When IT Meets Politics

March 3, 2014  11:16 AM

How rural is Shoreditch, our supposed technopolis?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
BDUK, Broadband, BT, btgroup, DCMS, FTTP, Hyperoptic, Inca, NAO, Ofcom, Openreach, Ukraine, Ventura, Virgin, Virgin Media

There is currently a rush to bid for broadband funds which evaporate on March 31st with events being organised  to help Communities and Councils get better value for their contributions to investment in infrastructure.  Meanwhile “to those that have shall be given and from those that have not …”

Last year J. Small posted a comment on my blog “How Rural is Smithfield”   She has just sent me a copy of letter she has sent to her MP which I reproduce below.

The answer to her first question “Why are DCMS officials forwarding correspondence to BT to respond to?”, may be quite simple. The e-mail addresses used for the departmental official and for the Minister’s parliamentary office appear to have been out of date. The e-mails may well not therefore, have found their way into the normal routine for handling departmental correspondence.  Even if they had, the department would almost certainly wish to contact BT to check the facts or provide comment before drafting a reply for the Minister to send. Given the controversies over broadband I would expect the department/minister to receive hundreds of e-mails per day. DCMS has fewer staff competent to respond on such issues than Ofcom, let alone BT. I would therefore be surprised if BT were not able to respond more quickly.

More interesting are the reasons for the inability of DCMS to take more effective action against appaent anti-competitive behaviour. Ministers cannot give orders to Ofcom about how to do its job and Ofcom has decided on a rather less robust interpretation of its powers than its predecessor, Oftel.  I have blogged before on the differences between Ofcom’s statutory duties as they appear on its website and as they appear in the Communications Act 2003:  particularly the omission of factors to which the Act says Ofcom should “have regard”: from promoting competition and investment to considering the different interests of different ethnic and geographic communities.

I would draw particular attention to Section 5 of the Act: “In performing their duty under this section of furthering the interests of consumers, OFCOM must have regard, in particular, to the interest of those consumers in respect of choice, price, quality of service and value for money.” Those differences, which complemented the policy of the previous government to preserve the BT local loop monopoly until Virgin Media was in a position to compete, help explain much of what has happened since.

Meanwhile  Ofcom’s inability to hold BT to account with regard to the charges it makes to its resellers is illustrated in the small print of relevant NAO reports, I recommend that you read pages 6 and 7 of Volume 2 of that on the Impact of Investment on Consumer Bills. The problems were not only predictable but predicted. They were the reason that previous Conservative Government regulatory policy focused on price and behaviour, not fictional calculations of return on capital.

I ask you to bear this preamble in mind when you read the letter J. Small copied to me and some of the activists of INCA:

Queries to an MP, Friday 28 February 2014

I am a resident in a shared-ownership development built in 2003 and owned by a very large housing association. Like thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of residents up and down the UK, we have “Exchange Only” (EO) lines, not eligible for delivery of superfast broadband via the new fibre infrastructure.

We find ourselves locked down to old ADSL technology, condemned to the wrong side of the digital divide. And ironically, our development is in “Silicon Roundabout“, the UK’s answer to Silicon Valley! I can’t imagine there are whole tracts of premises without superfast fibre access over there, can you? Closer to home, what sticks in the craw: if I could afford to move to live/work in Cornwall, I would be able to get access via fibre. While I applaud efforts to ensure rural areas are as well-connected as urban ones, I do not see why whole swathes of urban areas should be condemned to become digital ghettos. This is utterly outrageous in my opinion.

Over the last two years we have petitioned the housing association, BT and BT OpenReach, plus our local authorities to no avail. In my own experience, the housing association abdicates responsibility, BT sends me to OpenReach, OpenReach asks me to sign an online form expressing interest.

As I said, this isn’t an isolated issue. Sadly, I see others up and down the country trying to highlight this issue by various means, also to no avail. There is a Direct Gov petition. I hear now that the London Assembly is planning to investigate. There are so many discussion postings about this that I’m cross-eyed. Unbelievably, I see distressing postings from folks in brand new developments with EO lines – when there should be a moratorium, right? So yes, I see a lot of blah-blah but no real Plan of Action.

