Tag Archives: privacy

Ministers confirm UK adoption of cookie rules

In a release today the Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced ministers have confirmed the UK will adopt an amended framework on electronic communications “exactly as set out by the EU”, which will include the need for website owners to get the user’s permission before a cookie – a text file used to store information such as user preferences – can be used.

Today’s announcement follows a consultation where concerns were raised about the impact of changes to the use of cookies.

To address these concerns, the Government has said it will work with browser manufacturers to see if browser setting can be enhanced to meet the requirements of the revised directive.

The updated directives must be implemented by 25 May, the release added, and the Information Commissioner’s Office will publish further guidance on the use of cookies.

Last month Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said the new law will be a challenge but “will have positive benefits” by offering more choice and control over what information businesses and other organisations can store on and access from consumers’ own computers.

But he added that the limited time remaining until the directive becomes European law was causing concern.

Open statements introduced in privacy and malicious falsehood cases

An update to the Civil Procedure Rules, which came into effect yesterday, means statements in open court can now be made in malicious falsehood or privacy cases where a claimant wishes to accept an offer of settlement.

In a post on its website law firm Schillings described the update as a “subtle” yet “important” change.

A statement in open court can therefore be used as an important mechanism for vindication for victims who have had their privacy invaded. This is especially important in “false privacy claims” where there is often lots of speculation about a person’s private life that is untrue. In these cases in particular it is vital to be able to set the record straight and let the world know that the allegations were untrue and infringed privacy.

EU taking the biscuit? UK responds to new cookie legislation

Since the warning from the Information Commissioner this week that websites in the UK need to ‘wake up’ to new EU legislation on accessing information on user’s computers, many questions have been raised, but when they will be answered remains unclear.

Under the new legislation, which will come into force in May this year in an amendment to the EU’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive, websites will be required to obtain consent from visitors in order to store on and retrieve usage information from their computers such as cookies, which enable sites to remember users’ preferences.

The Internet Advertising Bureau responded to Christopher Graham’s announcement with its concerns, saying the new rules are “potentially detrimental to consumers, business and the UK digital economy”. The big question is how the EU directive will be interpreted into UK law – the implementation of which is down to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

According to Outlaw.com, the news site for law firm Pinsent Masons, the DCMS is working on a browser-based solution “to find a way to enhance browser settings so that they can obtain the necessary consent to meet the Directive’s standards”. But Rosemary Jay, a partner at Pinsent Masons and head of information law practice, told Journalism.co.uk this would only work for new downloads of browsers.

One of the things about browser settings, being talked about by the government, is even if you amend browsers it will only do it for new browsers and lots of people that are running browsers that are 10 years old, browsers that are really small. If you do it by re-designing browsers so they can very easily and quickly offer you cookie choices it’s only going to apply when people buy or download a new browser. There are a lot of questions around that. Equally if you say you’ve got to have a pop-up on the front page, or an icon, there are so many cookies that people get all the time for all kinds of peripheral things. Just in a behavioural advertising scenario you could get four cookies dropped during the course of someone delivering just a little bit of video.

Meanwhile TechCrunch’s Mike Butcher raises his concerns about the impact of the rules on EU start-ups.

So, imagine a world where, after 25 May when the law kicks in, your startup has to explicitly make pop-up windows and dialogue boxes appear asking for a user’s permission to gather their data. If enforced his law will kill off the European startup industry stone dead, handing the entire sector to other markets and companies, and largely those in the US.

But while debate rages on about how this law will be implemented in the UK and ultimately therefore the likely implications for users and websites, the BBC’s Rory Cellan Jones calls for some calm while the details are ironed out.

It may, however, be time for everyone to calm down about cookies. EU governments still have not worked out just how the directive will be implemented in domestic law, and what form “consent” to cookies will have to take. In the UK, the internet advertising industry appears confident that reminding people that their browser settings allow them to block cookies will be enough, while the Information Commissioner’s Office seems to think that they will need to do more.

My suspicion is that consumers will actually notice very little after 25 May, and the definition of consent will be pretty vague. But at least the publicity now being given to this “cookie madness” may alert a few more people to the ways in which their web behaviour is tracked. Then we will find out just how many people really care about their online privacy.

