This is ORG's Parliamentary Update for the week beginning 16/12/2013
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NSA and GCHQ updates
American federal judge finds domestic collection of bulk data unconstitutional
On Tuesday, District Judge Richard Leon ruled the ΝSA's mass collection of American's communications data as unconstitutional. The judgement came as part of a case brought by a user of telecom company Verizon who objected to having his information stored.
Mr Leon said the American government "does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA's bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature."
However, the ruling was only limited to the specific case, the judge did not extend it to the full government operation, as it is now pending an appeal. He did say that there should be laws to ensure the collection of metadata was aimed at terrorists and not US citizens.
Meeting between major technology companies and US president
On Tuesday, a 15 member delegation of major tech companies (including CEO of Apple, CEO of Yahoo, Google’s executive chairman, representatives from Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter) met with senior White House executives including the president and the vice-president to discuss "a number of issues of shared importance to the federal government and the tech sector". However, representatives from the technology companies had mentioned earlier the issue of highest importance would be mass surveillance. According to reports they discussed PRISM and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a law that allows digital communications older than six months to be seized without a warrant.
When the meeting concluded, White House representatives said the president would consider all stakeholders input as he believed in an "open, free, and innovative internet". In addition the president is currently considering suggestions from the panel set up to review the NSA surveillance practices.
White House surveillance report published
The panel set up by President Obama to review the NSA's surveillance programme has released their assessment report. In it they make a series of 46 recommendations including:
- The NSA should be stripped of the authority to store communications metadata collected from the surveillance programme. Instead it should be held by third-parties, possibly the telecommunications companies
- The President should oversee and approve every instance of surveillance of a foreign leader
- The data held on an individual should only be searched if there is a specific court order and sufficient evidence to show that the data is relevant
The report said that mass surveillance only made a "modest" contribution to the prevention of terrorist attacks. They also added "The question is not whether granting the government (this) authority makes us incrementally safer, but whether the additional safety is worth the sacrifice in terms of individual privacy, personal liberty and public trust."
The American government will now have to decide which recommendations to take on and which to reject.
The report "Liberty and Security in a Changing World" has been published online in PDF format.
Consultations and departments
A full list of open consultations and Parliamentary events can be found on our Events
Home Office accidentally published the personal details of 1,598 immigrants online
Last Thursday the Home Office announced that they had accidentally published the personal details of applicants for "family returns" on their website and were left online for two weeks in October. The office's official press release said that as part of their strategy to be more transparent and open, they regularly upload information of their work, spending and outcomes so that it can be easily accessible to the public.
The press release stated the Information Commissioner’s Office had been notified and would launch an internal investigation into how this information was published.
Cabinet Office publishes report on 2013 progress of the National Cyber Strategy and future plans
Francis Maude MP delivered a ministerial statement on the progress of the National Cyber Strategy. The strategy aims among other things, to make the UK "one of the most secure places in the world to do business in cyberspace" and make it more resilient to cyber attacks.
According to the minister one of the milestones included the launch of the National Crime Agency and the National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU). Among this year's achievements, were the NCCU's arrest of 6 suspects who were convicted of stealing thousands of pounds by using fake online adverts.
Another stated success was the launch of the Cyber Security Information Sharing Partnership which currently includes more than 250 companies. The partnership is a platform between security services, law enforcement and industry to exchange concerns of risks in real time.
Department of Business, Innovation & Skills release seventh statement
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have released their statement on the set of regulations for the coming six months. Their new set of policies include a 'one-in, two-out' rule which means that any new regulation that imposes costs on business will be set-off by deregulation of the same amount.
Among the new regulations will be the copyright exceptions recommended by the Hargreaves Review, including exceptions for parody, private copying and archiving and preservation. BIS say that the exceptions, to be introduced via statutory instruments, will be in place by April.
The full report has been published online in PDF format.