Most recently our Residents Association contacted Simon Towler, Head of Spectrum, Broadband & International ICT, Department for Culture Media and Sports AND Ed Vaizey, UK Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries but neither replied. Instead Andrew Campling — BT’s General Manager, London — got in touch to arrange a meeting, which in the end was also attended by another residents’ association rep as well.

Post-meeting notes report Mr. Campling explained the usual:
— BT are prioritising fibre connectivity into commercial premises, and due to a government grant into rural areas;
— BT therefore charges residents/businesses to re-route EO lines into street cabinets;
— BT prices up the re-routing work, using a hidden and proprietary formula, which ensures BT’s commercial return over a number of years;
— residents/businesses pay the entire bill.

Mr. Campling was also unwilling to help identify EO lines in our area – perhaps to prevent too many people working together?

A number of questions have arisen out of this process, which need addressing. This is the list sent to our local MP :

1) Why is BT replying to queries addressed to the Government?

2) Why exactly are EO lines unable to have fibre provision when they are directly wired into a fibre-enabled exchange?

3) What provision is being made by government to ensure that EO lines are dealt with? What happened to FTTP and FTTH? If trials could happen, the technology clearly exists AND there is no legal or other blockage, so why is there not a nation-wide roll-out?

4) How many properties are on EO just within your constituency? Andrew Campling refused to provide it to us, citing “commercial confidentiality”. However I know for a fact this is a matter of public record.

5) Why should residents/owners pay the cost of re-routing EO lines to street cabinets? Why is the assumption that we should bear the brunt of bad decisions made by developers together with BT (OpenReach?) — up and down the country over the last decades and continuing even today — to avoid installing street cabinets when the development was built? Why s hould residents now pay for BT’s commercial success? Why should developers/original property owners dodge responsibility?

6) Why does BT have a monopoly as the only commercial entity permitted to draw up a quote for re-routing our EO lines into a street cabinet? As a monopoly, why are they permitted to cite “commercial confidentiality” as the reason they cannot reveal their costings?

7) Finally, why should BT Openreach be permitted to not install a street cabinet in or just outside the exchange and re-route our lines into it? That would seem to be a simple and cost-effective solution not just for our development but for all citizens up and down the country who find themselves in this predicament.

I too would love to know the answers to the other six questions, particularly those regarding “commercial confidentiality” both with regard to information that which is (or should be, unless the Council has lost its copies of the planning permissions) a matter of public record (albeit hard work for anyone other than BT to assemble) and with regard to the costs and prices of a regulated monopoly (as is Openreach, albeit not the rest of BT).  

Meanwhile I have suggested that the residents of Housing Associations should band together to ask their landlords to go out to tender, Korean style, for 21st century communications services for their tenants. Hyperoptic , for example would undoubtedly be among the alternative suppliers interested supporting such an exercise. This clip on YouTube shows the CEO of Ventura explaining why  I also draw attention to the low cost (only £25 for community activists) event  being organised by Broadway Partners on how councils and communities can get better value for their money: and not just when matched with BDUK funding .

I suspect we are about to see current broadband roll-out plans overtaken by a perfect storm, as market forces compensate for regulatory failure in the wake of an economic crisis  triggered by events in the Ukraine and the consequent sharp rises in energy and food prices. That will probably be the subject for my next blog.  

February 25, 2014  7:26 PM

How relevant and practical are awareness programmes designed for a PC world to the mobile world?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Paypal, security awareness, smartphone, Symantec

John Walker of SBLTD has given me permission to reproduce the following e-mail that he sent to me this morning  in response to my recent blog on the fight back against the surveillance society. It would appear that most of us are either unaware that “everyone is watching us”, or think that the odds that any is actually watching “them” are so low that it does not matter.

‘Recently, a friend of mine got hacked, costing him some hard earned cash, a lot of time talking to his bank, and the frustration of knowing he had been had. Post a little Q&A, it was established that, that day he had utilised the services of an insecure public Access Point [AP], which was, it would seem the commencement of his troubles, when he logged into his PayPal, and Bank accounts with complete disregard for his logical security.

The first thought that entered my head was ‘just how silly can you be’, as my friend should have known better – but should he? Confronted with the offer of free WiFi, do we assert that every member of the public is fully savvy on the subject of logical security, and the associated exposure they face when throwing caution to the wind?

