Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Government allows foreign countries to spy on motorists

"Routine journeys carried out by millions of British motorists can be monitored by authorities in the United States and other enforcement agencies across the world under anti-terrorism rules introduced discreetly by Jacqui Smith," reveals the Daily Telegraph.

Under the authorisation signed on 4 July 2007 by Jacqui Smith, video feeds and still images captured from roadside TV cameras, along with personal data derived from them, can be transmitted out of the UK to countries such as the US that are outside the European Economic Area.

Even given how keen the Government is on information sharing, this is surprising (not least because Smith failed to mention it in a statement she made to Parliament less than two weeks later when outlining Metropolitan Police exemptions to the 1998 Data Protection Act). Of course, it raises the obvious question of who will have access to information stored on the National Identity Register.

Fortunately, Meg Hillier, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Identity, and Duncan Hine, Director of Security at IPS, explained all during a session with the Home Affairs Committee. The first question is asked by Conservative MP David Davies:

David Davies: Will non-European enforcement agencies have access to the database [the National Identity Register]? For example, will the American law enforcement agencies have access to this database?

Meg Hillier: European nations are currently signing a protocol with the United States on passenger name records. The existing protocols that we have would govern the data from the National Identity Register.

David Davies: That is a yes, then, basically.

Later, Labour MP Karen Buck asked:

Karen Buck: In terms of other government departments that can seek access to the information on the database without my consent, in each case is it always that that information will be a data request and that those agencies will not have direct access to the database?

Meg Hillier: Yes.

Ms Buck: It will not be, for example, the Police or Customs will have any access to the database itself? It will always be filtered through that one to 100 members of staff who are vetted and trained for the purpose of managing this database.

Dr Hine: Broadly, we will be following the same policy we do with the passport database, which is to provide verification against a specific question rather than wholesale complete extracts of the data.

Ms Buck: The word 'broadly' alarms me. What we are talking about here is: what are the exceptions as a general assurance?

Dr Hine: A number of exceptions are picked out in the original legislation around law enforcement and intelligence services.

Ms Buck: I am sorry, Chairman, I think this is really important. We need to drill down into those exceptions, not into the generality, on which I am perfectly happy to accept assurances, but those exceptions. What are the criteria and how many people, because in the end all of this data loss and the anxiety of that data loss relates to those exceptions, to those extra people, to that chain that can open up quite quickly.

Dr Hine: For even the exceptions, I would say that we still consider ourselves the stewards of that information; so any information is only passed to another party after they have satisfied us that they have got the security processes, the right accreditations, the right business process and procedures and we continue to audit those on a regular basis.

Which brings us back to the Home Office's generosity with our vehicular information. Refusing to say how many times images had been sent from London to other countries, a Government spokesman did add:

“We would like to reassure the public that robust controls have been put in place to control and safeguard access to, and use of, the information.”

So if you were wondering what the Government's stance was on data sharing, that statement and Dr Hines' reply sum it up quite neatly: "Trust us".


UK Voter said...

The news that the government now wants to track our mobile phone calls, texts, emails and internet browsing habits has got me enraged. For the past 11 years, this government has sought more and more control over its citizens, from installing 4.2m CCTV cameras, to the suggestion that we must respond to more and more intrusive questions when they complete the next census. It has simply got to stop.

On this occasion, I have done something about it, in my own small way. I have written an article outlining what the government is seeking to do and my views. But, I have also produced a ‘draft’ letter that can be personalised and sent to local MP’s. I am urging other likeminded people to reproduce the article, to include their own comments, after all, not everyone will agree with all my comments and then publicise it. Maybe we can start a programme where people start to bombard their MP’s with a demand that they do not support the latest data communication bill. The link is here if anyone would care to take a look.

Celine said...

Good words.