Debates and questions
Former GCHQ head said intelligence chiefs shouldn't be accountable to parliament in debate on UK surveillance and terrorism
On Tuesday, Labour organised a panel discussion with the subject "GCHQ and the fight against terrorism: does UK surveillance go too far?". Panelists included Alan Rusbridger the chief editor of the Guardian, David Omand former Director of GCHQ, George Howarth MP, Diana Johnson MP, Katy Clark MP, Jimmy Wales the founder of Wikipedia and Andrew Noakes chair of the Labour Campaign for Human Rights.
During the discussion, the former GCHQ head said that while he believed the heads of the intelligence services should make more public appearances, they should not be accountable to parliament. In his own words, " It's ministers who are accountable to parliament; it is not the agency heads who are accountable to parliament. [There are] constitutional arrangements and you're building up the agency heads into something they are not". He also added that intelligence agencies should be granted access to technology companies via the back door.
Question on children affected by cyber-bullying
A question was asked on whether the UK government has made an assessment of how many children suffer from cyber bullying. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education answered that the Childhood Wellbeing Centre found in 2011 that somewhere between 8% and 34% of children and young people in the UK have been cyberbullied.
Open letter signed by ORG, Tim Berners Lee and civil society to Open Government Partnership
An open letter has been published which urges all Open Government Partnership members to take on new commitments in their open government action plans in order to increase transparency. These include measures to overhaul privacy laws, increase transparency on the export of surveillance technology and surveillance programmes and protect whistle blowers.
The signatories include the founder of the internet Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Satbir Singh from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and 110 civil society organisations from all over the world.
The letter can be accessed online in PDF format.
European Telecommunications Council discuss proposals for single market of electronic communications
On 5 December, the European Transport and Telecoms council convened to discuss proposals to create a single European market for electronic communications. The proposed bill wants to reduce the fragmentation of policies across the continent and harmonize the laws ad rights enjoyed by consumers. The proposals would reduce consumer charges by banning incoming call charges when travelling within Europe, harmonize consumers rights (including greater freedoms to change contracts) and would provide legal protection for open internet.
While the overall objectives of the proposals were met with agreement France, Portugal, Czech Republic, Denmark and Sweden wanted to prioritise legislative proposals over connected continent package such as electronic identification, broadband cost-reduction and network and information security. France and other countries questioned the speed of the proposals drafting and asked for the re examination of certain sections.
Preliminary conclusion of inquiry into mass surveillance
The European Union's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs inquiry into PRISM and Tempora has released their preliminary findings. The inquiry's rapporteur, Claude Moraes MEP write in his report a series of recommendations, including:
- The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US should only be signed if it does not make any reference to Data protection. He said “We need to ensure that strong data privacy protections are achieved separately from the TTIP”
- Swift creation of an EU data storage “cloud” and judicial redress for EU citizens to protect their data in the US.
- Urging the US to draw up a code of conduct to guarantee that espionage is not carried out against EU institutions and facilities.
The press released has been published on the European Parliament's website.
BT launches new filtering system
While BT says their main aim is to protect children from online dangers, an investigation by the BBC's Newsnight revealed that sex education websites and sites that offer advice on domestic abuse were among those blocked in their BT Parental Controls package because they had been categorised as 'pornographic'. Those websites included, Sexual Health Scotland, Doncaster Domestic Abuse Helpline, and Reducing The Risk.
TalkTalk faced the same problem when they launched their filtering system in May 2011. Websites blocked were award winning sex education site BishUK.com, Edinburgh Women's Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre as well as the Liberal Democrat's LGBT news website. The writer of BishUk was only notified of the site's blocking by the Newsnight programme.
ORG has frequently written about filtering and the issues of over-blocking. This week we sent a series of ten recommendations to the UKCCIS, the DCMS and individual ISP's. You can view the full list on our blog.
ORG Media coverage
- 2012-12-20 - Guardian - Amazon accidentally removes Disney Christmas special from owners' accounts
- Author: Alex Hern
- Summary: Peter Bradwell quoted
See ORG Press Coverage for full details.