The fact of the matter is, in my opinion the missing element with the topic of, shall we call it, Cyber Security is that there is no real Security Education and Awareness Programme in place to protect the public from others, and themselves. Granted this will cost money – but let us not forget, in the absence of doing something, this is exposing individual users, the SME, and the economy to losses which are now reaching significant proportions

Getting back on to the topic of my friends issues, after a little bit of education, and a few configuration tweaks, we bolstered up his local security with complex passwords, the used of Symantec VIP Services, and the employment of a piece of software to create VPN Tunnelling – all of which was easy stuff to implement. Thus now hopefully, enriched with a little education and awareness, and the implementation of a few easy to use tools, my pal will be fine, and all was well with the world – or was it? Until….

Today, I am traveling down to London on the train, and sitting offset to the left in front of me, I observed a user unbeknown to me fire up their laptop, share the entire contents of their big screen with me, and then, as if not to add to my concern, logged directly into the mobile public AP without a care in there world- yes, Security Education and Awareness for the Public should be considered a High Priority if we are ever to dent the successful growth of Cyber Criminality.’


Where does John’s advice to his friend appear on any of the current mainstream “security awareness programmes”? Who do you trust to give similar advice to your local silver surfers club and, more importantly help install the necesary software for them and check that it is working?

February 25, 2014  9:40 AM

What price net neutrality in a non-competitive broadband market

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Comcast, Net Neutrality, Netflix, Vodafone

The recent agreement between Netflix and Comcast in the United States illustrates what lies behind the current minuet involving BT, Sky, Virgin, Vodafone, EE and O2 as they negotiate cross licensing deals over content and access packages, turning what might otherwise be an open and competitive market into a clone of that in the United States.

The time has come for thorough review of the role of Ofcom as a competition regulator if we really do want open, competitive access to the on-line world and of the role of BDUK if we want that access to socailly and geographically inclusive.

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February 24, 2014  7:54 AM

Entire NHS Hospital Episodes database already sold to insurance company

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
experian, Insurance, NHS, Sold

The story that an medical insurance company has already done an exercise to  “refine” its premiums by collating the NHS Hospital Episodes Database with Mosaic helps put the current debate over access to medical records into perspective. It also adds “bite” to my reprise on the “Bled Report” yesterday, particularly with regard to the sale of data collected as part of the delivery of a public service.   

However, the more interesting question is why the NHS has not done such an exercise itself to help “refine”, alias plan, provision – particularly for those in most need because they are uninsurable. Had it done so, it should surely have made the results publicly available to heklp local authorities with their planning, as well as insurance companies.

At this point I should, however, add that I personally would have much more faith in the security of an exercise done by a phamarceutical or insurance company in co-operation with Experian, than one done by the NHS or any academic researcher.

The former understand the importance and value of confidentiality and have the budgets to go with it. The latter tend to think that their project is more important than all that security flummery, which they cannot afford (time or money) anyway.   

I would be most surprised if this exercise was done in such a way as to compromise  patient identity and confidentiality but there is little doubt that had it not been done by an organisation which takes information security and anonymity very seriously when doing such exercises, like Experian, it could have been.  

February 23, 2014  12:51 PM

How do we ensure that public online services are fit for a democratic society?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Apple, choice, Data protection, digital divide, e-Inclusion, Ebay, ETICA, experian, Facebook, Google, Linkedin, Paypal, privacy, Security, Surveillance

The discussion at the recent Digital Leaders Annual Lecture and the attitudes of those I met at the reception afterwards caused me to ponder some of the unresolved issues regarding the ethics of public service delivery.  We need to find a way forward that marries their enthusiasm with the “well informed scepticism” of those who voted for me after the recent Real Time Club debate. If fear, however, that the multilateral debates over privacy, surveillance, security, quality of service and choice with regard to on-line public services appear stuck in a set of deepening grooves.

I am currently enjoying Peter Hennessy‘s “Distilling the Frenzy” which my son bought me for Christmas and was struck by his use of a Mark Twain quote “History does not repeat itself but it sometimes rhymes” in the chapter on “The power and the story”.  I apologise to those who think that what follows is repetition rather than rhyme.

