Tag: Coalition

VPNs caught in Cameron's porn filter

Popular mobile operator GiffGaff, which runs on the O2 network, includes at least one Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in British prime minister David Cameron’s deeply unpopular ‘porn filter’ dragnet.

TorrentFreak found that some VPNs have already been automatically blocked under the guise of an ‘adult filter’ of some – but not all – mobile providers. Exchanged between VPN provider iPredator and GiffGaff show that the former has been placed on a blacklist because it could potentially allow children to get around age restrictions.

VPNs are a way to route traffic away from ISPs and through independent providers, and have gained popularity in oppressive regimes that impose censorship on their citizens. Although they can certainly be used to access pornographic material, it is understood that, for many, this is not the primary purpose of a VPN.

A statement from GiffGaff explains:

“The response received from head office have confirmed that websites or services that offer, inter alia, a method for younger members to access over 18 content, without age verification; such as VPN services, are blocked by our network provider (O2) and are not controlled by GiffGaff.

“O2, along with other major mobile operators in the UK, have signed up to the code of practice with the UK’s Independent Mobile Classification Body which sets forth guidelines in terms of content management and the protection, amongst others, of customers and members below the age of 18.

“In section 2.8 of our terms and conditions it states that we have the right to restrict access due to age which all of our members have agreed to abide by when joining the service.

“GiffGaff reserves the right to restrict access to certain services due to age restrictions”.

This is the same reason Cameron used to justify a censorship programme which would see new customers actively have to opt-in to receiving adult services. The proposal was put forward to protect children, however, the terms of censored content are vague: as well as pornography, websites that are classified as “violent material,” “extremist related content,” “anorexia and eating disorder websites,” “suicide related websites,” “alcohol”, “smoking,” “web forums,” and “esoteric material” are all included under policy.

Although those over 18 can enable such material, critics say the terms are deliberately vague and can be applied to a wide range of material.

For example, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “esoteric” as “intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest”.

However, internet activists have a long history of dodging centrally imposed sanctions – indeed, the content industry’s bureaucratic attempts to shut down piracy, through policy or otherwise, has turned into a game of whack-a-mole. When one is blocked or shut down, another appears, as in streaming websites. Proxy websites are made available, hosted outside a nation state’s borders, making them more difficult to censor or control.

TechEye recommends a scan through the Streisand Effect’s Wikipedia page.

Universal credit plagued by bloated IT disaster

British Secretary for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, is blaming a “Titanic” IT failure of his own pet project – the universal credit system – on civil servants.

A National Audit Office (NAO) report declared the £2.4 billion scheme a bloated mess, plagued by serious IT problems which could raise the total project balance in the hundreds of millions.

Speaking with BBC Today on Radio 4, Duncan Smith said he could have “written this report myself”, before saying the problem was with those who put together the IT details. He claimed those responsible “did not make the correct decisions”.

Of the government’s expected spend of £425 million up to April 2013, £303 million of this has been spent on contracts for designing and developing IT systems.

The NAO’s progress review of Universal Credit has found that even the government’s pathfinder pilot scheme, launched April 2013, is woefully underequipped – supporting just the simplest new claims and built around limited IT functionality. The report found that processes needed further input from staff, knocking the proposed scalability without yet more IT investment, not entirely useful considering the NAO’s claims that over 90 percent of new claimants begin online.

Because of shortfalls in the programme, the department will not be able to roll out universal credit nationally by October 2013 as originally planned – instead being forced to launch just six pathfinder websites from the month instead. The department is also unsure of how much the IT systems it has built will even support national roll-out, as pathfinder systems are not comprehensive and don’t let claimants change any details of their circumstances online as originally planned.

In fact, in May 2013, the department decided it needed to write off a sizeable £34 million – or 17 percent – of new IT assets.

Duncan Smith said the Universal Credit system will still be delivered on the “overall timetable” of 2017. “It is a very important reform and it is a reform that will save the government and taxpayers money and improve the lot of those most needing it,” he claimed.

Last month, shadow work and pensions secretary for Labour, Liam Byrne, slammed the welfare overhaul as being in “serious trouble”, and costing the tax payer “up to £1.5 billion”.

“There seems to be something very wrong in the mind of the man at the helm of DWP,” Byrne said of Duncan Smith. “He has a mandate to reform but the instruction to deliver appears to have got lost somewhere in his office.”

