Letter: Hands off our data

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Originally published on The Telegraph letters page

SIR – We wish to highlight concerns with “information sharing” provisions in the Digital Economy Bill.

The Bill puts government ministers in control of citizens’ personal data, a significant change in the relationship between citizen and state. It means that personal data provided to one part of government can be shared with other parts of government and private‑sector companies without citizens’ knowledge or consent.

Government should be strengthening, not weakening, the protection of sensitive information, particularly given the almost daily reports of hacks and leaks of personal data. Legal and technical safeguards need to be embedded within the Bill to ensure citizens’ trust. There must be clear guidance for officials, and mechanisms by which they and the organisations with whom they share information can be held to account.

The Government’s intention is to improve the wellbeing of citizens, and to prevent fraud. This makes it especially important that sensitive personal details, such as income or disability, cannot be misappropriated or misused – finding their way into the hands of payday-loan companies, for example. Information sharing could exacerbate the difficulties faced by the most vulnerable in society.

The Government should be an exemplar in ensuring the security and protection of citizens’ personal data. If the necessary technical and legal safeguards cannot be embedded in the current Bill and codes of practice, we respectfully urge the Government to remove its personal data sharing proposals in their entirety.

Dr Jerry Fishenden
Co-Chairman, Cabinet Office Privacy and Consumer Advisory Group (PCAG)

Renate Samson
Chief Executive, Big Brother Watch

Ian Taylor
Director, Association of British Drivers

Jo Glanville
Director, English PEN

Jodie Ginsberg
Chief Executive Officer, Index on Censorship

Dr Edgar Whitley
Co-Chairman, Cabinet Office PCAG and London School of Economics and Political Science

David Evans
Director of Policy, BCS – The Chartered Institute for IT

Dr Gus Hosein
Executive Director, Privacy International and Member of Cabinet Office PCAG

Rachel Coldicutt
Chief Executive Officer, Doteveryone

Roger Darlington
Chairman, Consumer Forum for Communications

Dr Kieron O’Hara
Associate Professor Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton.

Professor Angela Sasse
Head of Information Security Research, University College London and Member of Cabinet Office PCAG

Dr Judith Townend
Lecturer in Media and Information Law, University of Sussex

Dr Louise Bennett
Chairman, BCS Security Group and Member of Cabinet Office PCAG

StJohn Deakins
Chief Executive Officer, CitizenMe

Rory Broomfield
Director, The Freedom Association

Sarah Gold
Director and Founder, Projects by IF

Jim Killock
Director, Open Rights Group

Guy Herbert
General Secretary, NO2ID and Member of Cabinet Office PCAG

Dr George Danezis
Professor of Security and Privacy Engineering, University College London and Member of Cabinet Office PCAG

Jamie Grace
Senior Lecturer in Law, Sheffield Hallam University

Eric King
Visiting Professor, Queen Mary University

Josie Appleton
Director, Manifesto Club

Jen Persson
Co-ordinator, Defend Digital Me

Dr Chris Pounder
Director, Amberhawk and Member of Cabinet Office PCAG

Sam Smith
medConfidential and Member of Cabinet Office PCAG[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]

#debill – wtf?

The Internet breathed a collective sigh of absolute bemusement this week when late on Tuesday evening the UK parliament passed the Digital Economy Bill, a bill seemingly written in order to keep antiquated media distribution methods going for another six months.

There are, of course, issues about how artists, writers and content creators cope in a world where people increasingly expect to read, watch and listen to material for free online. But the bill’s solution — cutting access to the Internet for lines that have been used to download material illegally, is quite simply ridiculous.

In a time when online activity is increasingly social rather than a matter of mere consumption, the idea of cutting someone’s access off, without any judicial/criminal process, is akin to online house arrest.

Except, of course, it’s worse. It’s much more indiscriminate, as internet connections tend to be shared by families and flatmates. In fact, technically, this could cause the closure of internet cafes, were their connections to be found being used illegally.

One of the arguments used in the Commons debate (step forward Stephen Pound MP) was that young suffering bands would never be able to make a living from their music. But Simon Indelicate, of Brighton-based group, er, The Indelicates, told Index:

Often in this debate, those urging the clumsy, ill-defined and dangerous measures mandated by the Digital Economy Bill have referred to poor struggling musical artists unable to make a living because of filesharing as its principle beneficiaries. Any musician with even a rudimentary appreciation of their predicament will know at once that this is garbage. The Record Industry has always exploited the expense involved in recording, promoting and distributing music to offer terrible, bankrupting deals to all but a vanishingly tiny minority of musicians. The Internet has nuked their business model by making these once scarce resources abundant – artists should be celebrating the opportunity this offers, not slavishly supporting legislation designed to anachronistically prop up a rotten old business that has been screwing them over since its inception. Well, not me. Filesharing has directly benefited me as a promotional tool – it is my cake. Stripping away rights from ordinary british people so as to fail to safeguard profits that would have been treated as recoupable income and never paid to me anyway would be eating it too. Not in my name. I wish more musicians would say the same.

(Read more of Simon Indelicate’s thoughts on the Digital Economy Bill here)

Anyway, what happens now? Ian Brown of the Oxford Internet Institute suggests it’s not over yet:

The House of Commons may have rushed through the Digital Economy Act with minimal scrutiny, but I think public protest over its far-ranging provisions is just warming up. Most of the UK’s 50m Internet users are only just hearing about this threat to their ability to work, learn and express themselves online.