Back in May 2008, I blogged  on the conclusions of the session on “ethical aspects of the use of Governmental on-line services” held as part of a commission funded workshop on Ethics and E-inclusion that fed into both the ETICA and E-inclusion for the Aged programmes. I then suspected, correctly as it turned out, that this session would be edited out of the report back – if only because the issues raised went rather wider than E-inclusion. In the event, only the material with regard to ageing was picked up and later the ETICA work steered clear of the minefield that is the ethics of public service delivery. This morning I checked my 2008 blog against the rapporteur’s record of the meeting (which I still have on file) and it was not far out.

The discussion was introduced by Bill Dutton (Director of the Oxford Internet Institute) and Peter Ferdinand, (Director of the Centre for Studies in Democratization, Warwick University). The participants included officials with policy responsibility in a number of Eastern European countries as well as Billy Hawkes, now the lead Data Protection Commissioner for Apple, eBay, Experian, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Paypal, Twitter and all the others who base their European, and occasionally global, operations on Dublin and its suburbs.
Back in 2008 we began by agreeing with, or at least not questioning, a number of principles regarding the transition to e-Government and digital services. These can be summarized as:

•    The transition should never erode the quality of citizenship: it should enhance it or be neutral. It should be based on incentives rather than force, because access growth has plateaued and the final 1/3 may be impossible

•    The digital divide is largely socio/economic. People should not be penalised for not using on-line services if they do not wish to: many have access problems including the elderly and illiterate. The state has to create the opportunities and incentives to acquire e-literacy and should not set an impossibly high standard (e.g. use of browsers, security tools etc.)  

•    E-Data should not be subsequently mis-used against the citizen, lost, mislaid, sold etc.

•    We need to recognize different policies and attitudes towards the use of data in different parts of the EU, including different levels and traditions of security and trust, this will complicate any attempts at harmonization 
We also noted that Citizens are accustomed to exercise digital choice, with older people using mobiles (including alarm systems) in preference. [Note that this workshop took place in 2008 and that was already the case across most of the EU, with the UK seriously lagging].

We homed in on six recommendations, which were recorded by the rapporteur as:

1)    Governments have to be strongly encouraged to offer citizens online services via their choice of channel and of intermediary and these means have to be multilingual and secure.

2)    Research programmes should be encouraged to ensure that the technologies used for e-Government services are fit to be used by the majority of the citizens. Given that the majority of those dependent on such services are disabled, this requires a focus on mixing audio, text and particularly video-streaming technologies.

3)    Governments should use the e-participation technologies in order to gather views on the channels people would like to use, as well as on the concerns and priorities for services and to collect feedback on the quality and relevance of the services they receive.

4)    It is unethical for Governments to demand information from citizens that they cannot keep secure and confidential.

5)    There is a need for programmes to identify and demonstrate good practice for the secure sharing of data across organisational boundaries, including across national borders.

6)    There is a need for greatly improved gradations of choice under the control of the individual: with allowance for changes of time and circumstance as well as with whom the information is to be shared under what conditions – rather than simplistic one-off choices or defaults. This approach raises many questions as to who authorizes or authenticates the choice as well as of cost and practicality..


A few footnotes may help readers better appreciate the “rhymes”
This was a pan-European workshop and English was not the first language of the rapporteur.

Surveys showing more than 80% of the UK as on-line users commonly count “more than never” as a user. Is some-one whose only contact with the on-line world is when she falls over and presses her alarm, really an Internet user? Even if we count them, have we really reached over 2/3 rd of users willing to transact with government on-line.

The UK was (and is) unusual in having so many “dependent” on public services who are not actually disabled or illiterate. This links, of course, to recent/current concerns over immigration from other parts of the EU.

Video-streaming technologies were then being trialed across Eastern Europe because they could not get Western software houses interested in helping develop cheap platforms for multi-lingual, audio-visual apps. The Chinese have since helped fill this gap – to our cost.   

As I listened to the conversations after their annual lecture. I wondered how many of the “Digital Leaders” of today not only agree with the above principles and recommendations but put them into practice, bearing in mind their proclivity for using services whose business models rely on selling our data outside the reach of EU, let alone UK, regulators.

