Given the importance placed upon communications data in the PR offensive before the draft Communications Data Bill was launched , you would hope that the process to draft the Bill was rigorous and fully involved the companies affected.
We already know from previous evidence that the main evidential basis for the bill came from a two week survey of selected police forces conducted fairly recently.
Now evidence from the Joint Committee’s private sessions with communications companies Google, Yahoo and Twitter (part 1) Facebook, Microsoft (covering both Skype and Hotmail) and Tor, (part 2) has now been published and casts serious doubt over the Home Office’s assertion that everything was hunky dory with the Bill.
“Technically, this amounted to intrusive surveillance, which the police can authorise, but the council cannot.” Cambridge City Council report.
As reported on the front page of today’s Cambridge News, a report to Cambridge city council, to be discussed next week, highlights how the Council signed off on an operation to install hidden CCTV cameras in the home of a resident, despite not having the legal authority to do so.
The situation clearly warranted action to protect the resident and to ensure a proper prosecution could be mounted. This is why the police do have the power to install hidden cameras – and in this case it should have been the police investigating, not the council. While the Protection of Freedoms Act will now require a council seeks a magistrate’s approval for Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act operation, other public authorities will not.
It highlights just how weak the safeguards around these powers are that a council thought it had the power to plant secret cameras in someone’s home when they absolutely do not.
The failures in authorisation and legal advice are starkly laid out in this case, but in how many other situations are public authorities erring beyond their powers? We do not know, and cases like this only further highlight the weakness of the current oversight regime around RIPA.
Last month we detailed how one of the key statistics being relied upon by campaigners calling for ‘default blocking’ of some internet content was based upon one very dubious survey in a single school.
This kind of deliberately misleading scaremongering undermines the discussion about how best to protect children, and now it’s clear that commercial pressures are also leading to dodgy stats being pushed into the debate.
This week, the Advertising Standards Authority has rebuked Carphone Warehouse for it’s marketing of a service we’ve previously been very critical of, Bemilo. The service hit the headlines for it’s feature that allowed parents to read the text messages of children, prompted by our warning that parenting is not spying.
Across the country, police forces are now busy tracking down people to hand over a DNA sample, not based on any current suspicion of committing an offence but purely because of historical offences that took place decades ago.
The civil liberties implications of this kind of operation are clear. People, currently not under suspicion for any crime and who have served their punishment for past offences, are now hunted down simply in the hope that the force will get lucky and clear up a case.
However, there is also a wider point. A pilot scheme carried out by Hampshire police gathered 167 samples, however none of them matched any outstanding crimes. Now call us pedants, but as pilot schemes go that doesn’t sound like a success. Indeed, you might even suggest that it was a waste of police time. The initial list was 471 people, but for various reasons – including people being dead – the force didn’t manage to collect even half their intended samples.
Based on data covering more than 2,000 secondary schools and academies, Big Brother Watch warns that there are more than 100,000 CCTV cameras in secondary schools and academies across England, Wales and Scotland.
With some schools seeing a ratio of one camera for every five pupils, more than two hundred schools using CCTV in bathrooms and changing rooms and more cameras inside school buildings as outside, the picture across the country will undoubtedly shock and surprise many.
To put into context the number of cameras, our research earlier this year found there are currently at least 51,600 CCTV cameras controlled by 428 local authorities.
The report, which you can download here, warns that the Home Office’s proposed system of regulation for CCTV cameras is not fit for purpose, with the newly created position of Surveillance Camera Commissioner having no enforcement or inspection powers.
Dear Prime Minister,
Re: Department for Education consultation on parental internet controls
We write to you as the consultation on parental controls closes. In recent years there have been two comprehensive reviews into the issue of child safety online, the Byron Review and the Bailey Review. They considered a wealth of academic expertise, parental concerns and technical input and both arrived at the same conclusion – parents are the best people to decide what their children can see.
To ignore these in-depth and comprehensive reviews and instead adopt a system of ‘default blocking’ would be a short sighted and dangerous step, while doing little to empower parents or children. As Ofcom recognised, blocking is trivial to circumvent and it is likely a default blocking system would lull parents into a false sense of security. A more complex, connected world needs parents to engage more with their children on issues of safety, privacy and personal development – default blocking undermines this dialogue.
Yesterday I was a guest on Radio 4′s PM Programme debating a new petition to be handed in to Government on Thursday calling for a ‘default block’ on internet browsing.
One of the key statistics relied upon by the campaign is that “1 in 3 10 year olds have seen pornography online “. They do recognise it was published in Psychologies Magazine in 2010, but the appearance is given that this is a serious statistic. It’s also used in their ‘Key Facts’ briefing.
When you dig a little deeper however, that definitely isn’t the case. The full section in the magazine reads:
“We’ve had plenty of letters from concerned readers on this very topic, and when we decided to canvass the views of 14- to 16-year-olds at a north London secondary school, the results took us by surprise.
• Almost one-third first looked at sexual images online when they were aged 10 or younger.”
So, the statistic – used to introduce the PM segment and at the heart of the petition’s press release – is based on one magazine’s anecdotal research at a single school.
Today a petition will be handed in calling for the Government to abandon its current position on internet safety and to instead enforce a ‘default block’ system.
The Coalition for a Digital Economy have summarised five reasons why this is a bad idea, while Christian blog Crimperman outlines the serious parenting and freedom of speech issues involved.
As we’ve previously argued, default blocking is a dangerous system that risks lulling parents into a false sense of security, while being trivial to avoid for youngsters. That’s why two independent Government reviews have rejected it and said it should be parents who decide what their children see. It also requires a major intrusion into our privacy, only working with a system of total surveillance.