Byrne has now said the scheme is a “Titanic-sized IT disaster” and claimed Duncan Smith has both lost control of the department and alleged a cover up. 

At the very least, the project looks like it will serve as a boon for IT contractors.

Shami Chakrabarti lends support to new health privacy campaign

A new campaign group, medConfidential, held its first conference day in Soho, London, yesterday  – with a view to discussing the way medical records are obtained and stored, lobbying for explicit consent and confidentiality.

MedConfidential has in its ranks campaigners from other prominent organisations like Privacy International, Big Brother Watch, NO2ID, FIPR, TheBigOptOut, and Terri Dowty, former director of ARCH.

Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, lent her support to the campaign and expressed her shock on the policy of GP data extraction from a “human rights perspective” – which threatens to remove ownership of personal data from the patient.

The campaign group says it is independent and non-partisan, that works with patients, medics, service users and care professionals to “defend and enhance confidentiality across the health and social care arena”.

At an event in Soho, London yesterday, some concerned campaigners raised cases where the lack of confidentiality and culture of note-taking on patient records has actively contributed to misjudgments in care.

One woman said she knew of a parent who went to three separate GPs, convinced something was wrong with her child. Referring to the notes on the first record, the others agreed – but when the parent sought a specialist it turned out her child had a rare bone condition.

Another said she knew of instances where women are committing suicide as a result of post natal depression, because they feel shamed and unable to seek assistance in case notes were made on their records.

Although explicit consent should be sought by way of a GSM1 form before procedures are performed – for example, taking blood pressure – this is often not the case. Results are then uploaded onto medical IT systems without the explicit consent of the patient, attendees said. Another attendee agreed that if patients wish to opt out, in many cases they are coercively pressured into agreeing to have their records managed and stored as data – or be refused treatment.

Campaigner Terri Dowty told TechEye: ““This campaign is vital because the public has got to know that we’re all going to lose the medical confidentiality that we take for granted.

“Nobody has even been told what’s going on, let alone asked if they want to share the private matters they discuss with their doctors,” Dowty said. “And it will stay that way unless we can make enough noise to alert them.”

MedConfidential was founded this year “in direct response to the imminent and serious threat posed by radical changes in the way the NHS Commissioning Board collects and passes on patient health information from NHS health record systems in England,” the group’s website reads

Privacy groups wade into UK gov, it's a telco conspiracy

The government and communications providers are conspiring to keep the effects of the Communications Data Bill under wraps, according to a damning letter from privacy advocates.

The Bill was always going to be controversial.  It enables police and security services to monitor internet activity and email communications subject to a warrant being issued, though stopping shot of gaining access to email content.  A draft version of the Bill was published in October, and it is thought that a finalised version could be ready for the Queen’s Speech in May.

According to a challenging letter sent by major privacy activist groups, communications providers could be ordered to store all customers’ comms data for a year, and give police access to the records via a “filter” which would operate like a search engine for a vast database.

Privacy watchdogs are concerned that the data does not just include the content of communications but all the details connected to it.  It wants ISPs to withdraw their support for the Bill.

Big Brother Watch, Privacy International and the Open Rights Group have penned a strongly-worded letter accusing major UK telcos, including BT, Virgin, O2, Sky and TalkTalk, of complying with a government attack on privacy.

According to the Telegraph, the letter said that the telcos have appeared willing to be co-opted as an arm of the state to monitor every single one of their customers. It says that this is a dangerous step, exacerbated by their silence.

The telco’s customers have not had the opportunity to comment on these proposals and most have no idea such a policy was being considered.

The letter said that this is a critical failure not only of government, but a betrayal of the telco customers’ interests.

“You appear to be engaged in a conspiracy of silence with the Home Office, the only concern being whether or not you will be able to recover your costs,” the letter told the telcos.

Computerworld has reported that the privacy groups also attacked the lack of transparency with which negotiations have been conducted, with much of the policy discussions taking place “behind closed doors”. It implied that that the ISPs were bending to the will of the Home Office over privacy concerns.

Top web profs urge Cameron to scrap web snooping

A group of professors and web experts have penned an open letter to British prime minister David Cameron, urging the Coalition to abandon its plans to legislate for monitoring internet activity through the Communications Data Bill.

The letter claims the plans to monitor internet activity are as “naive and technically dangerous as when they were floated by the last Government”.

