Privacy issues are a major interest of mine, and a large chunk of my work involves being the campaigns manager of NO2Id. This time of year it is the custom to take a look back over the past 12 months and summarise the year that was.
So pour yourself a cup of tea, grab one of the last of the mince pies and settle down for my 2012 privacy review.
The year started with a handful of census refuseniks getting fined for not handing over their personal details to the Office of National Statistics. The 2011 census was bigger than ever, and particularly controversial both because of the involvement of BAE systems, and a change in the law that destroys the confidentiality of census information.
The EU announces sweeping changes to data protection law. NO2ID warns they mustn’t be Trojan Horse for yet more data-sharing.
The Public Accounts Committee was critical of plans to replace all 53 Million of our gas and electricity meters with ‘smart’ meters that can remotely read and monitor our electricity usage to such an extent they can pick out the usage adventures of different household appliances.
The Cabinet Office published the responses to its ‘Making Open Data Real’ consultation. Concerns were highlighted by responders regarding the difference between public open data, and pseudonymised or even pseudo-anonymised private data.
The UKBA agency decided it wasn’t a good use of their time to fingerprint illegal immigrants coming in through the Channel Tunnel.
Manchester and Birmingham airports decide to ditch their £9 million Iris Recognition Immigration System (IRIS) after 1 in 10 passengers using the system were being rejected. A setback for fans of biometrics, and those who think public money should be spent wisely.
The Telegraph reveal 20,000 have been smeared and falsely labelled as criminals by the Criminal Records Bureau. How many got compensation, for being victimised by the database state?
Reports begin to emerge that the Home Office is planning a major new surveillance project. NO2ID calls for a revision of revision of the legislation surrounding surveillance, to require a judicial warrant and reasonable suspicion of actual crimes.
The DVLA came under criticism for selling 43,000 drivers personal details to parking enforcement companies in just 20 months. Demonstrating the trade in personal details is thriving!
The DWP reveals £25 Million plans for Identity Assurance . Meanwhile at the DWP concerns start to grow over the Universal Credit system and real time time tax reporting.
Mass surveillance of travel gets a boost as Damien Green unveils a revamped e-borders system. As you can see the coalition is doing a great job here in ‘rolling back the database state’.
The ‘Snoopers Charter’ is the main news this month, as the Home Office’s plans to resurrect the Intercept Modernization Programme under the anodyne title of Communications and Capabilities Development Programme hit the press. NO2ID compares the plans to putting a ‘bug in every living room’.
The news releases a furious response from civil liberties campaigners, Conservatives such as David Davis MP and grass roots Liberal Democrat activists. Liberal Democrat Dr Jenny Wood moves an amendment highly critical of the surveillance plans at the parties spring conference. In response to mounting pressure Clegg announces the bill will be brought forward as a draft bill.
Legal experts point out that new laws would be required before plans by Francis Maude to create ‘fast-track mechanisms’ for data-sharing between government departments could be enacted. There is widespread concerns Maude’s plans have a striking resemblance to defeated data-sharing plans that Jack Straw placed within clause 154 of the Coroners and Justice Bill. Such measures would mean more of your personal data shipped around government departments for all sorts of administrative purposes.
The Protection of Freedom Act gained Royal Assent on the first of May. The Act was widely regarded as a ‘let down’ by civil liberties campaigners. It does however make a few improvements, setting out new laws to restrict the instances where DNA samples can be collected. However we are yet to see any deletion of the DNA samples collected on millions of innocent people.
Dispatches run a programme that helps to expose the secret trade in your personal details. Much of the information gained and then sold is obtained through supposedly secure database systems.
A small victory for privacy as patients get the right to opt-out of the GP extraction service. Dr Neil Bhatia, GP turned privacy campaigner rightly points out the Government has to launch an information campaign in order to prevent ‘degradation in confidence’ between GPs and patients.
Unable to let go of the past the ghost of Blair returns to tell us the only way to tackle illegal immigration is with ID cards. Which seems most unfair to the e-borders scheme 🙂
The Draft Communications Data Bill is published. NO2ID is highly critical of the plans describing the Coalition as offering a surveillance free-for-all. The bill is worse then many have feared. Opposition mounts amongst civil liberties campaigners with Liberty, Big Brother Watch, Privacy International, the Open Rights Group, Index on Censorship and NO2ID working together to oppose the plans. Parliamentarians are joining in with criticisms too as Dr Julian Huppert MP launches in with concerns over clause 1 of the bill.
