come from Police or MI5 records. One more example of information and speculation gathered on grounds of law enforcement ‘escaping’ proper use.
+ ‘Unworkable’ NHS Database becomes workable again (Telegraph, 5th March) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9124792/IT-firm-behind-unworkable-NHS-database-keeps-IT-deal.html
The Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), the American IT firm which had a £1.9 Billion contract for the national NHS System scrapped last year, has been given a £900 million contract to restart its work on a more regional basis. This has fuelled the allegation that the NHS Spine, far from being abandoned, has been replaced by a regional based system. The article suggests it is likely that this contract was re-activated to prevent legal action from CSC over the initial termination – that a commercial decision weighed more than privacy or medical concerns.
+?Insurance firms in Ireland prosecuted for obtaining welfare data (Irish Times, 13th February) http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2012/0213/breaking37.html Three insurance firms in Ireland (FBD, Zurich and Travellers Insurance) have all pleaded guilty to using a private investigator to obtain personal information from the department of Social Protection, contravening the Data Protection Act. Although reassuring that these corporations have been charged, it raises serious questions over the security and potential misuse of personal information stored within government databases.
+ Push to move the handling of identity assurance to the private sector continues (Register, 2nd March) http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/03/02/dwp_identity_assurance_tender/ The Cabinet Office’s digital boss, Mike Bracken, has confirmed that the Department for Work and Pensions has been tasked with the procurement of private ID assurance schemes across government. As well as being costly (an estimated £30 million) this will require a change in legislation. The privatisation of ID verification before the establishment of the principles involved and with no public discussion should ring alarm bells to NO2ID supporters. It will create further ambiguity over which corporate and government bodies have access to personal information.
+ DVLA Data sharing project delayed by costs (ZD Net, 24th February) http://www.zdnet.co.uk/news/business-of-it/2012/02/24/dvla-driver-data-sharing-project-delayed-by-costs-40095125/ The Industry Access to Driver Data (IADD) project has been delayed due to difficulties in generating the required funds. The IADD aims to facilitate data sharing between the DVLA and motor insurance firms. £870,000 has already been spent on this project however difficulties in deciding who should be responsible for the rest of the funding have halted progress. If this project is successfully implemented it will surely impact on the rights of the individual to decide what personal information is shared between government and private bodies.
+ International – Pakistan (Pakistan Today) http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2012/02/nadra-cancels-90000-bogus-cnics/ http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2012/03/it%E2%80%99s-time-to-rejoice-for-14000-teachers/ Attempts to create a population database and ID card in Pakistan have been beset by a plethora of problems, highlighting the difficulties of implementing a national database in a large and diverse country. The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) had to cancel 90,000 computerised ID cards, due to them being double issued to the same person. NADRA has also terminated 183 employees found involved in corruption. Following this, NADRA also came under fire from the Sindh Assembly in Karachi, for errors in voter registration, including registering elected representatives either outside of their constituencies or in some cases not at all.
++ WHAT’S NEXT?
+ Open Rights Group Convention The Open Rights Group (ORG) will be hosting its convention ORGCon on Saturday 24th March from 9:30am at the University of Westminster.
For those unfamiliar with ORG, its remit is ‘to preserve and promote your rights in the digital age.’ Many of the group’s concerns with data privacy overlap with those of NO2ID, though we do not duplicate each others’ work. (ORG has interests in internet and intellectual property issues on which NO2ID is neutral.) The Convention will include a wide range of speakers, debates and workshops on issues that could be of interest to NO2ID supporters and we shall have a stall there.
For more information on ORG, the convention and to buy tickets, please visit: http://www.openrightsgroup.org/orgcon-2012
++ LOCAL GROUPS NEWS
If there is not an active group in your area, there may well be a local mailing list to keep in touch with other supporters. See: http://www.no2id.net/localgroups/ or call the office for details.
If you’re interested in starting a group yourself, please contact James Baker email@example.com / 07817 605 162 to discuss what’s involved.
+ Edinburgh Saturdays 1pm – 3pm – Edinburgh NO2ID Street Stall + Every week, weather permitting, you will find our campaigning stall at the east end of Princes Street, opposite the Balmoral Hotel. http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?8&q=Balmoral+Hotel,+Princes+Street,+Edinburgh Do drop by for a chat. New volunteers – please contact John (firstname.lastname@example.org), and for more group information see http://www.no2id-scotland.net/edinburgh/
+ Leicester Avtar Singh, Leicester Co-ordinator of NO2ID has had a letter entitled ‘A Threat to Our Privacy’ published in the Leicester Mercury. The letter concerns reported government intentions to force Internet Service Providers to retain records of internet activity, and to make these records available to authorities. The publication of the letter demonstrates there is an audience that shares NO2ID’s concerns regarding government data acquisition and retention.
The letter itself can be found here: http://www.thisisleicestershire.co.uk/threat-privacy/story-15410616-detail/story.html
For live news you can now follow @NO2ID on twitter