Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Census sabotage?

Privacy or confidentiality concerns about the UK 2011 census? The census director's careful choice of words quoted in ComputerWeekly certainly seems noteworthy - "The UK Statistics Authority and the Office for National Statistics will never volunteer personal information for any non-statistical purpose…". So, they won't offer it to just anyone off their own bat, but they'll give it if - made to? Told to? Just asked to?

Apart from data protection or privacy worries, others are uncomfortable about the contractor engaged to process the census, Lockheed Martin. So the ingenious recommendations by Peace News on How to Fill In Your Census Form without Lockheed Martin Profiting may well be taken up by some.

It's (possibly unintentionally) absolutely hilarious - with suggestions like -

  • don't fill the census form in online
  • "accidentally change a digit of your telephone number and ditto for an email address"
  • send written queries to the FREEPOST address, perhaps direct to the Director
  • make small changes to names so you know the source of any "data protection failure"
  • and oh they might have scanning issues if

    "- The form was wrongly inserted in the envelope;

    - A different envelope has been used;

    - The outer bar code has been covered before the form was put in the envelope;

    - Some or all of the outer bar code’s white spaces were filled in with black pen or otherwise obliterate.."

  • not to mention that scanner paper feeds can "go temperamental" if there -

    "a) could be things like post-it notes, loose bits of paper and other detritus, stains, obviously unreadable barcodes, etc.

    b) could be of the form of additional staples, tears, folds, creases, spots of stickiness such as a marmalade spillage or a fragment of bluetack, improvised repairs of torn sheets with sellotape, additional pieces of paper glued to the side, etc"

  • bar codes on the form - "can be rendered ineffective by neatly filling in some or all of the white gaps between the bars of with a black pen or entirely covering with stickers – do not use post-it notes for they are easily removed. Do not allow any complete horizontal strip (however narrow) of the complete barcode to remain. (Many people “blacked in” or obliterated bar codes to great effect on Poll Tax forms in 1989-1991 and greatly increased their processing costs). Make sure you don’t miss any other codes and serial numbers."
  • tick both boxes "Male" and "Female", or “Jewish” and “Sikh”…
  • "Refusing to answer such questions [considered intrusive or privacy-invasive] could, in principle, cost you £1000 and will make no difference whatsoever to Lockheed Martin. It will be more effective to tick a few random boxes and write some random stuff in the text sections, then cross it all out again, and write something like “I don’t understand this. Please explain” This will take up time to deal with in the processing centre. You cannot be fined for not understanding a question or for being confused by it and you have made the effort."
  • "It is easy to make a mistake or even to forget to answer a question – we are all human after all. No problem: just write to the processing centre (Addressed to “Census Processing Centre” in whatever place name you remember from the form) to tell them to put it right on your form. A considerable amount of clerical work could be involved… If you supply a missing answer, keep a copy of your letter so that you can prove that you made a real effort to comply with your legal obligation to answer all questions."

I won't go on. You can finish the article direct, it's an amusing read.

Ironically, I know at least one person who's done some of the things they've suggested - not through any intention to muck up the form, but just because their situation is unusual (though not that uncommon), and they didn't think the form was clear or helpful enough as to how they were meant to complete it, hence crossings out galore!

Via Peter Judge, eWeek.

©WH. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike England 2.0 Licence. Please attribute to WH, Tech and Law, and link to the original blog post page. Moral rights asserted.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

UK data protection register to be opened up further?

Just saw, the ICO are consulting on allowing their entire Data Protection Register to be downloaded "in a reusable format", in the spirit of open data and transparency. Respond by emailing - closing date 31 March 2011.

This register has info about those who've registered with the UK Information Commissioner's Office as "data controllers" of personal data. (Not the details contained in the personal data which they control, just limited info about the controllers themselves.) You can currently search the Data Protection Register online. For example here's the info on Google UK and Google Inc.

The consultation is about the impact which making the whole register downloadable as a single data set would have on individuals on the register, where the ICO say -

However, a number of entries on the register relate to individuals, such as sole traders, and there are therefore data protection considerations. For example, is it fair that data collected for a statutory purpose is made available in a form that could make it more widely available and usable?

We want your views on what the impact on individuals would be if the register was available to download as a dataset, in a re-usable format, in its entirety.

Personally I think the requirement for notification / registration is somewhat red-tapish, as the info in the register's not that informative and yet it's a hassle and cost for those who have to register, but the law is what the law is.

I didn't spot any consultation on the format that they plan to use. I wonder what format that will be?

Responses will be published but if you think your response is confidential, explain why and they'll consider that if they are asked to reveal it, but can't guarantee to keep it confidential. Though

….The ICO will process your personal data in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and in the majority of circumstances this will mean that your personal information will not be disclosed to third parties.

Just as an aside - I'm never clear when I see references to closing dates of "X" - do they mean before X? On X? By close of business on X? I'm probably being A-type here, but personally I would like all consultations to say, "by 17.30 GMT on X".

©WH. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike England 2.0 Licence. Please attribute to WH, Tech and Law, and link to the original blog post page. Moral rights asserted.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Privacy vs security & crime - lecture

Mr Hielke Hijmans, European Data Protection Supervisor's Office, will discuss "Data Protection in Europe’s Area of Security and Justice" this Monday 11 Mar 2011, 7pm, London as part of Queen Mary School of Law's Criminal Justice lecture series. Drinks from 6.30pm.

From the flyer:

9/11 has reconfigured the relationship between security and privacy. The post- 9/11 era is marked by the proliferation of mechanisms for the collection, analysis and exchange of personal data for security purposes at EU level. EU databases (such as the Europol Information System and the Schengen Information System) have been created and expanded. The exchange of personal data between national police authorities has been strengthened. The private sector has been increasingly called on to cooperate with the State in the field of data transfers. This lecture will explore the implications of these developments and assess the extent to which the European Union has developed an adequate legal framework on data protection to address security concerns.

Those interested in privacy and data protection law, particularly in the context of crime, law enforcement and national security, may want to attend.

Details and to book a place.

©WH. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike England 2.0 Licence. Please attribute to WH, Tech and Law, and link to the original blog post page. Moral rights asserted.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Youngest female racing driver in UK seeks sponsorship

Zoe Wenham, only 16 and racing in the Volkswagen Racing Cup, is seeking sponsorship. I wanted to help spread the word, though this is clearly not my blog's usual subject matter! When not racing she's studying for A levels in IT, Maths, Physics and Business Studies. Via Women in Technology newsletter.

More info, email, site, Twitter @zoewenham - and also she'd welcome general suggestions or thoughts on her sponsorship portfolio.

Coincidentally, a friend and I were just chatting t'other day about females in Formula One (my friend likes watching, I have to say I'm not a sporty person myself).

There's a dearth of women in racing (the position seems even worse than with women in law). We wondered if that was partly because those narrow, form-fitting racing cars are built to suit the male form - normally they're not designed for wide hips to squeeze in, or, if I may say so, chestage - so do they indirectly exclude females that way?

If it's possible to have privacy by design (or not), isn't it possible that there is some kind of gender exclusion through race car design…? Does anyone with any Formula One engineering experience know?

©WH. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike England 2.0 Licence. Please attribute to WH, Tech and Law, and link to the original blog post page. Moral rights asserted.