This is ORG's Policy Update for the week beginning 19/06/2015
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Launch of Open Rights Group Scotland
Open Rights Group Scotland was launched on June 25th. Join today to help in the defence of privacy and digital rights. The new local organisation will tackle specific challenges to digital rights in Scotland, including the creation of a national ID register. Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie declared that “the creation of a new forum to ensure these issues remain on the Scottish political agenda is very welcome”.
Debates & Reports
Debate on the Report on Investigatory powers
A second debate was held on the so-called Anderson Report on Thursday, June 25th. The report, issued this month, is an independent and thorough review of the investigatory powers in the UK. Theresa May, Home Secretary, praised the report and stated that it clearly shows that government agencies have neither the desire nor the capability to conduct mass surveillance. She insisted that surveillance is necessary to tackle the treat that terrorism represents, with 40 attacks prevented in the UK territory in the last ten years.
Yvette Cooper for the Labour Party, as well as Nick Clegg for the Lib-Dems and Joanna Cherry for the Scottish National Party, among others, urged the Home Secretary to shift the power to issue interception of communications' warrants from the executive to judicial authority. They argued that, as the report shows, the UK is somewhat of an exception in that regards, compared to its allies. Theresa May declared that the government will examine every proposition of the report, but has of yet to take a decision on this one.
While Joanna Cherry declared that the Snowden revelations show how far the UK has gone astray from a model in which only suspects are under surveillance, John Hayes (Conservative), in his remarks concluding the debate, argued that polls show a high confidence in intelligence and security services from the public opinion.
Theresa May also mentioned the publication on that day of the Office of Surveillance Commissioners report and of the Report of the Intelligence services for 2014. ORG will release an analysis of these two reports soon.
Summary of the report on Intelligence and Law Enforcement Data Sharing published
Downing Street released this week a short summary of the report on Intelligence and Law Enforcement Data Sharing, which was commissioned at the time of the passing of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act, in July 2014. When the Guardian revealed the content of the report at the beginning of this month, civil right activists argued that the government was not publishing it because it provided an alternative to the passing of the controversial “Snooper's Charter”. Indeed, Nigel Sheinwald, the former top diplomat who wrote the report, recommends concluding agreements with other countries, such as the United States, to allow UK intelligence and law enforcement authorities to access data stored by telecom companies in foreign countries.
The summary seems to be a response to this accusation, as it clearly states that the report's recommendations “ do not not undermine the case for updated powers, or greater oversight, which can be taken forward in parallel”. It also asserts that an international framework allowing data sharing between countries with similar values and standards of privacy protection would be a long-term sustainable solution to tackle terrorism and serious crimes.
French presidents spied on by the United States
Documents published by Wikileaks on Tuesday, June 23th, shed light on the National Security Agency's operation “Espionnage Elysée” [Spying Elysée]. The leaks show that the three latest French leaders, as well as some top officials, have had their phone tapped by the United States' agency. They also reveal that both former President Sarkozy and President Hollande knew or suspected these practices and asked the United States to stop them, without effect. The US National Security Council spokesperson refused to comment anything on the revelations other that the United States “[is] not targeting and will not target the communications of President Hollande”.
The affair is reminiscent of the tapping of German Chancellor Merkel's phone, which was disclosed thanks to leaks from Edward Snowden in October 2013. It sparked strong reactions in the German public and political class, and altered the US-Germany relations.
Russian Parliament vote for a “right to be forgotten”
The Russian lower house is only one vote short of passing a law implementing a “right to be forgotten” in Russia. This right came to light after a judgment of the European Court of Justice stating that European citizens have the right to request that search engines de-index links to outdated or irrelevant informations about them. But while public figures can't enjoy this right in Europe, they would be able to do so under the new Russian law. Another difference with the European law is that Russian citizens wouldn't have to indicate to search engines which specific URLs they wanted to be removed, but could simply ask about the removal of any link referring to a certain event in which they were involved.
Yandex, the main Russian search engine, as well as Google, have already expressed their concerns over misuses of the law which would limit freedom of information, and potentially hide politicians' misdeeds. Another subject of concern is the fact that the search results should be de-indexed worldwide, and not only in the .ru websites. It is unclear how the search engines would comply with that. Indeed, Google is now threatened with being brought to a Court in France because, to comply with the European right to be forgotten, it only de-indexes links on its European national search engine (such as google.co.uk, but not google.com).
Trialogue of European institutions starts on data protection
More than three years after the draft data protection legislation was proposed by the European Commission, the trialogue with the Parliament and the Council has started this week. The three institutions have adopted very different stances regarding this piece of legislation. The position of the Parliament was well-received by digital right activists, but the Council's position has raised serious concerns. In a press conference on Wednesday, June 26th, the three institutions announced that they plan on finishing the negotiations by the end of the year. There is a consensus that the directive should go further than the 1995 one, which is still applied, and that it should reinforce citizens' control over their data. The most contentious points remain the use of data for purposes other than those for which it was originally collected for, fines for companies breaking the law, and the creation of an European Data Protection Authority.
Eurobarometer released on European citizens' attitudes towards data protection
On the day of the start of the trialogue (see above), a Eurobarometer survey on data protection was issued. The survey, conducted in March 2015, had more than 25,000 respondents from the 28 Member-States. It tells us that 45% of people are concerned with the recording of their everyday activities on the Internet. This number has increased by five points since the last survey, in 2010. However, only half of people said they had heard about revelations on government agencies collecting citizens' data on a large scale in some countries. Out of this half, 46% asserted the revelations have had a negative impact on their level of trust.
A small majority of people disagree with the view that they are unworried about giving personal information in return for free services online. Over two-third of respondents are concerned about authorities and private companies using the personal information they have for other purposes than the one it was originally collected for. Overall, the survey makes a strong case for the updating of the data protection directive.
ORG Media coverage
See ORG Press Coverage for full details.
- 2015-06-24 – The Scotsman - Scottish civil rights body to set up
- Author: Scott MacNab
- Summary: Article on the launch of Open Rights Group Scotland
- 2015-06-22 – Sentinel Republic - Privacy group complains about Uber data collection
- Author: Alan Binder
- Summary: Jim Killock quoted on Uber violating consumers' digital rights
- 2015-06-22 – International Business Times - Uber faces lawsuit over 'greedy and creepy' plans to track users not running app
- Author: Anthony Cuthbertson
- Summary: Jim Killock quoted on Uber violating consumers' digital rights