It goes on to argue that Parliament’s track record with internet legislation has been questionable – pushing ahead with, for example, the Digital Economy Act and ignoring contrary evidence.

“It seems that government has not learned the lessons of that ill fated legislation and is intent on trying to foist onto the internet a surveillance system designed for landline telephones,” the letter reads. “Many of the technical experts consulted are people that will profit from the plans, whether they succeed or fail”.

Even if the Communications Data Bill goes ahead, the letter posits that consumers are increasingly leaning towards encrypted communications, and the legislation will not be able to do “anything effective about this shift”. It says forcing ISPs into monitoring consumers will be expensive and will also threaten to undermine the privacy of people visiting websites about sensitive matters – like HIV or pregnancy advice.

The proposed British model will actually serve as a benchmark for less democratic regimes worldwide, it is argued, effectively undermining British foreign policy.

The Government was urged to scrap the bill, and to instead engage in active conversation with the technical community and legal authorities to figure out other ways forward.

The signatories are:  Professor Ross Anderson, Cambridge University, Dr Ian Brown, University of Oxford, Dr Richard Clayton, University of Cambridge, Professor Jonathan Crowcroft, Computer Laboratory of the University of Cambridge, Professor David J Farber, Carnegie Mellon, Dr Brian Gladwell, director for Defence Acquisition, Professor Douwe Korff, professor of international law, London Met, Professor Peter Sommer, de Montford and Open Universities, Professor Angela Sasse, UCL professor of human-centred technology, UCL Department of Computer Science, and Judith Rauhofer, University of Edinburgh.

The full letter is available here.

Cabinet Office delays answers on lost IT

Labour MP for Harrow West, Gareth Thomas, is struggling to get the details of lost IT equipment from the Cabinet Office.

Although he says he has received “interesting replies” from every other department, he is still waiting to hear how many computers, mobiles, Blackberrys or other piece of IT equipment were lost or stolen from 2010 through to 2012 at the Cabinet.

“I chased an answer on 16 January, expecting one on 21 January,” Thomas said. “I raised the matter at business questions on 7 February, and the Leader of the House kindly endeavoured to get me an answer, and I raised the continuing lack of an answer again on 26 March”.

The cause for the delay is not known. Missing equipment would be an embarrassment for a cabinet striving to be seen as technologically progressive.

Speaker of the House John Bercow answered that he hoped it was not necessary for Thomas to take further steps, and suggested getting in touch with the Leader of the House, and that his remarks will be “transmitted to the relevant Minister without delay”.

Francis Maude to warn MPs on hacking threat

The Daily Telegraph has branded disgruntled hackers attacking big brands as “terrorists”, as Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude gets ready to brief MPs on a new cyber security initiative that hopes to combat attacks that cost the UK “billions”.

In its ‘terrorism in the UK’ section, the Telegraph warns that big name companies are increasingly facing attacks that bring them down on a ‘daily basis’. It did not point the finger at any specific groups.

Late last month, Paypal claimed in court that hackers afilliated with Anonymous cost it £3.5 million.

Francis Maude will later today outline details of a £650 million initiative that proposes to protect Britain from cyber attacks while also offering to outsource expertise abroad as a business venture, the Drum reports.

Just how much DDOSing companies who operate in the UK is costing the wider economy – considering the latest in the PAC tax fiasco that focused on just three firms – is up for debate. However, unnamed senior government officials told the Telegraph that they were shocked to hear from Adidas who consider online attacks part of a “daily routine”.

Aside from big business losing out, the official warned that the Ministry of Defence’s networks also get attacked daily, although he didn’t comment on just how much and the severity of the attempts. A former staffer at the MoD told us under condition of anonymity last year that the department faced thousands of botnet attacks a day – and that many of them came from China, with the attacks decreasing ‘significantly’ when Chinese IP addresses were blocked.

There were also attacks against Britain’s critical national infratructure (CNI), and that the official’s department spends “an awful lot of our time helping and advising members of the CNI to protect their infrastructure”.

The official conceded that part of the conversation now is understanding options in the cybersecurity space – including offence.

Remote patient care touted as saving the NHS £3.4 billion

Technology used to provide remote patient care could help save the NHS £3.4 billion every year, a report claims.

According to a report from the Confederation of British Industry, massive savings could be made by the beleaguered health service by making use of advances in mobile technology such as smartphones and tablets.