Policy Exchange claim Big Data could save the UK £30 Billion pa with their ‘The Big Data Opportunity Report’. As ever Guy Hebert is on the ball “This looks like the latest metastasis of the Whitehall information-sharing cult. Not so much lacking privacy but unable to see its relevance when some vague assurance of ‘public benefit’ is waved around. You are not the customer of this sort of statism, you are the product.”
The joint parliamentary committee to examine the Draft Communications Data Bill has its first meeting. The call goes out for evidence, and civil liberties campaigners start putting pen to paper.
As do stars condense and form from hydrogen clouds, so do databases form from clouds of reactionary thought within White Hall – July greets us with the news that the UKBA is planning a ‘national allegations database’. It sounds like something hideously Orwellian and that is because it is. The allegation database will track hearsay, fears, and speculations.
David Cameron announces that your most sensitive private medical records will be sold off to private researchers. Any morality about selling your most sensitive medical records to private companies without your consent gets ignored amongst promises it will aid medical research. Prof Ross Anderson sums up the problems perfectly. “The fundamental problem is this: If your GP record is sent to the MHRA, then even if they strip off all the personal ID and give you a random number, then somebody who knows about some episodes in your past, such as an appendix operation, or knee surgery, can zoom in on you. You cannot give out longitudinal records except with quite extraordinary amounts of care.”
Big Brother Watch release their report ‘A legacy of suspicion: How RIPA has been used by local authorities and and public bodies’.
The joint parliamentary committee on the Draft Communications Bill publishes a treasurer trove of opinion and analysis on the bill. The written evidence contains submissions from a whole host of privacy experts, computer scientists and civil liberties groups.
A court clerk demonstrates the power databases have to administer justice. Withdrawing a warrant on a fine issued on a friend, and making illegal criminal records checks. No one knows how many more cases like this go undetected.
The ANPR system tracks motorists around the country, and then stores these details at a central data-centre for a number of years. The location of the cameras is kept secret, and citizens are refused to even see the record logs of where they have been tracked. We know this as I tried myself to get my records back using powers under the data protection act. In September it emerged that the average motorists is clocked about 200 hundred times a year on this system.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) calls for greater internet surveillance to help combat cyber terrorism. The Home Secretary welcomes the report and suggests this is what the ‘snoopers charter’ will help achieve. Interestingly this timely report also happened to be funded by the UK government.
The Information Commissioners Officer (ICO) sees and opportunity with the draft communications bill and calls for more public funds to protect the public from snooping plans.
Secret databases run to create union blacklists hits the press again. Thousands of people have had their livelihoods taken away as a result of this shameful practice.
Anyone concerned about their medical privacy, and plans to sell their data to private research companies may in November have had their fears confounded, when it emerged the NHS managed to lose track of 1.8 million patient records in a year.
The ICO undermines its earlier claim it needs money to protect privacy by releasing a code of practice that states anonymised data does not have to provide a 100% guarantee an individuals privacy to be lawful.
The Electoral Services and Administration Bill gets scrutinised by the House of Lords. Plans for a new individual electoral roll will see new data-matching trials going ahead in an attempt to route out people who have chosen not to register to vote.
Another alarming story to emerge in November is that 8 million children are on a secret database. Taking inspiration perhaps from the Lord of the Rings, the esoterically named ‘One’ database has been created by Capita, and is recording details on children’s age, sex, address, academic record, absenteeism, special needs and bad behaviour.
In other news affecting our schools it emerged that ministers are planning to ‘maximise the value’ of kiddy data ‘resource’. NO2ID address its concerns on Radio 4’s You and Yours.
The much anticipated joint committee’s report on the draft communications bill was released in December. NO2ID said there was ‘no case for push-button surveillance’.
There was widespread condemnation of the bill in the committees report. Liberal Democrats are quick to use the bill as a means of differentiation between themselves and the Conservatives, and this narrative of a coalition bust-up between Clegg and May suites the media.
40 Tories warn: Reform the snoopers’ charter or we’ll stage a full-scale revolt. Dominic Raab MP shows it just the Liberal Democrats that have issues with the ‘snoopers charter’ by organising a letter signed by 40 Tory MPs who all oppose the bill.
Wannabe super snoop and arch securocrat behind the ‘snoopers charter’ Charles Farr makes the mistake of becoming the story, and is forced out of the shadows to make a public appearance in public.
After all the Christmas feasting, there still seems time to fit in one last wafer thin database. Contact Point MkII appears to make an appearance at the end of 2012 . This risks of this system are obvious, as social services try to track down ‘suspicious’ cases of children who are taken to A&E, parents who may already be identified as living in a ‘troubled family’ will be put off taking their child for emergency treatment for fear of being labelled an abuser.