ORG parliamentary and policy update/2013-w08

< ORG parliamentary and policy update

Official Meetings

ORG has held numerous meetings in the past week. Peter Bradwell travelled to Brussels to meet with numerous MEPs, including British MEPs Catherine Stihler, as well as staffers from the offices of Claude Moraes and Rebecca Taylor. ORG sought, but were not invited to, meetings with Giles Chichester, Malcolm Harbour and Sajjad Karim. As Mr. Karim will be voting as part of the Legal Affairs Committee in March, ORG will continue to seek to meet with him over the coming weeks. Additionally, Mr. Bradwell met with MEPs and staffers from other EU member states.

Jim Killock met with Labour and Liberal Democrat political advisors to discuss the Communications Data Bill and child protection issues. He also attended a breakfast discussion chaired by Index on Censorship hosted by the Swedish Ambassador. On Saturday 23 March, Mr. Killock is scheduled to attend an Institute of Contemporary Arts discussion focusing on the late Aaron Schwartz's 'Guerilla Open Access Manifesto.'

Consultations and Departments

Department of Health

Following a Freedom of Information Request by the pressure group Ethics and Genetics, the Department of Health admitted that private businesses may be able to gain information that could identify patients, even without the consent of the patient. The plan involves the creation of a Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) which would sell collated anonymous medical records to private businesses. Most controversially, the DoH also admitted that though patients could opt out of such a system, some data could still be used regardless of refusal. The DoH stated that;

"Projects may apply to the Ethics and Confidentiality Committee for Section 251 approval where consent cannot be obtained. There are circumstances where it is very difficult to contact patients to seek their consent, or where it is vital that the data are identifiable, for example, to link data with a separate data set."

Ethics and Genetics have been highly critical of the plans, warning that genetic discrimination could be brought in by the back door.


Science and Technology Committee

The Science and Technology Committee has published its report into Open Access publishing. The Coalition Government is on record as supporting open access publishing, particularly David Willets, and the Committee was talked with exploring how greater levels of open access publishing could be achieved. The Committee came to the following conclusions for Research Councils UK to explore in its new open access policy;

  • do different disciplines require different embargo periods and licences?
  • is the UK moving toward a similar system that is being deployed in other countries?
  • do article processing charges have a detrimental impact upon non-UK articles published in the UK?
  • has peer reviewing suffered?
  • have collaborations between authors suffered?
  • has their been an impact upon learned societies?

Furthermore, the Committee recommended the Government pursue a full cost-benefit analysis and for "the Government and RCUK [to] take immediate action to address specific concerns about RCUK's open access policy and maintain a watching brief in case mid-course corrections are required."

Government Bills

Defamation Bill

There is a fear in some circles that the Defamation Bill may be dropped from the Government's legislative programme after an amendment put forward by Lord Puttnam was voted through at the Third Reading. The amendment, on becoming law, would set up a libel arbitration body that may limit press freedom by threatening journalists who do not consult it before publication with much higher fines. Lord Puttnam justified the amendment by saying that "without statutory authority, the courts would not be able to give preferential treatment to those newspapers that used the low-cost arbitration service" and noted that it was a "ready made and carefully considered solution" to libel issues. The amendment was passed by 272 votes to 141; Lord Lester has referred to the amendment as "party political gamesmanship" and has warned that the Bill may have to be dropped. Given the opposition of the Coalition Government to a statutory Leveson system of press regulation, dropping the Bill may be seen as preferable.

According to a news report;

"The Bill is due leave the Lords next week and return to the Commons, and the Government is going to attempt a last ditch bid to have the rebel amendment removed on Monday at the third reading stage in the Lords."

International Developments

Electronic Privacy Information Center contacts US Government over EU lobbying

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has written to the US Secretaries of State, Commerce and Justice to express its concern over the role US officials have reportedly played in the development of the Data Protection Regulation. In the letter, EPIC writes that their representatives have met with MEPs and are concerned with the level of lobbying that US officials have embarked on to water down the Regulation. According to EPIC, MEPs were most concerned about the security of Cloud data; an issue which several amendments were tabled to address and can be reviewed in ORG's briefing on the subject. Alongside noting their concern over US lobbying and their support for the Regulation, they also call on US lawmakers to legislate to create a similar set of regulations for the United States.

Egypt's Telecoms Ministry refuses to block access to YouTube

According to a BBC report, the Egyption Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has refused to follow a court order to block YouTube due to its hosting of the 'Innocence of Muslims' video. Google has also refused to remove the 'film' from YouTube but has blocked it in several countries, including Egypt.

European Union

ITRE Vote on Data Protection Regulation

This week, the Industry, Research and Energy Committee of the European Parliament voted on the General Data Protection Regulation; the vote reduced the amount of control users would have over their data and restricted the level at which fines could be set for data breaches. This represents the second committee to vote to water down the proposals from the original Draft, following the vote of Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, who passed a significantly watered down new Draft at the end of January.

In related news, BT has become the latest corporation to be profiled by the media for trying to water down the General Data Protection Regulation currently going through the European Parliament. BT is lobbying to have more freedom to use customer data and has argued that compliance costs with a strict Regulation would be too great. Peter Bradwell of ORG criticised BT, accusing it of spreading "misinformation."

European Union could take legal action against Google due to privacy policy

It has been reported that the European Union make take action against Google due to its combining of data to better target users with advertising. The regulator, CNIL, has given Google four months to revise its policy but says that no revision has been forthcoming. Google, in turn, has disputed this and has stated that "we have engaged fully with the CNIL throughout this process, and we'll continue to do so going forward." Regulatory changes, put forward by the European regulators, include Google creating a centralised 'opt-out' tool for users, asking for explicit consent to use personal data and only using personal data for enumerated purposes, such as for security.

Law and Legal cases

Court of Appeal Ruling suggests ISPs do become responsible for content

A ruling at the Court of Appeal of England and Wales has suggested that internet service providers do eventually become responsible for the content that they host, raising the spectre of future legal actions against them. Former Conservative Party local candidate Payam Tamiz had sued Google due to their hosting of defamatory material on a blog. Mr. Tamiz contacted Google who, after five weeks, approached the blogger and the content was removed. Mr. Tamiz continued his action against Google and lost. However, in the decision, Lord Justice Richards suggested that, based upon precedent involving liable cases, Google could at some stage following publication become responsible for the content and thus face future legal action.

ORG Media coverage

See ORG Press Coverage for full details.

BPI wish to block more music download sites

The Open Rights Group has been quoted in a PC Pro news story. The British Phonographic Industry is currently seeking to block three BitTorrent sites, having already successfully blocked The Pirate Bay. ORG commented:

"Once a site is blocked, its alleged clone sites can also be blocked, but in this case, BPI will be able to practice this without a court order. The decisions would be made between BPI and ISPs and will not be published."

The issue is, as ORG noted, that copycat sites can be blocked without a court order, unlike sites that have been set up independently and this occurs without the information being made publicly available.

ORG criticises tech companies over Data Protection Regulation

Peter Bradwell of the Open Rights Group has criticised tech companies such as Google and BT, accusing them of exerting "enormous pressure" and spreading "misinformation" over the impact of the General Data Protection Regulation. Quoted in Tech Weekly, Mr. Bradwell went on to state that,

"MEPs voted to significantly reduce the control people would have over the use of their data. They have weakened the meaning of consent, narrowed the definition of personal information so certain types have less protection...[this] completely undermines people’s ability to control how their information is used.”

This story was also featured on V3.