ORG parliamentary and policy update/2014-w09

< ORG parliamentary and policy update

This is ORG's Parliamentary Update for the week beginning 24/02/14

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Official Meetings

Jim Killock spoke at the Oxford Media Convention on Wednesday and met with the Don't Spy on Us campaign.

Javier Ruiz and Peter Bradwell spoke at the UK Council for Child Internet Safety about online filtering.

NSA and GCHQ updates

See our full list of the Guardian and Snowden’s revelations.

GCHQ captures images of Yahoo Webchat users

A programme called 'Optic Nerve' was used by GCHQ to capture and store images of people using Yahoo Webchat. According to the Guardian's reporting, the agency stored one image every five minutes to comply with human rights legislation and to avoid overloading their servers. The intelligence agency collected the images by intercepting fibre-optic cables and then allegedly, shared the information with the NSA.

According to their documents, Yahoo was targeted because "Yahoo webcam is known to be used by GCHQ targets".

While GCHQ insist that all of their activities are necessary, proportionate and always in accordance with legislation, the documents describe users whose webcams were intercepted as 'unselected', which according to the Guardian, means bulk audience. Further, analysts were shown faces of those who had similar user names to their targets. Both practises could result in a large number of unsuspected and untargeted people's privacy evaded.

3% to 11% of imagery harvested reportedly contained "undesirable imagery" of nudity and sexual content. The documents also show that the agency expressing interest in Xbox 360's Kinect camera capabilities and other game consoles.

The documents also show attempts to create an automated facial recognition to monitor existing targets; "Face detection has the potential to aid selection of useful images for 'mugshots' or even for face recognition by assessing the angle of the face".

On the legal aspects, the documents state: "It was agreed that the legalities of such a capability would be considered once it had been developed, but that the general principle applied would be that if the accuracy of the algorithm was such that it was useful to the analyst (ie, the number of spurious results was low, then it was likely to be proportionate),"

Yahoo reacted to the information saying "This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy that is completely unacceptable, and we strongly call on the world's governments to reform surveillance law

NSA extends surveillance to German ministers since Obama's ban on Merkel

According to German news outlet, Bild am Sonntag, the NSA has extended the surveillance of German government officials, including the minister of interior. The extension comes since President Obama pledged to end spying on EU leaders. The allegations come from a senior NSA employee in Germany, who said "We have had the order not to miss out on any information now that we are no longer able to monitor the Chancellor's communication directly".

320 high-ranking officials, businesses men and German software company SAP are thought to be on the intelligence agency's watchlist.

Consultations and departments

A full list of open consultations and Parliamentary events can be found on our Events

Secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport makes speech about responsibility in 'Internet Age'

Maria Miller MP spoke at the Oxford media convention on Wednesday about the benefits and responsibilities, created through the use of the internet.

She spoke of the importance of maintaining the internet's openness, innovation and security. However, she said that while the internet is a place of openness and freedom of expression (according to the Secretary, also a part of human DNA), it is also a place where the law and social obligations are expected and should be enforced. Whatever is illegal offline is also illegal online.

She said the internet is about good citizenship, an example of which, she stated, are the new filtering services provided by ISPs. She said "The work that ISPs have done since last summer to deliver on filtering is a great example(...) And it works, not least because we’ve been able to demonstrate that the solutions to these problems are not always best arrived at through more regulation."

She also characterised the increasing use of data by industries as a "driver for growth and creativity" while making a short comment on the cost of having all our details (location, preferences) sold. In reference to this phenomenon she said, in a slightly ironic statement, that transparency was essential for consumers to "feel safe and empowered by the use internet, and the data that flows across it".

You can view a full transcript of her speech on the government website.

Hospital records sold to insurance companies as delayed

Medical records of 47 million patients, covering 13 years, have been sold to be analysed by insurance companies. The information was sold by the NHS Information Centre, which has now been replaced by the Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

The records were sold to the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries - a body of professionals who analyse information to predict risk - in 2012. The information includes details on hospital treatments and diagnoses, age of the patient and the area they lived in, their names were not included. A spokeswoman for the HSCIC said "We would like to restate that full postcodes and dates of birth were not supplied as part of this data and that it was not used to analyse individual insurance premiums, but to analyse general variances in critical illness."

However, the Staple Inn Actuarial Society said the information was used to track patient's medical records which were then combined with information from credit ratings agencies to advice insurance companies.

The HSCIC said they would publish the bodies it supplied the information to, later this year.


Committee summons intelligence service commissioner following repeated refusals to answer 'Snowden' questions

The Commons Home Affairs Committee issued a summon, on Thursday, to intelligence services commissioner, Sir Mark Waller, to appear before them on 18 March. The summon comes after Mr Waller's repeated refusals to appear and answer questions concerning the 'Snowden revelations'. He referred the committee to his report, published in 2012.

The committee's chairman, Keith Vaz MP, commented "Sir Mark has referred us to his published report. While the information in this report is useful to the committee, effective parliamentary scrutiny requires the opportunity to ask questions and receive full answers".

Debates and questions

Question on availability of information

A question was asked of how people with learning difficulties and those who are visually impaired will get all the necessary information on plans to transfer all patient data to a central database (

The minister for Care and support, Norman Lamb MP, answered that the leaflet ‘Better Information means Better Care’ was also available in Braille, audio, large print and easy read.

However, it should be noted that according to a BBC poll, only 29%, of 860 questioned, recall receiving such a leaflet.

Westminster Hall debate on

On Thursday there was a Westminster Hall debate with the topic of patient rights and access to NHS data. The debate was scheduled by the Backbench Business Committee and was opened by George Freeman MP who made a case for supporting the transfer of patient data from GPs to a central database There were six speakers.

Speeches included responses to concerns about the security of the data and the recent discovery that the NHS information Centre had sold the records of 47 million patients to be processed for insurance purposes.

While Mr Freeman and other speakers gave assurances that the information will be protected, they provided no concrete evidence of how that would happen and instead praised the benefits of creating a central database.

Mr Freeman, referring to the sale of patient data, said "despite newspaper reports of the old story of data being released to an insurance company, which happened years ago, under the Government’s proposals it will be illegal to make data available for any type of marketing or the administration of any type of insurance." It should be noted the sale of the data occurred in 2012.

Mr Freeman and others also answered questions of why the transfer scheme is opt-out rather than opt-in. The general answer was the opting-out procedure was complicated, to ensure the smallest amount of people withdraw their medical records.

George Mudie MP stressed that patients should be told that if they choose to opt-out, their information would still be included in the database, however, when the information is given to a third-party, personal information (date of birth, postcode, gender) will be removed from the files.

You can view the debate on and read a full transcript on Hansard.

European Union

Net neutrality vote stalled after protest from MEPs

On Monday the European Parliament was scheduled to vote on the draft amendments to the Single Telecoms Package Regulations put forward by the Industry, Research and Energy Committee.

However, as European Digital Rights (EDRi) reported, the vote was stalled after disagreements broke out between MEPs. Some parliamentarians objected that the compromise amendments were sent out too late the previous night.

The conversation can be viewed on the committee's page. The committee's next meeting is scheduled for the 17-18 March.

ORG Media coverage

See ORG Press Coverage for full details.

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