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For nearly 30 years, the UK's wiretapping laws have been the subject of annual reports. Since 2002, they are available around the web (for now), but earlier than that, it is a rabbit warren of possible locations.

In practice, the reports are solely available from the Parliamentary Archives if and only if you are a member of an institution which has paid for access. Requesting a copy from elsewhere sends you to this destination.

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The heads of the main UK Intelligence Agencies are all giving evidence to Parliament today, on camera for the first time. The fact that this has as of yet not happened demonstrates how obsolete the UK’s oversight regime is. The UK political establishment revels in its historical traditions, but this can result in archaic proceedings, stuck in another century, refusing to move forward with the modern era. With a time delay (allegedly a few minutes, but possibly 20 years), we get to view the stream of the third debate in three weeks.

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It was only a year ago when the UK Home Office repeatedly made statements about how their capability to collect intelligence was degrading, and how new laws such as the Communications Data Bill were necessary to protect citizens.

In hindsight, given the revelations about the UK domestic mass surveillance programs, these once desperate cries for more crime- and terrorism-fighting tools now look like nothing more than attempts to illegitimately spy more on all citizens. Quotes from those debates look rather different now.

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Barclays recently announced that they were looking to sell "aggregated" customer data to third parties. While the news sparked concern among the UK public, the practice, unfortunately, is becoming common among many industries.

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It is a long-standing privacy principle that an individual should have access to their personal information. This is particularly necessary in healthcare - after all there is nothing more personal than health information.

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Compulsory data on every state school pupil in the country can now be used for research “promoting the education or well-being of children in England”, according to UK Department for Education.

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Privacy International welcomes the absence of a Communications Data Bill in the Queen's Speech. The Communications Data bill was originally set to significantly expand the powers of communications surveillance in the UK and set another bad standard globally.  Because of the work by Parliamentarians, a concerted effort by civil society groups and some within industry, this expansion was avoided, for now.  However the Queen's Speech did include a mention of new proposals:

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We very much welcome today's announcement by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt that people will be allowed to opt out of having their medical records shared in the NHS England centralised information bank.

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The current iteration of the UK's "Communications Data Bill" is now dead. 

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Out of concern for the potential international ramifications of the Communications Data Bill, fifteen of Privacy International's partner activists and organisations have signed a joint letter urging the UK to consider the detrimental impact this law will have around the world.

The letter reads:

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Privacy International welcomes the news that the UK NHS Data Spine is being replaced. We have fundamental privacy concerns about the existing infrastructure, and the proposed changes have the potential to enable the necessary privacy protections to be implemented in a meaningful way. 

In the media
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Scientists say it is remarkably easy to identify a mobile phone user from just a few pieces of location information.

Whenever a phone is switched on, its connection to the network means its position and movement can be plotted.

This data is given anonymously to third parties, both to drive services for the user and to target advertisements.

But a study in Scientific Reports warns that human mobility patterns are so predictable it is possible to identify a user from only four data points.

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A full analysis of the UK Information Commissioner's "Anonymisation code of practice: managing data protection risk" will take time and working knowledge of how the code is used in practice. 

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Large institutions tend to focus internally, with minimal regard to the external environment. Open Data becoming institutionalised is not different, and as a leading edge country in opening data, the UK is making the predictable mistakes first:

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Let's be clear: the Open Data movement is not about the pursuit of complete and unconditional openness. We know that it would be unwise to publish details of police patrol patterns, or the combination to the safe containing the crown jewels. We believe that fundamental reference data like ordnance survey maps, transport timetables, and company information should be freely available to all - information about objects, rather than information about people.

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We all remember the characteristics of the people we went to school with. In primary school, George was excellent at Music; Michelle aced Science in high school; Julian did that odd combination of college courses and had a problem with authority. Well, there's a national database that records all this information and more. The National Pupil Database (NPD, previously the School Census) contains over 400 variables, covers every year of a child’s education from nursery to A-levels, and anyone who attended a state school in the past ten years is included - there is no opt out.

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The UK Minister for Education, Michael Gove, today stated in Parliament that he would be moving forward his plans to open up the National Pupil Database, and announced a government consultation on the initiative. The Minister promised that "all requests to access extracts of data would go through a robust approval process and successful organisations would be subject to strict terms and conditions covering their handling and use of the data, including ha

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A year ago this week, the UK government published a report entitled 'Transparent Government, Not Transparent Citizens', authored by Dr Kieron O’Hara. It made fourteen recommendations, the most important of which seem not to have been implemented. Meanwhile, the government continues to release data on citizens, and is accelerating these disclosures with some ambitious new policies.

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We welcome the Informational Commissioner's intention to produce guidance for data controllers around the production of Open Data. Rigorous guidance is sorely needed in this area, with even large Government departments getting it dangerously wrong. Some data can be released safely in some circumstances; depending on the type and there has been sufficient consideration of the nuance of the situation.

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Privacy Internationally has submitted two documents to the UK Parliament's Joint Committee reviewing the draft Communications Data Bill. The first submission is an implementation briefing based on our work for the Big Brother Incorporated project, establishing the capabilities and defects of existing surveillance technologies.

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The Home Office constantly insists that trafffic data is not about the content of the pages you look at, but about the sites you visit.

This would have made some sense in 1999 when RIPA was first being debated, but technology has moved on and new open data sources are now available. This allows for vastly more invasive tracking in 2012 than was envisaged in 2000. We’ve done a little bit of work on how…

The English Wikipedia contains 4 million articles, which contain 18 million links out to other websites.

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Modern communications surveillance policy is about gaining access to modern communications. The problem is that the discourse around communications policy today is almost the same as it was when it was simply a question of gaining access to telephone communications. "Police need access to social network activity just as they have access to phone calls" is the politician's line. We use Facebook as an example here, but most internet services will be similar in complexity and legality.

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In the PI office, we have daily debates about which platforms to use for our organizational operations. As a privacy charity, we are naturally concerned about the integrity of our own information services and resources, but we frequently receive queries about the best technologies to use from a variety of other organizations, some with very complex threat models.

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By now, UK internet users are probably familiar with major sites asking them to consent to the use of website cookies. This is prompted by the 'cookie law' (aka "Directive 2002/58 on Privacy and Electronic Communications", otherwise known as the E-Privacy Directive), which is proving a privacy trainwreck. Theoretically, the Directive was a good idea - a method of preventing companies secretly following a user from site to site across the web.

Blast
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SchNEWS just tweeted this photo of protesters being blocked by a steel police cordon. This cordon has made frequent appearances at recent public order situations across the UK, including in South Wales, Leicestershire and Greater Manchester, but was originally developed for deployment during chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) incidents by Cobham plc.

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This weekend, the Department for Education sponsored an "appathon", allowing attendees access to the National Pupil Database (which holds information like exam results, special education needs, truancy records and eligibility for free school meals on every child at every state school in the country) and inviting people to build "apps".

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Mass surveillance affects us all