Government slammed for computer privacy approach

Big Brother Watch has spoken out against plans to implement changes to the e-privacy directive, which the government claims will strengthen privacy regulations in the online world.

Alex Deane, director at the privacy organisation has also slammed the way the government has let Google get away with its Wi-Fi data sharing mishap.

Yesterday, Ed Vaizey, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, said he was planning a range of new approaches to the way privacy rules apply online.

He outlined plans for a new mediation service to encourage ISPs and websites to censor material in response to public complaints. As well as a service that would give users the ability to ask for material that was “inaccurate” or infringed their privacy, to be taken down.

Vaizey was responding to a question from Damian Hinds – an East Hampshire, Conservative, in which he asked about cookies and plans to highlight if whether an opt-in must be an active opt-in.

“The ability not to have cookies exists on just about everybody’s computer, but how many people understand it? It is a different proposition to have to say, “Yes, I want to be marketed at; I want people to know my preferences,” he asked.

Vaizey replied claiming this topic was an important part of the e-privacy debate.

“There is certainly a strong argument that the consumer should not only be able to opt in, but know about their right to do so,” he said.

“We are implementing changes to the e-privacy directive that strengthen privacy regulations in the online world, as part of our implementation of the European framework on electronic communications. We are consulting on those proposals, which could lead to changes to the privacy and electronic communications regulations and strengthen the Information Commissioner’s enforcement powers.”

He said changes to the e-privacy directive addressed problems with cookies, including any attempt to store information or gain access to stored information in a user’s equipment-using cookies-by requiring the informed consent of the user.

He also said he was looking to put in place effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties for any infringement of the directive’s provisions as well as also consulting on notification procedures for personal data breaches.

He said the government proposed to ensure that the ICO issues guidance on any change to that notification mechanism and that the guidance would be the subject of a future consultation by the Information Commissioner.

 “I have been able to put into context what is happening with Google’s breach of data on Street View.

“I have set out my thoughts about personal remarks on the internet, establishing the regulatory regime for cookies and setting out the process that the Government are undertaking to strengthen privacy regulations on the internet alongside our European partners,” he concluded.

However his words were not enough to appease Big Brother Watch, Alex Deane told TechEye: “Given yesterday’s debate, Google will no doubt get a roasting from the Minister about their mass Wi-Fi data theft in the meetings he has announced he’ll be having with them. Their “oops, I did it again” excuse is well and truly worn out.

 “Parliamentary criticism aside, it is a great shame that the Metropolitan Police have let Google off the hook as what they did was plainly wrong, but the ball is now back in ICO’s court.

“Thus far the ICO has been an apologist for the worst offender in his sphere, not a policeman of it – let’s hope that he now shows some teeth. Given the criticism rightly aimed at him by Parliamentarians yesterday, I think that he has to,” he added.