Posts Tagged 'Data Protection'

Information Commissioner’s Office colluded with Google

A big hat tip to Big Brother Watch for spotting this important story in PC Pro which has ramifications for the public. The story concerns the case of Google, who were caught copying data from unsecured residential Wi-Fi connections in May this year.

Initially Google said that no personal information was collected and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) – the official body that is responsible for the enforcement of the Data Protection Act 1998, and also responsible for public Freedom of Information – investigated the matter in July, but accepted Google’s claim that no data had been collected. However, in October both parties had to admit they were wrong after other data watchdogs uncovered that email addresses, passwords and URLs had in fact been lifted by Google.

Now PC Pro has discovered that the ICO and Google teamed up on their response to an MP’s complaint about the search giant’s Wi-Fi scandal:

After Google confessed the scraped data held more personal information than it first admitted, the ICO’s group manager for business and industry, Dave Evans, sent an email to a Google employee with the subject line “guess what this might be about”.

Evans asked the Google employee, whose name has been redacted, if they were free for a “quick chat about the Wi-Fi business”.

“We are having an internal meeting next week about our next steps and obviously in light of Rob Halfon MP’s continued misrepresentation of the issue, the quicker we get something done the better,” Evans said.

After Google admitted collecting personal data, the ICO declared the incident a “serious” breach of the data protection act. The ICO required Google to sign an “undertaking notice,” promising to delete the data, submit to an audit and improve its data practises. But the documents requested by PC Pro show that the ICO let Google submit changes to the undertaking, notably asking the watchdog to shrink down the scope of the audit.

This cosy collusion with Google is clear evidence that the ICO is not upholding its remit to enforce the Data Protection Act which Google broke. The ICO attitude to protecting the rights under law of the public is shocking, as revealed by another of the documents – an email from the ICO to their buddies at Google – that PC Pro secured under the FoI request:

‘Apologies for taking a while to get back to you with yet more questions, but restructuring in the office and other (actual) work has delayed my response somewhat,” Evans wrote in May to a Google employee, two months before the watchdog looked at a sample of the collected data.’

This is another example of the contempt our officials have for the general public. Doing the job they have been tasked with is clearly too much of an inconvenience to some at the ICO, as is having to take to task those who have broken the law but with whom the ICO is rather friendly. It seems fair to say that as with so many official bodies and agencies the ICO is not fit for purpose.

Labour’s selective use of civil servants

Just after New Year the Times reported that the Treasury had published detailed official analysis of 22 Conservative tax and spending proposals yesterday in response to a Freedom of Information request.  This provoked a storm of opposition protest at Labour’s use of civil servants to draft information for party political campaigning use.  Compare and contrast the amount of effort that was devoted to collating and number crunching those 22 tax and spending proposals with the following story.

A Ministerial written answer was published in the House of Commons yesterday in response to a question from Dr John Pugh (Lib Dem, Southport) who mindful of data protection concerns had decided:

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many members of NHS staff have been disciplined for inappropriate use of information on (a) an NHS database and (b) medical records in each of the last 10 years.

As the answer clearly wasn’t going to provide any party political ammunition for Labour in the forthcoming General Election, Minister Mike O’Brien’s response was no less than could have been expected from a government that is determined to hand many more public servants access to our personal data without proper controls or safeguards.  This is a defining issue for Autonomous Mind because it has far reaching implications for us all.  No doubt acutely aware of the implications for data protection, he wrote:

The information requested is not held centrally. Legal responsibility for the secure handling and management of patient information rests with individual national health service organisations. It is therefore a matter for NHS organisations to take the appropriate action where patient information has been inappropriately accessed by their staff.

In other words, the details would be too inconvenient and embarrassing to publicise and would Dr Pugh please stop asking awkward questions.  It seems that civil servants can be tasked with building policy strawmen for the government to use to attack the opposition.  But they cannot be tasked with collating important information, from health authorities and care trusts who could have it, about the misuse of our personal data by NHS employees.

Why is it left to Autonomous Mind to highlight this issue?  The press should be all over this deliberate attempt to conceal important information about data protection breaches from the public.  If we have nothing to hide we have nothing to fear, right?  Think again.

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