February 19, 2014  10:17 AM

The fight against Surveillance Society claims its first victory – against NHS not NSA

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
anonymous, Big Data, Cyber, Edward Snowden, NSA, privacy, Security, Surveillance

The postponement of the ill-conceived NHS central database is the first great win for common sense over Big Data, but we need more clarity as to what is at stack and who is on which side in the battle between Big Brother and Anonymous.  We also need to consider whose side, if any, we are on. I personally regard GCHQ as much less of a threat to my personal safety, let alone privacy and civil liberties, than the members of the Global Government Surveillance Reform Group and that we need to the current legal governance for both to be seen to be enforced, particularly the minimum information requirements specified in the e-Commerce directive for those trading on line and the RIPA regulations on the lawfull interception of business communications, before calling for more.

Enforcing the minimum information requirements, (including to ensure that those claiming to be based in Europe really are, e.g. the reform of .uk), will do more to enhance consumer confidence in the on-line world and business confidence in Europe as a location of choice for e-commerce operations, than any of the Data Protection, Identity or other directives and Regulations currently under discussion.

In parallel we also need GCHQ to be more public about its govenance processes, particularly those that protect against political interference. These mark it out from similar operations in other nations (including the USA). Until that happens, GCHQ (and the rest of UK surveillance activities in support of law enforcement), are unfairly tarred by a series of brushes, from the dodgy dossier at the top, through to local authority staff using data access to help police family honour or school admissions policies.    

I had hoped to lose the debate at the Real Time Club last night but I won, (23 to 14 with 17 abstentions) after putting the symbiotic relationship between surveillance and ICT into perspective and kicking as many cyber-myths as practical, given my ten minutes and some very perceptive and well-informed questioning and probing as the evening wore on. The meeting was under the Club’s variation of the Chatham House Rule so I will not repeat any of what was said during the discussion but I will refine the comments I blogged when I rehearsed the arguments I was planning to make in order to open that discussion …

Continued »

February 14, 2014  6:25 PM

The thefts from Tesco customers help illustrate the uselessness of Data Breach Notification

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
customer, data breach notification, Data protection, directive, European Union, NSA, PICTFOR, regulation, Security, Tesco

According to press cover the recent theft of vouchers from 2000 Tesco on-line customers was based on the collation of data already available over the darker parts of the Internet. So what should Tesco have notified, to whom, under the EU Data Protection Directive and Regulation currently under discussion, since it had no “breach” of its own to notify?

Over half of all on-line transactions are now via mobiles, increasingly “infected” with apps (many from bucket shops in Florida) which not only capture what you key in but also use the camera to view your banking transactions. Their “surveillance” is a greater threat to most of us than anything the NSA might, or might not, do, including via Angry Birds (and the NSA’s most cost-effective use of taxpayers funds).

One again, who should notify what, and to whom?

The EU is pressing ahead with a new Data Protection Directive and “Regulation“, both fine-tuning approaches designed for the age of mainframes – as relevant to the privacy of the users of today as using the 1896 Infantry Manual (instead of the 1911 Manual) was for Kitchener’s New Army of 1916. In parallel it has an equally well-intentioned, but also equally flawed, Directive concerned with Network and Information Security and an Electronic Identity Regulation supported only by those seeking to promote services which no-one will trust with their own money.

I was dismayed at the lack of response at the PICTFOR meeting on 4th February when Bill Cash MP, chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee of teh House of Commons delivered a robust call for industry to help with inputs to help improve the legislation coming out of Brussels. Yesterday at the UK Internet Governance Forum a very good point was made on the need to subject the US based filtering operations, (on which those implementing UK Child Protection Policy place such dependence), to local scrutiny. Meanwhile the EU is pressing ahead with policies which, (by driving major operations off-shore), will decrease rather than increase such scrutiny, leaving only the supervision of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner for those running their EU operations via Dublin instead of Luxembourg.

I am delighted to note that the Digital Policy Alliance now has increasingly strong groups bringing together some of the major players (professional bodies, trade associations and those with large numbers of customers across Europe who will be made less competitive with the rest of the world), helping UK officials and Ministers and also MEPs, with informed scrutiny in all three areas, including in the context of attempts to make a reality of the Digital Single Market. My successor has succeeded where I failed, in getting major players to work together across sector boundaries.