Radio 4: Max Mosley discusses press freedom and privacy

BBC Radio 4 programme On The Ropes has an interview with Max Mosley. The former F1 chief discusses his calls for new privacy laws.

He has now taken his case to the European Court of Human Rights; he wants the British government to be forced to introduce a law which would require journalists to inform people about stories featuring them, before they appear. This would allow time for an injunction to be issued, preventing publication. Journalists are against this proposal, saying it would hamper legitimate investigative journalism.

Listen to the Max Mosley interview at this link.

Observer seeks to distinguish ‘Operation Motorman’ from the phone-hacking scandal

In 2006 the Information Commissioner’s Office published a report, ‘What price privacy”, which along with other cases shone a light on the ‘Operation Motorman’ investigation into the use of a private investigator by the media to obtain personal information, which according to the report was often through a deception process referred to as ‘blagging’.

Journalists have a voracious demand for personal information, especially at the popular end of the market. The more information they reveal about celebrities or anyone remotely in the public eye, the more newspapers they can sell. The primary documentation seized at the premises of the Hampshire private detective consisted largely of correspondence (reports, invoices, settlement of bills etc) between the detective and many of the better-known national newspapers – tabloid and broadsheet – and magazines. In almost every case, the individual journalist seeking the information was named, and invoices and payment slips identified leading media groups. Some of these even referred explicitly to ‘confidential information’.

The report, which also includes extracts from a ‘blaggers’ training manual, claimed that the evidence documented “literally thousands of section 55 offences” (Data Protection Act) with more than 300 journalists identified.

Later that year, in a follow-up entitled ‘What price privacy now’, the Commissioner reported on the response of various national organisations to the earlier publication. In the report he also decided, in the public interest, to list the publications identified from documentation seized during the Operation Motorman investigation, the number of transactions they were positively identified as being involved in and how many of their journalists (or clients acting on their behalf) were using these services.

It should be noted that while the table is dominated by tabloid publications they are far from being alone. Certain magazines feature prominently and some broadsheets are also represented. The Commissioner recognises that some of these cases may have raised public interest or similar issues, but also notes that no such defences were raised by any of those interviewed and prosecuted in Operation Motorman.

Top of the list was the Daily Mail, with a reported 952 transactions and 58 journalists/clients, closely followed by the Sunday People with 802 transactions and 50 journalists/clients. Broadsheets also appeared, the Observer with 103 transactions and 4 journalists/clients and the Sunday Times with 52 transactions and seven journalists/clients. No newspaper was ever prosecuted, according to reports.

At the time the Observer, owned by the Guardian Media Group, issued a statement from its editor Roger Alton, citing a defence in most cases.

Yes, the Observer has used the services of an outside agency in the past, and while there were strong public interest defences for most of those cases, it is possible that some of the inquiries did not sufficiently fit that criteria. As a result, I have now taken steps to ensure that no inquiries will be made through outside agencies unless I believe that there is a compelling public interest to do so.

This week, Journalism.co.uk learned that the Observer is now seeking to clarify the distinction between this case and the phone-hacking scandal which saw a News of the World journalist and private investigator jailed in 2007. According to the paper, there has been some “confusion” within the media between the two cases and the involvement of the Observer.

As a result the Observer’s readers’ editor Stephen Pritchard is now preparing a piece for the paper looking back at the Operation Motorman events and explaining the steps taken by the Observer following the report. This week a spokesman for the Observer told Journalism.co.uk:

The ICO report did not concern hacking (a criminal offence without any public interest defence in law), but instead concentrated on potential offences under the data protection act to which there is a public interest defence.

Given the confusion the readers’ editor of the Observer is preparing a piece to clarify this distinction, recap what happened at the time, and explain the steps taken by the Observer following the ICO report.

None of the many newspapers and magazines named in the report were prosecuted. However, Roger Alton, editor of the Observer at the time, issued a public statement making clear that it was not acceptable to use external agencies unless there was ‘a compelling public interest to do so’. The company also subsequently launched a series of training sessions for staff on the implications of the Data Protection Act.

