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July 18, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Automatic Numberplate Recognition - function creep begins?

congestion charge cameras, with thanks to jeroen020@flickrYesterday, Home Office minister Jacqui Smith announced that she had signed a certificate to exempt Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police from certain provisions of the Data Protection Act. The move will facilitate the transfer of bulk data from the TfL's congestion charging cameras, which the Met will be permitted to use when investigating threats to national security. The data - collected using automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) cameras which encircle the capital - can reveal the movements of all motor vehicles in and out of the city centre.

Oversight of the new arrangement comes in the form of an annual report to the Information Commissioner's Office. But until the ICO are given sufficient clout to effectively enforce the current Data Protection regime, should we really be convinced that this represents enough of a check on new data sharing powers?

Today, news sources are reporting that leaked Home Office documents reveal plans to extend these powers "for all crime-fighting purposes". According to this report from the Guardian, the DTI had expressed reservations over such a move, since it is likely that associated privacy concerns would slow down proposed road-pricing schemes that have already attracted public pushback. Earlier this year, a petition against road-pricing attracted 1.7 million signatures. In his response, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair assured petitioners that "any technology used would have to give definite guarantees about privacy being protected - as it should be."

Spyblog has a thorough analysis of the legality or otherwise of function creep in ANPR systems, drawing on the Annual Report of the Chief Surveillance Commissioner (pdf), which, coincidentally, went online yesterday. For more information on ANPR technology, and Association of Chief Police Officer's proposals to "deny criminals the roads", see ORG's wiki resources page. And don't forget that if you're concerned about the effective scrutiny of our data protection laws, you can help contribute to the ORG response to an ICO consultation on Data Protection Strategy.

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July 11, 2007 | Glyn Wintle

Information Commissioner Horrified

The Information Commissioner’s Annual Report is launched today. Speaking at the launch Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, will say:

"Over the last year we have seen far too many careless and inexcusable breaches of people’s personal information. The roll call of banks, retailers, government departments, public bodies and other organisations which have admitted serious security lapses is frankly horrifying."

"How can laptops holding details of customer accounts be used away from the office without strong encryption? How can millions of store cards fall into the wrong hands? How can online recruitment allow applicants to see each others’ forms? How can any bank chief executive face customers and shareholders and admit that loan rejections, health insurance applications, credit cards and bank statements can be found, unsecured in non-confidential waste bags?"

According to the report, the public’s awareness of data protection rights has risen to an all-time high of 82% and more and more people understand that personal information must be handled appropriately. To ensure personal information stays private, the Information Commissioner has called for stronger audit and inspection powers for his Office. Currently the ICO can only audit organisations’ information handling practices with their consent. The Commissioner wants the right to inspect and audit practices anywhere where poor practice is suspected.

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July 09, 2007 | Becky Hogge

ORG at Lugradio Live 2007

Lugradiolive logoSo I've just returned from Lugradio Live 2007, where there seemed to be a lot of enthusiasm for the work ORG has been doing over the last year. Thanks to Glyn and Richard for their dedication in manning the ORG stall. Together we met a lot of ORG supporters, and found a few more!

There was much concern over the BBC's soon-to-launch iPlayer and its use of Microsoft DRM, to the exclusion of Linux and Mac users. You can read ORG's submission to the BBC Trust (pdf), and there's still time to sign this e-petition and draw Downing Street's attention to the situation.

It's hard to know how to get the BBC to listen to the concerns of Linux and Mac users on this issue, so please leave suggestions for further action in the comments, and watch this space.

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June 29, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Supporters Update - June 2007

Much for you to pore over in the June 2007 Supporter Update

If you're not receiving these updates by email but wish to then please let me know, either by email or in the comments section below.

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June 29, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Watch launch of ORG's e-voting report

Last week, at the official launch of ORG's report into e-voting and e-counting in the May 2007 elections, we invited MPs, civil servants and other stakeholders to come and listen to the findings of our observation mission. Joining Jason Kitcat on stage was Harri Hursti, computer security expert and star of Hacking Democracy, who has revealed a number of flaws in American voting systems. The event was expertly chaired by William Heath. Watch Jason and Harri in action.

