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Today is the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, a document which has very much changed the world, being the first document of its kind to protect the rights and freedoms of society and establish that the king was subject to the law.  Of course there is an argument that at the time of its signing, the Magna Carta was not as significant as it has become, but that really isn’t the point, it is what it now stands for that matters. Amongst the many events that have been held to celebrate the anniversary the British Library has revealed the current top 10 clauses people would like to see in a “Magna Carta for the digital age”.  This was the result of a British Library’s project conceived to encourage particularly young people to think about privacy, internet access and freedom in the digital age. See the British […]

Digital Magna Carta ‘Top 10’ Clauses Revealed


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David Barrett reports in the Daily Telegraph that telephone masts which can listen to mobile phone conversations without the owner’s permission are being operated in Britain. The devices, technically known as IMSI catchers, but also referred to stingrays, trick handsets into thinking they are genuine mobile phone towers in order to monitor calls and other data including texts and emails.  They have been used in a number of foreign countries to target the communications of criminals, but are difficult to use in a targeted manner and will also hoover up data from innocent people’s mobile phones. Police have refused to discuss whether they are behind the installation of the masts, at least 20 of which were uncovered in London in an investigation by the Sky News television channel.

Fake Mobile Phone Masts Spy on your Calls


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Ellen Nakashima reports in the Washington Post that Hackers working for the Chinese state breached the computer system of the US Office of Personnel Management in December 2014. The Office of Personnel Management is essentially the Human Resources function of the US Government.  The breach is believed to have resulted in the loss of the personal details of up to four million current and former US Government employees. The breach is the second major breach of US Government networks by China in the past year.  Austin Berglas, a former cyber official at the FBI’s New York field office said in response to the news: “China is everywhere. They’re looking to gain social and economic and political advantage over the United States in any way they can. The easiest way to do that is through theft of intellectual property and theft of sensitive information.”

Chinese Breach Data of Four Million Federal Workers



Maggie Ybarra reports in the Washington Times that FBI agents cannot identify any major terrorism cases they have cracked using the snooping powers in the US Patriot Act. The revelation is interesting given the claims of its supporters that powers provided by the act such a bulk phone data collection, were critical to national security and had to be retained. The Patriot Act expired on Monday (1st June) and some (see here) of its surveillance powers were incorporated into the USA Freedom Act which was approved by Congress on Tuesday (2nd June).  Amongst the powers transferred was the power to enable bulk phone data collection; however, on a positive note this data can now only be accessed with court permission.

FBI Admits That No Major Cases Cracked by Patriot Act ...


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The BBC News website reports that UK Police made 733,237 requests to view communications data over a three-year period according to a report by Big Brother Watch, equivalent to an access request every two minutes. Police Officers wanting to gain access to communications data have to be internally approved by a senior member of the relevant force and on average 96% of such requests are approved. Big Brother Watch wants more transparency about how such requests are authorised and the crimes the data is used to fight.  The group also wants judicial involvement as a final step in the approval process. The actual Big Brother Watch Report can be found here.

UK Police Seek Data Access ‘every two minutes’


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Leo Kelion reports on the BBC news website that Google has looked into making internet-connected toys that control smart home appliances. A Google patent describes devices that would turn their heads towards users and listen to what they were saying, before sending commands to remote computer servers to control other devices.  The three-year old patent was spotted recently by the legal technology firm SmartUp.  It described the proposal as: “One of Google’s creepiest patents yet”. The Google patent suggests that the devices could be made into toys to encourage young children to interact with them.  However, campaigners have highlighted the privacy concerns with such devices which rather like Smart TVs send data back to remote servers, data which could potentially include private conversations. Google was unable to confirm if they might go on to develop the devices.

Google Patents ‘Creepy’ Internet Toys to Run the Home



John Leyden reports on the Register website that South Wales Police have been fined £160,000 for losing DVDs of an interview with a sex abuse victim and not reporting the loss for nearly two years. The unencrypted DVDs were left in a desk drawer and the loss was discovered after an office move in October 2011.  It emerged during the investigation that South Wales Police had no specific force-wide policy for the safe storage of victim and witness interviews. Commenting on the case Anne Jones, ICO Assistant Commissioner for Wales said: “Without any doubt we would expect a professional police force, in a position of trust, dealing with this type of highly sensitive information from victims and witnesses on a daily basis, to have robust procedures to keep track of the personal data in their care.”  