There are many questions related to Operation Motorman and the Observer that people still want answered. This letter from one concerned reader, sent to the readers’ editor last week, raises some of those, such as were the journalists involved suspended or are they still employed by the Observer or the Guardian?

It’s now a case of waiting to see if these will be answered in the Observer’s column, expected in the next couple of weeks.

Channel 4 News: Benjamin Cohen’s life torn open by Wired

Benjamin Cohen, technology editor at Channel 4 News, has blogged about the experience of being sent the latest, personalised edition of Wired magazine.

Well, personalised for some. “Opinion formers” around the UK have been sent a copy of Wired, titled “Your life torn open”, with personal information about them splashed over the front cover. Cohen was shocked by the information that they printed – and it is shocking at first. But then it is all publically available through Facebook, Twitter, Companies House and the Land Registry.

What’s shocking though is seeing all of this printed in black and white (or yellow in this case). Everything was available from Facebook, Twitter, Company House and the Land Registry but it shows the information is so readily available. It also shows how powerful these resources can be for private detectives or government agents.

Read his post in full here…

Google due in Spanish court to appeal data protection restrictions

Google has said that it is due to appear in a Madrid court tomorrow to challenge a demand that it remove links to newspaper articles and official gazettes.

According to the search company, it is to appeal orders by Spain’s Data Protection Agency (AEPD) that it removes links to articles which are the subject of complaints relating to privacy.

Google director of external relations for Europe, Peter Barron published the following statement today:

We are disappointed by the actions of the Spanish privacy regulator. Spanish and European law rightly hold the publisher of the material responsible for its content.

Requiring intermediaries like search engines to censor material published by others would have a profound, chilling effect on free expression without protecting people’s privacy.

The Spanish DPA has not yet responded to a request for comment.


The Spanish DPA has now responded to our request for comment. It says in cases where a complaint it made and the page hosting the information cannot erase the data because there is a law that protects the publication or a conflict with another fundamental right (freedom of expression), the majority of the AEPD resolutions order search engines to avoid indexing the information of those users as recognition of “the right of the applicants to be forgotten”.

Daily Mail apologises to Matt Lucas over invasion of privacy claim

It was reported yesterday that comedian and actor Matt Lucas received “substantial undisclosed” damages and an apology from Associated Newspapers following an article in the Daily Mail earlier this year.

Lucas sued for invasion of privacy over the article headlined “How Matt Lucas learnt to laugh again” following his ex-partner’s death. His law firm Schillings claimed that the article “constituted an unlawful intrusion into his grief and suffering and an invasion of his privacy”.

In the apology on MailOnline, the paper said the article had “caused great upset to Mr Lucas which we did not intend and regret”.

The article on Mr Lucas’ return to public life following the tragic death of Kevin McGee suggested he had ignored Kevin’s calls, became a virtual recluse, and hosted a birthday party to ‘move on’. We accept this was not the case and apologise to Mr Lucas.

Mail Online: New high court injunction granted for sports star

According to the Daily Mail, a married sportsman has won an injunction from the high court banning reporting on his private life. The Mail says its possible that the injunction will be modified to allow reporting of the individual’s name but not the secret.

Full story on Mail Online at this link…

NYT: Privacy is nice, but profit is better

Despite journalists being among those warning of the erosion of privacy in the digital age, it is increasing infringements on privacy that will keep their industry afloat, writes Robert Wright in this New York Times opinion piece.

In fact, the only profitable model for journalism online will be through the continuing removal of privacy and obtaining of information, he suggests.

The further erosion of privacy may be the salvation of journalism – the only way journalists can hope to make a living in the thus-far non-lucrative world of online publishing. As a journalist who harbours such hopes, and has been practising journalism since its glorious tree-based days, I’m in a good position to explain. The willingness of advertisers to spend the money that sustains journalists has always depended on having information about the reader.

…As a member of the late-baby-boom generation, I grew up valuing privacy. But as a journalist with a family to feed, I’m increasingly approving of the very different sensibility of younger people, who seem to have been stripped of self-consciousness by, among other things, Facebook.

The importance of the sharing of data online by communities and the value of targeted advertising as a result was a topic which was also raised at a business-to-business publishing debate at the Association of Online Publishers summit last week.