Information Commissioner gets his defence in early - showdown due on the Data Communications Bill - a bas la surveillance !!
Richard Thomas is a lawyer. he was first appointed the Information Commissioner in November 2002 by the Queen which term she graciously extended to next November. Sounds like an all round good egg. Answerable to Parliament - like say the Auditor General . Previously Director of Public Policy at blue chip City lawyers , Clifford Chance; Director of Consumer Affairs at the Office of Fair Trading; Head of Public Affairs and Legal Officer at the National Consumer Council and Solicitor with the Citizens Advice Bureau Service and Freshfields.
Freshfields maybe, but he is certainly heading for stormy waters,(and probably pastures new if Gordon Brown has a hand in it) based upon the rather tart ( but wholly welcome) remarks he made today when launching his annual report.
When Gordon Brown played at being a Queen for a day and introduced his own Queen's speech he mentioned en passant a Data Communications Bill which had been clothed with some detail in May. Basically, the Authorities (Police , spooks, GCHQ, HMCR, etc.,) can (and frequently do) ask telco's to provide them with details of citizens, telephone cals, texts, e-mails and sundry other uses of of fixed and cellular wireless telecomms... chasing serious criminals, bomb throwing terrists, people who want their child in a particular school etc.,
Now they , want to save the telco's all that hassle of requests and actually doing the work for them .Wizard money saving wheeze is they will simply hoover up carrier details of every single telephone conversation, text, e-mail, file transfer, dowloan and store in a handy database. Some folks say that's 57 Billion datasets annually they can fiddle about with, maybe even share with other folks and keep forever.
Well Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, is warning today this would (in his words) be, ‘a step too far’
Any government run database holding the telephone and internet communications of the entire population would raise serious data protection concerns he says., clearly and unambiguoulsy, pre-empting detauls of any any Data Communications act that the real Queen might unveil later this year when the underpaid MP's are back from their well earned hols, shooting grouse and such.
Such a database Richard Thomas says would be ‘a step too far for the British way of life’.
“I am absolutely clear that the targeted, and duly authorised, interception of the communications of suspects can be invaluable in the fight against terrorism and other serious crime. But there needs to be the fullest public debate about the justification for, and implications of, a specially-created database – potentially accessible to a wide range of law enforcement authorities – holding details of everyone’s telephone and internet communications. Do we really want the police, security services and other organs of the state to have access to more and more aspects of our private lives? "
Richard Thomas doesn't stop with this database. he believes that ,"there has not been sufficient parliamentary or public debate on proposals to collect more and more personal information without proper justification, and cites the continued expansion of the DNA database and the centralised collection and retention of data from Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR)", cameras as two recent examples. (Although you will never know quite who was driving Chief Constable's Todds Police Range Rover between his flat (festooned with dozens of celebbrity starfucker photos of the CC and celebrity pals) in Manchster and the foot of Snowdon in the pretty village of Lanberis, or where it went on the day he was killed.) Interestingly a litttle known factoid is that "The Surveillance Studies Network noted the findings of a Home Office research study that the 13 CCTV schemes it assessed had "little overall effect on crime levels"
Richard Thomas says: “We welcomed last month’s report from the all-party Home Affairs Committee warning of the dangers of excessive surveillance. I entirely agree that before major new databases are launched careful consideration must be given to the impact on individuals’ liberties and on society as a whole. Sadly, there have been too many developments where there has not been sufficient openness, transparency or public debate.”
On top of this the battling IC 's office is today serving enforcement notices against HMRC and MoD following recent high profile data breaches. The notices require both departments to provide progress reports documenting in detail how the recommendations have been, or are being, implemented to improve Data Protection compliance. Failure to comply with an Enforcement Notice is a criminal offence.
PS : The ICO received 2,646 freedom of information complaints over the last year and closed 2,658. Three hundred and ninety-five formal Decision Notices were issued and of these, 30% ruled in favour of the complainant while 25% upheld public authorities’ original decisions. In 45% of cases the ICO upheld some elements of the complaint in favour of the complainant and agreed with the public authority on others.
PPS : We look forward to freedom loving David Davis's views on the concept of the Data Communications Act as outlined above... as well as David Cameron, Ed Vaizey, Grey Panther Lady Dame Jane Baroness Pauline Neville Jones
PPPS: The IC do commission some excellent work , for example ..Professor Ross Anderson of the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) referred to work undertaken in connection with FIPR's report for the Information Commissioner on children's databases, which looked at a range of crime reduction initiatives:
Yes, there may be some placebo effect from having large numbers of closed circuit television cameras around, but the analysis of the crime statistics which we cite tends to show that although they are good at reducing crime in car parks they are not so good at reducing crime in town centres and there is a very serious question about whether far too much money has been spent on these and not enough money on other crime reduction initiatives.
UPDATE : Daily Mail Wednesday 16th June 'Big Brother' warning over Government database that records EVERY phone call and e-mail in Britain
Daily Telegraph 'Big Brother' database of all phone calls and emails condemned by watchdog