In just under a fortnight, the DPA plans to bring together players for the launch of a new group to look at the how Network and Information Security Directive can be focussed on that which could and should be done at EU level, without distracting effort into tick box activities which are irrelevant to improving practical co-operation. This first scoping meeting will amost certainly be for members and guests. Those who are serious about working together to ensure effective political action to help improve their safety of themselves and their customers, as opposed to bleating afterwards about another layer of irrelevant overhead, should therefore get their membership applications in now. The subscription charges have not increased in over a decade. They are now much better value than when I was Secretary General and it was called EURIM (Euroepan Informatics Market) and failed to live up to its name because …. But that is another story and we need to look forward, not back … before it is too late.   

For those who want a more public debate, there are still some places at the Real Time Club dinner debate next week. I have jsut taken a sneal look at who has booked so far. We are in for a lively evening.    

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February 12, 2014  10:22 PM

How do we make the Internet a Safer Place?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
DPA, Google, Safer Internet Day

Yesterday I blogged on the irony of releasing “The Intercept” between the 70th Birthday of Colossus and Safer Internet Day. Today I am delighted to be able to blog on the release of the summary and transcript of the round table organised by the Digital Policy Alliance during the run up to Safer Internet Day. The round table was chaired by Diana Johnson MP (Shadow Minister for Home Affairs) and was unusual in that it may have produced immediate results: two members of the audience had to leave early to introduce an amendment to the Children and Families Bill with cross party support, using some of the material presented.

I reproduce the summary report below, but I do recommend you click through to the full transcript and ponder the detailed comments by Chris Ratcliffe (Portland TV) on the current state of play with regard to age verification, by Peter Davies (outgoing head of CEOP) on some of the legal loopholes that need to be closed and by Sally Leivesley (Newrisk) on the need to take action on the videos promoting suicide bomber as a career of choice for a devout muslim girl.

The discussion on over- and under-blocking was most informative but there was unanimity on the need for a follow up event to discuss other ways forward. The DPA is now working on this. Those who are serious about helping balance Internet safety and freedom should join and help with the planning – not just the subsequent debate.


Summary of


The Issue: 

Children are increasingly subject to unsuitable material on the open web ranging from pornography, through suicide forums and terrorist grooming sites to bullying and blackmail over social networks.

They are active targets for paedophiles operating anywhere in the world. Material can be legal in other parts of the world but not the UK. The exchange of illegal material, including child abuse images, is increasingly across closed and peer-to-peer networks. Children often use these to download pirated films/music and thus become familiar with the dark side of the Internet

There has been an explosion in the scale of web traffic and a  proliferation of sites hosting child-inappropriate material. There are currently 220 million hits a month in the UK alone on the main soft and hard pornography web sites. Children are accessing the Internet at an increasingly younger age – with a high proportion (37%) of 3-4 year olds regularly going online.

Tackling the Issue:

Following a Prime Ministerial initiative in July and November 2013, government called upon Internet Service Providers, social media companies, and Wi-Fi operators to make access to unsuitable sites via the open web harder. It has also stimulated proactive initiatives to tackle illegal content and perpetrators on the closed web and peer-to-peer sites.

As a result this year 20m homes will have internet filtering applied as default by the four leading Internet Service Providers, 90% of all public Wi-Fi networks will have family friendly filters introduced and since November, Google has blocked over 100,000 child sexual abuse related search terms. The UK is the first country to adopt such widespread measures so in some ways this is a massive social experiment.

Practical Implications:

The discussion looked at the practical implications and overall effectiveness of filtering and blocking initiatives. Filtering was criticised for being over effective – blocking legitimate and useful content such as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transvestite) community resources, sexual health and education pages, or restricting access to legitimate commercial sites and services. Filtering was also criticised for being under-effective because its restrictions are often easily circumvented by computer literate children. Furthermore, given that filtering does not prevent online bullying, self harm or suicide, terms such as “one click to safety” are misleading, giving parents a false sense of security.

There is a need for education to ensure widespread parental understanding of the dangers and the signs to look for. However there are no universally agreed benchmarks or criteria as to who decides what is and what is not suitable. Views on what constitutes appropriate/inappropriate content for children of different ages can vary substantially from household to household.