Welsh Police Force Fined £160,000 after Losing Sensitive Video Interview


A Campaign Group has been formed on the social networking site Reddit to campaign against  resurrection of the Snoopers’ Charter. The link to the Reddit page can be found here. The campaign also has a Twitter page: https://twitter.com/opposeCDB

Reddit Campaign to Oppose the Snoopers’ Charter


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Benny Evangelista and Peter Fimrite report on the SFGATE website that a bill is to be put forward in the Californian Assembly to force smart TV makers to give customers the ability to opt out of features that could monitor their conversations. The bill is being put forward by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, who amongst other things is concerned about the ability of smart TV’s to be turned into tools that determine what kind of adverts viewers see.  Gatto said: “It’s not just that you could be sent bankruptcy ads after you talk with your wife about financial problems while watching television, it’s what happens if someone hacks it.” He also highlights the privacy issues if a smart TV is listening in a room where a couple are getting intimate. “Those sounds, if you had your voice recognition on, is what would be included,” Gatto said. “That’s what’s disturbing about this.” […]

Bill seeks ban on Smart Televisions becoming ‘Big Brother’



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Dan Hyde reports in the Daily Telegraph that Home Secretary Theresa May has indicated that a law to allow snooping on personal email accounts and internet browsing, could be pushed through now that the Conservatives have a parliamentary majority. Her comments were made in the early hours of Friday morning as the Conservatives appeared to heading for a majority.  Previously the so-called  Snoopers’ Charter had been blocked by the Conservatives coalition partners the Liberal Democrats. However, with the Conservatives having only a slim majority, Theresa May could potentially still have an up hill struggle to get the controversial measures through.

Theresa May to Resurrect the Snoopers’ Charter


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Alex Matthews-King reports in Pulse that the NHS is overriding 700,000 patient opt-outs to GP data being shared. The Health and Social Care Information Centre has said that 700,000 patients registered an objection to their identifiable information being passed from the HSCIC to a third-party before the aborted roll-out of care.data in March 2014.  However, it admitted that it doesn’t currently have the resources to deal with this volume of objections and thus it has not been possible to implement the patient opt-outs. Dr Beth McCarron-Nash, who leads on care.data for the General Practitioners Committee, told Pulse: ‘Obviously, if there are technical difficulties that HSCIC are experiencing, they must be resolved, and it is their responsibility to make sure patients are protected. But basically it’s a mess.’

NHS overriding 700,000 patient opt-outs


David Kravets reports on the Ars Technica website that the US National Security Agency’s bulk telephone metadata collection program is illegal, but not unconstitutional according to a federal appeals court ruling. The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and sets aside a judgement by a lower court that metadata collection was permissible. According to the article, the court noted that the Patriot Act gives the government wide powers to acquire all types of private records on Americans as long as they are “relevant” to an investigation.  But the government is going too far when it comes to acquiring, via a subpoena, the metadata of every telephone call made to and from the United States. The legal authority allowing the NSA to collect telephone metadata expires on 1st June 2015 and will need renewing by Congress if it is to continue.  It is not clear how the ruling […]

US Court Rules NSA Phone Metadata Collection is Illegal



The campaign group Big Brother Watch has prepared a briefing note on privacy and other issues with the European Union’s eCall system which the European Parliament voted on 28th April 2015 to make compulsory in all new cars. Although eCall is promoted as an EU-wide emergency alert system to help ambulance crews get to road accidents faster, it raises significant privacy and snooping concerns because it works in partnership with an Event Data Recorder (EDR).  The EDR records for 20 seconds before an accident and 10 seconds afterwards; however, as the briefing note points out this means it must be recording and erasing continuously. Currently it is not intended that eCall should transmit data continuously, but it could do so and this opens up the possibility of mission creep such as the system being used to track motorists, as the EDR has the ability to record a vehicles exact location. […]

Big Brother Watch Briefing Note on EU Car Tracking eCall ...


The BBC News website reports that Airbus says it will file a criminal complaint over allegations that German intelligence helped the US carry out industrial espionage on the company. German media reports suggest that the country’s spy agency BND collected data on European firms at the behest of the US National Security Agency.  Airbus said it had asked for more information from the German government and said in a statement: “We are aware that large companies in the sector, like ours, are targets of espionage,” …… “However, in this case we are alarmed because there is concrete suspicion.” Airbus was named by the German press as one of the firms that was targeted by the spying operation.  It is believed that BND eavesdropped on online, phone and other communications in order to gather information.

Airbus to sue over US National Security Agency Spying


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The Law Gazette reports that professional bodies representing lawyers and other legal professionals are calling for statutory protection for professional privilege. It follows a landmark ruling by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ordering the intelligence agency GCHQ to destroy illegally intercepted communications between Libyans subjected to renditions and their lawyers in the UK. However, despite the ruling both the Law Society and the bar have said the ruling does not sufficiently protect lawyer-client communications.  Andrew Caplen, president of the Law Society commenting on the current situation said: ‘The current legislative framework remains unsuitable and we hope that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act will be amended or replaced to include explicit protection of legal professional privilege.’

Legal bodies call for statutory protection for professional privilege following ...