Alun Michael MP, Andrew Miller MP and Jonathan Djanogly MP all joined the debate, and there were representatives from the Electoral Commission and the Committee on Standards in Public Life present. Unfortunately, and despite numerous invitations from ORG, neither the Ministry of Justice (formerly the DCA and the body ultimately managing the pilots) nor Bridget Prentice MP, the minister responsible, felt able to send representatives to the event.

The report got ORG its first mention in Hansard, as well as much media exposure at both the local and national level. Its findings will feed into the Electoral Commission's statutory reports for Scotland and England (due August) as well as the Independent Scottish Review of the elections.

Thanks to all the volunteers who made the evening run so smoothly, to the Royal Academy of Engineering for being such excellent hosts, and, of course, to all our election observers for making the report possible in the first place.

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June 20, 2007 | Jason Kitcat

ORG Election Report highlights problems with voting technology used

Today ORG releases its report into the May 2007 elections in Scotland and England. The result of a huge team effort and planning which began late last year, the report provides a comprehensive look at elections that used e-counting or e-voting technologies.

As a result of the report's findings ORG cannot express confidence in the results for the areas we observed. This is not a declaration we take lightly but, despite having had accredited observers on location, having interviewed local authorities and having filed Freedom of Information requests, ORG is still not able to verify if votes were counted accurately and as voters intended.

The report identifies problems with the procurement, planning, management and implementation of the systems concerned. But more fundamentally, given that problems were so widespread, the evidence supports the view the e-voting and e-counting technologies are not suitable for conducting statutory elections.

The report can now be downloaded from our e-voting pages.

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June 19, 2007 | Becky Hogge

ORG launch report into 3 May e-elections tomorrow night

Since our 3 May mission to observe e-voting and e-counting in the English and Scottish elections, the ORG e-voting team have been hard at work. The individual reports from our 25-strong volunteer team, as well as materials collected by Michael and Jason using Freedom of Information requests, have been turned into a sixty-page report which is on its way back from the printers now.

The report will be officially launched tomorrow night at the Royal Academy of Engineering. The event will include a presentation from Harri Hursti, computer security expert and star of Hacking Democracy, who has revealed a number of flaws in American voting systems. Spaces for ORG supporters are strictly limited, as we're trying to attract as many MPs and civil servants as we can, but if you'd like to attend, please get in touch with Michael today (michael[at]openrightsgroup[dot]org).

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June 14, 2007 | Glyn Wintle

Help us protect podcasting, again

Less than one year ago WIPO promised to re-draft its Broadcasting treaty. Member States, mindful of the harm it could cause to citizen-media, refused to grant new copyright-like rights to broadcasters and cablecasters. The new draft was issued in May, but - contrary to WIPO's promise - it offers similar exclusive control to big media but offers no protection for internet users.

Please help the cause by signing the petition - it takes virtually no time at all. Beyond that, please write to your MPs. This tactic was really effective in last year's campaign, especially when you ask your MP to pass on your concerns to the relevant minister. If you feel this issue and have time and energies to give, drop us a line and we'll connect you with national and international groups campaigning around this issue.

Dean, who leads the UK Podcasters association says

“This inappropriate WIPO legislation is dangerous, and must not be allowed to pass into national law as it stands, or we risk seeing a vibrant industry saddled with restrictions and our individual rights handed wholesale to corporate broadcasters."

This campaign is led by the EFF's excellent Gwen Heinze. She says

“The exceptions ... are far worse than this time last year ... there's no mention of webcasting or netcasting, but Broadcasters and cablecasters will get the right to control Internet retransmission of anything broadcast or cablecast. Therefore, podcasters won't receive any rights under the treaty (only traditional broadcasters and cablecasters will), but podcasters are likely to be detrimentally affected by the treaty for a number of reasons. Put simply, from podcasters' point of view, we are in the same place we were last year, but there's an even stronger push to try to get the treaty through. If the current treaty draft is accepted by WIPO Member Countries next week, it moves to the next treaty stage - an intergovernmental Diplomatic Conference now scheduled in November.”

If you have any queries, drop them in the comments below or to the usual email address.

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