Have I mentioned that the ICO is a waste of both space and money? Well, if you ever doubted me, doubt no more. It has been treated with utter contempt by Google, and there’s not a damn thing it can do.
Do you remember Spy-Fi, when Google engaged in its very own version of drive-by downloading? Well the ICO said, “No! Stop it. Don’t do it again. And delete what you’ve got.” And Google said, ever-so politely, yes sir – we will. Only it didn’t. “Google has recently confirmed that it still has in its possession a small portion of payload data collected by our Street View vehicles in the UK.” It says it was an error and will work with the ICO to remedy the situation.
But how does the ICO know? How does the ICO know what Google has done with that payload data, what it may do with that payload data, or how many copies of that payload exist in what parts of Google’s vast and nebulous cloud? It wrote back, even more politely, asking for Google to store the data securely for examination before being told what to do with it.
But how does the ICO know, and what can it do? Nothing, except take the word of big business.
Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, has no doubt on what should happen:
The Information Commissioner is hampered by a woeful lack of powers and is forced to trust organisations to tell the truth. Given Google’s behaviour has called into question if that really is a proper way to protect our personal data, it must be right to now demand a proper regulator with the powers and punishments to fully protect British people’s privacy.
It’s time to get rid of the self-congratulatory lap dog and replace it with an angry pit bull.
Anyone who heard Christopher Graham launching the ICO’s annual report last week must wonder just how many planets there are in this solar system. In his own words:
…the ICO is well up to the task.
…the ICO has bared its teeth…
It’s a case of ‘wake up and smell the CMP!’
…the regulator is getting results.
This reads like a marketing department bigging-up a poor product. The simple fact is, based on irrefutable empirical evidence, the ICO is failing: corporate and government loss of personal data is certainly not diminishing. Graham is wrong.
But there are two things in his speech that I particularly wish to consider. At one point he says:
The ICO has received precious little credit for having been the first to blow the whistle on Fleet Street practices in our 2006 publications ‘What Price Privacy?’ and ‘What Price Privacy Now?’… Meanwhile, we have been facilitating ‘fast track’ subject access from the so-called Motorman Files for any concerned citizen…
Compare this view of the ICO with that of its own Motorman investigator at the time, Alexander Owens:
“Despite our protests we were told this was the decision of Richard Thomas [then IC] and that he would deal with the press involvement by way of the Press Complaints Council. It was at this moment we knew no journalist could or ever would be prosecuted in relation to our investigation.”
Something rotten in the state of the Information Commissioner’s Office – will Leveson act?
The reason the ICO got precious little credit is because it deserves none whatsoever – in fact, on the basis of this testimony, it was effectively complicit in what amounts to a cover-up.
My second concern is over the Information Commissioner’s closing comments. Specifically, he said:
Well, the ICO can expect to remain in the news as we engage with two further Government initiatives on the information rights agenda – the Draft Communications Data Bill and the drive for Open Data. We are working to ensure necessary limitations and safeguards for personal information and we want to enable appropriate data sharing and encourage openness provided it complies with the law.
Could somebody please tell me what this means? I want to ‘safeguard’ personal information provided it complies with the law? I want to ‘enable appropriate data sharing’ that complies with the law? The law is whatever the government makes the law. The government is in the process of making a new communications law that will give them huge volumes of our personal data. But that’s alright because our privacy protector will make sure that government complies with the law that it makes.
What a waste of time. What a waste of space. What a waste of taxpayers’ money.
It was bank holiday Monday yesterday, so I didn’t spend all day in front of the computer. But I got a file from the Ministry of Lulz – it was the TangoDown http://www.justice.gov.uk graphic.
When and why, I asked; and was pointed at Saturday’s Anonymous message of support for Julian Assange.
I also received a copy of legal counsel concerning the Information Commissioner – so I started work on an article.
But it was bank holiday Monday; so I didn’t rush – and got overtaken by events. In the early evening I got another message from the Ministry of Lulz: ‘justice.gov.uk is down for last 2 hours’.
So in some senses my draft story became irrelevant – but I’m pasting it below anyway. Now, however, it is an explanation for downing the Ministry of Justice – and perhaps a warning for the Information Commissioner. Here it is…
The voice behind The Ministry of Lulz is Winston Smith (named after the hero of Orwell’s 1984). The problem with this association is that the fictional Winston Smith was lured into joining a secret organization determined to bring down the Big Brother government. That secret organization clearly translates to Anonymous. But the fictional recruiter (O’Brien in the novel) turns out to be a government agent (Fed) – and Smith is betrayed. In real life, Smith was ‘recruited’ into Anonymous by ‘XX’. Smith must hope that life doesn’t mirror fiction too closely.
The Ministry of Lulz would appear to have two immediate targets in the UK: the Ministry of Justice and the Information Commissioner. Smith sent me a ‘TangoDown’ graphic. It names ‘www.justice.gov.uk’. Asked why, he pointed to the Anonymous video that was posted to YouTube on Saturday. It’s a message of solidarity with Julian Assange following the failure of his High Court plea to prevent extradition to Sweden – from where, suggests Anonymous, there is little doubt that he will rapidly be extradited to the USA.
This second extradition would seem particularly likely following the recent publication of Parmy Olson’s new book, ‘We are Anonymous’. A small section of this book is reproduced on John Young’s Cryptome site (it seems to be the subject of a takedown notice from the DtecNet Anti-Piracy Team but was still available at the time of writing this). In this book, Olson (the London bureau chief for Forbes) states very clearly that “Assange and q appeared to want LulzSec to try to grab the e-mail service of government sites, then look for evidence of corruption or at least evidence that the government was targeting WikiLeaks.” While proof of nothing, especially since FBI-informant Sabu was involved, the suggestion of involvement in a conspiracy to attack government sites merely makes the probability of extradition from Sweden to the USA more likely.
With the tango down graphic I also received copy of a legal opinion on the ICO. The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office is likely to be targeted for what the Ministry of Lulz considers to be corruption. The legal opinion related to a case where personal medical records were passed to the subject’s (now ex) wife’s solicitors without his permission. The subject also claimed they were incorrect. He complained to the GMC, who ruled that his GP’s action had ‘fallen below the standards expected from a medical practitioner in processing and disclosing information.’ He then complained to the Information Commissioner who rejected his complaint, ruling amongst other things that the accuracy of personal information is not an issue if he (the IC) considers it to be lawfully disclosed. Consider that for a moment: if disclosure is allowed, you can spread lies without hinderance from the ICO.
The subject then took legal counsel (which is what was sent to me). Counsel concludes that “there is a 60-65% prospect of success in an application for permission to apply for judicial review against the IC…” It goes on to say that “the IC is interpreting the justification provisions in the [DPA] 1998 very widely and in a way which is not compatible with guidance and codes from professional organisations such as the GMC and also not in tune with comments from the courts,” and that “issues of wider public interest are raised by the case, namely the correct scope of the justifications in s35 DPA 1998 and the schedules to the Act, especially when seen in the light of the right to respect for private life in Art 8 ECHR.”
That, perhaps, is what you get when you put a marketing man rather than a legal man in charge of the ICO. But given the experience of the Ministry of Justice yesterday, he should look to his defences for the future.