Big Brother Watch Briefing Note on Why Communications Data Matters

Big Brother Watch has published a briefing note reviewing the issues with surveillance of communications data. Commenting on publication of briefing note Big Brother Watch said:

In the debate around state surveillance, we all too often we hear officials say that we have nothing to fear as only the communications data (or metadata) is examined, not the content of a communication. Big Brother Watch has therefore published a briefing not on why communications data matter.

In the briefing note you will find answers to questions like: what are communications data?; what can communications data reveal?; and how are communications data analysed?. We also include details of how communications data have evolved and whether the legal framework currently in place provides sufficient safeguards.

 

Government offers school pupil data to private companies

Olivia Solon writes in Wired:

Data relating to every school pupil in England is now available for use by private companies thanks to a change in legislation implemented last year.

The move is part of a wider government initiative to “marketise” data, which includes initiatives such as the much-criticised Care.data and the selling off of taxpayer data by HMRC.

Education Secretary Michael Gove launched a public consultation back in November 2012 on proposal to let the Department for Education share extracts from the National Pupil Database “for a wider range of purposes than currently possible” to “maximise the value of this rich dataset”.

The National Pupil Database (NPD) contains detailed information about pupils in schools and colleges in England, including test and exam results, progression at each key stage, gender, ethnicity, pupil absence and exclusions, special educational needs, first language.

The data have been collected since around 2002 and is now one of the richest education datasets in the world, holding what the government says is “a wide range of information about pupils and students” at different phases.

Extracts of the data are available for use by “any organisation or person who, for the purpose of promoting the education or wellbeing of children in England are: conducting research or analysis, producing statistics, providing information, advice or guidance.” Bespoke extracts are also available on request.

This might all seem quite non-controversial, but in light of stories about healthcare data misuse there may be some cause for concern.

HMRC to sell taxpayers’ financial data

Rowena Mason writes in The Guardian:

The personal financial data of millions of taxpayers could be sold to private firms under laws being drawn up by HM Revenue & Customs in a move branded “dangerous” by tax professionals and “borderline insane” by a senior Conservative MP.

Despite fears that it could jeopardise the principle of taxpayer confidentiality, the legislation would allow HMRC to release anonymised tax data to third parties including companies, researchers and public bodies where there is a public benefit. According to HMRC documents, officials are examining “charging options”.

The government insists that there will be suitable safeguards on personal data. But the plans, being overseen by the Treasury minister David Gauke, are likely to provoke serious worries among privacy campaigners and MPs in the wake of public concern about the government’s Care.data scheme – a plan to share “anonymised” medical records with third parties.

Government finally ends e-Borders programme

Bryan Glick writes in Computer Weekly:

The government has formally ended the troubled e-Borders programme, four years after it cancelled a £750m contract for the IT project, although its intended functions have been incorporated into a new, broader project to secure the UK’s borders.

Charles Montgomery, director general of the UK’s Border Force, told a meeting of the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday 11 March 2014 that e-Borders had been “terminated”.

But Home Office officials were subsequently keen to point out that although the e-Borders name is no longer used, all the intended aims of the programme have been merged into the the Border System Programme (BSP), an initiative launched in January 2013. At the time BSP was put out to tender, the Home Office told Computer Weekly it was separate to e-Borders, but its scope has since been expanded.

The e-Borders programme was first commissioned in 2003 to improve the use of data to track people moving in and out of the UK’s borders. One aim was to conduct checks on travellers at the point of embarkation to the UK, rather than on arrival in the country.