The Internet’s democratic potential will be damaged by powers in the Act for users to be disconnected and websites to be blocked. But in the meantime, the tens of thousands of citizens who complained about the lack of debate to their MPs will be thinking about next month’s general election. Voters have an ideal opportunity to favour candidates that support freedom of expression and promise to block the secondary legislation that is still needed in the next Parliament to bring many of the Act’s provisions into force.

Meanwhile, the Open Rights Group says:

This week, the Digital Economy Bill, with all its myriad problems, was pushed through – after the election was declared. Without full debate and scrutiny, and in the face of huge public opposition. Now, the same people that bypassed democracy want your vote, and are knocking on your door.
What You Can Do Now
We need to make this an election issue. Apparently, this is the ‘word of mouth’ election, where new social tools will dominate. Well, for the first two days the #DEBill has dominated Twitter and has gained 9,000 Facebook opponents, as well as 20,000 emails and 34,000 Number 10 petitioners.
Seems like the #DEBill is for a generation a sign that politicians are out of touch and unable to understand our values. So we’re organising to help you find candidates that do understand.
We are choosing which candidates we can support in each constituency, and helping local activists campaign. Did your MP help bypass democratic scrutiny? The voters need to know.

Digital Economy Bill: web censorship on horizon

Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Razzal introduced a controversial clause in the already controversial Digital Economy Bill earlier this month, which Google, Facebook, BT, among many others, have claimed will “threaten freedom of speech and open internet” in the UK.

Clause 18 (amendment 120A), ostensibly to introduce judicial oversight to the legislation, allows copyright holders to demand ISPs block web sites which may contain copyrighted material. Sites like Youtube and Wikileaks come to mind.

Jim Killock, of the Open Rights Group (ORG), notes this will curb freedom of expression in the same way British libel law currently does: “Individuals and small businesses would be open to massive ‘copyright attacks’ that could shut them <> down, just by the threat of action.”

The BPI, which lobbies for multinational music corporations in the UK, however, claimed the clause was a “clear and sensible” mechanism in a letter to the Financial Times.

No wonder: the ORG revealed last week that clause 18 was copied almost word for word from the BPI’s draft!

Fears are now, because of the coming general election, the bill will be passed through the “wash up” procedure, where the government and opposition make deals behind closed doors, bypassing parliamentary debate.

BPI lobbyist, and prospective MP, Richard Mollet, said in a leaked memo that if the parliament does its job and forces a debate the bill may not have time to be passed before the general election. Despite this, Richard notes MPs will likely have “minimum input” from this point on.

The ORG and 38 Degrees are urging citizens to lobby their MPs on this, and the “three strikes” disconnection policy which threatens to deny citizens the use of what is increasingly a vital service for work, education and social life: the internet. Over 10,000 have already taken up the call .

In a letter to the Guardian on 19 March, Jo Glanville of Index on Censorship and others demanded that the bill be scrapped or properly debated in parliament.

Google and Stephen Fry attack digital bill

ISPs, Google, Facebook, eBay, Yahoo and the Open Rights Group sign letter saying bill threatens free speech

In a letter published in the Financial Times today, digital rights campaigners and consumer and industry groups argue a key amendment in the Digital Economy bill is “poor law making” that will encourage site blocking and damage free expression.
Dear Sirs,
We regret that the House of Lords last week adopted amendment 120A to the Digital Economy Bill. This amendment not only significantly changes the injunctions procedure in the UK but will lead to an increase in Internet service providers blocking websites accused of illegally hosting copyrighted material without cases even reaching a judge. The amendment seeks to address the legitimate concerns of rights-holders but would have unintended consequences which far outweigh any benefits it could bring.
Endorsing a policy that would encourage the blocking of websites by UK broadband providers or other Internet companies is a very serious step for the UK to take. There are myriad legal, technical and practical issues to reconcile before this can be considered a proportionate and necessary public policy option.  In some cases, these may never be reconciled. These issues have not even been considered in this case.
The Lords have been thoughtful in their consideration of the Bill to date.  It is therefore bitterly disappointing that the House has allowed an amendment with obvious shortcomings to proceed without challenging its proponents to consider and address the full consequences.  Put simply, blocking access as envisaged by this clause would both widely disrupt the Internet in the UK and elsewhere, threatening freedom of speech and the open Internet, without reducing copyright infringement as intended. To rush through such a controversial proposal at the tail end of a Parliament, without any kind of consultation with consumers or industry, is very poor law making.
We are particularly concerned that a measure of this kind as a general purpose policy could have an adverse impact on the reputation of the UK as a place to do online business and conflict with the broader objectives of Digital Britain.  This debate has created a tension between specific interest groups and the bigger prize of promoting a policy framework that supports our digital economy and appropriately balances rights and responsibilities.  All parties should take steps to safeguard this prize and place it at the heart of public policy in this area.
Yours sincerely,
Tom Alexander, CEO, Orange UK
Richard Allan, Director of Policy EU, Facebook
Neil Berkett, Chief Executive, Virgin Media
Matt Brittin, Managing Director, Google UK and Ireland
Charles Dunstone, Chairman, Talk Talk Group
Stephen Fry
Jessica Hendrie-Liaño, Chair, Internet Services Providers Association (ISPA)
Jill Johnstone, International Director, Consumer Focus
Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group
Mark Lewis, Managing Director, eBay UK Ltd
Ian Livingston, Chief Executive, BT Group
Professor Sarah Oates, University of Glasgow
Dr Jenny Pickerill, University of Leicester
Mark Rabe, Managing Director, Yahoo! UK and Ireland
Dr Paul Reilly, University of Leicester
Jess Search, Founder, Shooting People independent film makers
Professor Ian Walden, Queen Mary, University of London
Tom Watson MP