Effective age verification was identified as a key factor in restricting access by children to unsuitable sites. The gambling and the licensed pornography broadcast industries employ robust age verification systems. There was a call to adopt these methods more widely. On the other hand these are regarded by other industry sectors as too expensive and complicated to implement.

One third of unsuitable child imagery is created by children themselves and predators who exploit such images for extortion are not subject to the laws of blackmail because of the limitations of the 1968 Theft Act Section 21. Other instances of narrow legal definitions preventing action against abuse were cited.

Next Steps:

The Digital Policy Alliance will follow up on these issues in further meetings.


P.S. I should add that I did some checking after the event and discovered that those who claim that age verification is too expensive and complex for widespread use are usually unaware of how cheap and comprehensive it now is. I was surprised to discover that some services charge under £1 (after high volume discounts) to do a more thorough check on first time visitors than most banks to do on new customers.

The “real” reasons for not not doing so appear to be:

1) Fear that checking will remove the “innocent carrier” defence (under the e-Commerce Directive and other legislation).

but perhaps more significantly

2) It destroys the “drive-by click per view” advertising revenues on which “free” porn (and many other) services now depend – because the checking routines strip away anonymity.

February 11, 2014  7:57 PM

The irony of exposing state surveillance between 70th birthday of Colossus and Safer Internet Day

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Bletchley, Colossus, Edward Snowden, Facebook, Google, guardian, Microsoft, national museum of computing

The commentators responding to the Guardian press cover for the launch of Glenn Greenwald‘s anti NSA website, The Intercept appear to lack a sense of history, let alone of irony.

I have blogged many times before on the symbiotic relationship between computing  and surveillance and between Bletchley and Fort Meade and very recently on the women, younger in years than Snowden but considerably more mature, who “won the war” (or at least shortened it by many years and millions of dead).

It is nice, therefore, to be able to link to the photos taken at the 70th Anniversary of the first time a “computer” broke a cipher of some of the those who kept silent for half a century. It is also nice to link to a reconstruction of the process, from intercept to decrypt .Both remind us that computing and surveillance are more efficiently, securely and discretely run by women. They tend to focus on the job instead of playing macho games or demanding attention.

The even bigger irony is that “The Intercept” should be launched on the eve of Safer Internet Day , when most of the world is more concerned about the predators and perverts watching us and our children than about what the Security Services might be doing.

I suspect that, were a survey to be done today, more of the population (not just parents and grandparents)  would say that the security services were not doing enough surveillance, but were spending far too much, watching the wrong people, very inefficiently.  Instead they should be working hand in glove with Telcos, ISPs and players like Facebook, Google and Microsoft to protect us all, not just those in power.

Personally I am more concerned to be able to control what my fridge tells the food police and to avoid reprisals from my ISP or Search Engine when I put my mobile smart phone in a booster bag mesh bag (miniature Faraday Cage) to avoid all their location dependent adverts.   
P.S. Jim Prideaux has just (Thursday 13th) sent me the following: “your phone might not survive very well in a booster bag. Better to turn off if you don’t want location tracked.

Indeed just knocking it on inside a bag could be bad news because it will try harder and harder to get a signal. Perhaps modern phones are cleverer, but it was an concern when we had to use such bags.” Does anyone supply a mobile phone booster “case” which will protect against accidentally switching it on and draining the battery? 


February 10, 2014  7:54 AM

Ed Milliband adopts the first plank of my NRDP Manifesto

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Barack Obama, Biometrics, Data protection, DNS, europeanunion, guardian, Milliband, obama, personal information, privacy

According to the Guardian, the first plank in Ed Milliband’s speach to their  Hugo Young lecture this evening will be “People should own data about themselves, We should change the assumption that information on people’s interaction with the state is owned by the state. Instead there should be an assumption that such data is owned by and accessible to the parents, patients and those who use the public services who it is about”.

I concluded my recent blog entry on the EU welcome for President Obama’s latest Presidential Directive and the European Manifesto of the “National Restore Democracy Party” with: 

“That we each own our personal information (from DNS and Biometrics to transaction profiles) and all who presume to collect, copy, collate or use that information owe us a duty of care.”

I look forward to the adoption of this principle by all political parties and, more importantly, the implementation of policies based on it – covering the private as well as public sectors.  

I also look forward to seeing squadrons of pigs flying past my window in close formation – but first steps first.

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