With the NHS looking to make giant cuts as the coalition waves its axe and slashes NHS budgets, the widespread use of technology could relieve some of the burden on staff.

£1.9 billion could be saved each year by remote working, for example.  This would mean minimising the amount of time that clinicians would spend travelling, filling in forms and checking records, according to the report, and would increase the amount of time spent with patients.

Community nurses could upload clinical information from a tablet or smartphone after each visit rather than having to return to their office regularly, the report suggests.

According to the CBI, interaction with patients through their TVs is another way in which bosses could drive cost cutting.

By using technology for telecare and telehealth another £240 million could be saved across the UK annually, the report claims.

Telehealth systems have already been installed by Newham Council, with staff interacting with patients through their televisions, reducing the need for physical contact and allowing them to remotely monitor patient well-being.

As the use of smartphones and other mobile devices is rocketing across the UK, patients connecting with health workers in this way may be a consideration for some trusts.

British government draws up Big Brother style communications law

It was only a matter of time before the British government would play the terrorism card in a bid to spy on its citizens.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the UK government is drawing up new plans which will force landline, mobile phone companies and broadband providers to store data for a year and make it available to any spook who asks for it.

The required databases will not record calls, texts or emails, and will just store the numbers or email addresses which are being sent, it is claimed.

It will mean that the spooks will have widespread access to information about who has been communicating with each other on social networking sites such as Facebook.

Any messages between subscribers to websites such as Twitter would also be stored, as well as communications between players in online video games.

The plan is the work of extensive negotiations between the Home Office and ISPs and could be officially announced as early as May.

The government is allegedly expecting civil liberties groups to go mad when the bill is announced. It will have a cunning plan to say something like: “if you are not in support of the new law, you love terrorists and paedophiles.” This strategy is being tried by the Canadian government and is probably seen by the Coalition government as a winner.

There are also some fears that the data stores will become targets for hackers who want to use the personal information in phishing or spamming.

The Telegraph said that the plan has been drawn up on the advice of MI5, MI6, and GCHQ. Rather than the government holding the information centrally, companies including BT, Sky, Virgin Media, Vodafone and O2 would have to keep the records themselves. This would be accessed real time by the spooks.

Mobile phone records of calls and text messages pinpoint within yards where a call was made or a message was sent, while emails and internet browsing histories can be matched to an IP address. The idea is it will remove the need for spooks to shadow those who they are investigating.

The irony of it all is that the scheme was drawn up by the Labour government called the Intercept Modernisation Programme. The only difference is that the Labour scheme would have created a central database of all the information. This was slammed by almost everyone and the government at the time pulled it.

At the time, the Conservatives slammed Labour’s “reckless” record on privacy.

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, a civil liberties campaign organisation, said that Conservatives and Liberal Democrats started their government with a pledge to roll back the surveillance state. But it seems that once they got into power, they saw the advantages of collecting everything about who we talk to – just in case something turns up. 

Coalition splits on Digital Economy Act

The Digital Economy Act has been challenged by the Tory Coalition partner,  with Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert proposing a motion that would repeal parts of the law related to website blocking.

Huppert is the the MP for Cambridge and chair of the Liberal Democrats’ IT policy working group.

He tabled several amendments to the Protection of Freedoms Bill. This would have had the effect of repealing sections 17 to 18 of the DEA, which permit websites to be blocked if they are suspected of infringing copyright.

According to eWeek, the idea went nowhere as the discussion ran out of time, but it is being seen that the Liberal Democrats are going to try and take down the DEA.

Huppert reckons that although this amendment failed, he will keep looking for opportunities.

The DEA is designed to protect Big Content from online piracy, and includes provision to cut copyright infringers off the internet. It also allows for website blocking. ISPs led by BT and TalkTalk are opposing the Act through the courts, and were granted leave for a fresh appeal last week.

All that Big Content has to do to get a website shut down is to suspect that piracy has taken place. No evidence was required.

In the UK the feeling is that the DEA was rushed through in the last days of the Labour government and last month the Liberal Democrats formally pledged to repeal certain elements of the DEA.

The Conservatives could have blamed Labour for the daft law, but they didn’t because that would mean angering their chums in Big Content. All they have offered so far is a six month review of current IP protection laws.

Communications Minister Ed Vaizey described the high court challenge to the DEA by BT and TalkTalk as “odd” which we guess means that the Tories love the law to bits.