Monday, March 27, 2006

Dolores McNamara update: Social Welfare and Revenue snoops receive slap on wrist

The Sunday Times reports that one hundred officials who deliberately and consciously set out to snoop on the affairs of a private individual will escape with nothing more than a slap on the wrist:
MORE than 70 officials in the Department of Social and Family Affairs who breached the confidentiality of Dolores McNamara, the EuroMillions winner, when they accessed her files have been given a warning about their behaviour.


Officials at the department examined 106 cases where its staff logged onto McNamara’s records in the days after her record €115m jackpot win last July. It found that 72 of them had no reason to call up her details and, by doing so, breached department rules designed to protect the privacy of personal records.

The offending civil servants have been sent a formal letter pointing out that they are only supposed to consult such information as part of their assigned duties. They have also been warned that they will face disciplinary action, up to dismissal, should they ignore this advice.

A spokeswoman for the department said it was still looking into a further 19 cases where staff are believed to have wrongly accessed McNamara’s records.


The accessing of the files was revealed in The Sunday Times last September after details from McNamara’s tax and welfare records appeared in another newspaper. It claimed, wrongly, that the lottery winner was being investigated for welfare fraud and alleged she had been claiming payments while working.

The reports, which included dates, suggested the information could only have come from somebody close to McNamara or from people familiar with her records.

Under set procedures, staff are only supposed to access people’s records when they have a genuine business reason for doing so. In this case, only 34 employees were able to provide a reasonable explanation for examining the files, which included private welfare and benefits details.


The Irish Council of Civil Liberties also welcomed the outcome of the investigation. Malachy Murphy, its co-chairman, said: “Some people might say the civil servants got away lightly here, but we would respect the fact that the department has set disciplinary procedures and has to issue warnings to people, before going any further.”

He raised concerns, however, about the high number of staff who were able to call up McNamara’s records in the first place. “This case raises serious questions about the computer systems in use in government departments. It appears that excessive numbers of people are able to access detailed personal files and maybe this shouldn’t be the case.”


Earlier this year the Revenue Commissioners found that 28 of its staff looked up McNamara’s tax records after her win, even though they also had no reason for doing so. Thirty-two staff were originally under suspicion for accessing the files, but four were found to have valid reasons for doing so.
More on the Revenue invasion of privacy here.

More CCTV voyeurism

The Register points out that:
Tyneside police are investigating two civilian CCTV staff as part of a complaint into the 'possible misuse' of 'close-up' footage of naked participants in Spencer Tunick's mass nude shoot on the banks of the Tyne last July.
The Times has more details:
It is alleged that two police employees used the zoom lenses on the CCTV cameras to take close-ups of subjects and touted the images in pubs in the Tyneside area.
As I've said before the Irish Law Reform Commission warned about the abuse of CCTV in 1996 and again in 1998. To date, the Department of Justice has taken no steps to act on these warnings, despite rolling out extensive CCTV systems throughout Ireland.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

More Australian moves towards Internet Censorship

The Herald Sun is reporting a Labor commitment to require ISPs to censor the material viewed by users:
INTERNET service providers (ISPs) will be forced to block violent and pornographic material before it reaches home computers if Labor wins the next federal election.

Under the policy, announced by Opposition Leader Kim Beazley today, international websites would be banned by the Australian Communications and Media Authority if they contained graphic sexual or violent material, rated R or higher.

The bans would be maintained by ISPs.
It appears from the report that this would be a mandatory filtering system subject to a possible user opt-out. I've mentioned the Australian proposals before and Electronic Frontiers Australia has more on the existing system of internet censorship.

Update: More on the politics behind the proposals. Via BoingBoing

Monday, March 13, 2006

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The head of the Metropolitan Police in London has been caught illegally recording telephone calls:
The Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, has accepted an apology from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair for recording a private telephone conversation, the minister's office said today.

Lord Goldsmith was said last night to be "extremely angry" at the revelation that a conversation he had with Sir Ian last year - ironically about the subject of phone-tapping - was one of a number that Sir Ian had secretly recorded.


Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, went further in condemning Sir Ian’s actions. "I think that his behaviour appears to be unconstitutional, unethical, quite possibly unlawful," she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"No doubt he has an explanation, perhaps he has already given his explanation to the Attorney. I think now we all want to hear it, and if it doesn’t ring true and it’s not adequate, I think it’s very hard for any of us to have trust in him as the senior law enforcer, police officer in this country.

"The bitter irony of this is that is a governnment that has has made great play of its support for the police. In my view it's given them too many unchecked powers and here it is on the receiving end of this most appalling abuse of police power."

The recorded call with the Attorney-General is believed to have taken place last September, and concerned the admissibility of wire tap evidence in court - although it did not relate to any particular case.

An IPCC spokesman said the taped conversations with three of its senior officials came to light as part of its inquiry in the aftermath of the Stockwell Tube station shooting of Mr de Menezes. One call was with its chairman, Nick Hardwick.

The calls had been recorded "without our prior consent", the spokesman said, adding: "We are surprised about the recording of calls and now have the recordings. We are dealing with this issue."

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Function Creep in Action: CCTV cameras used to generate revenue from motorists

The Sunday Times has the story:
When a London council decided to locate a CCTV camera in a quiet area of Camden the residents were delighted, especially as its declared purpose was to make the streets safer from muggers, drug dealers, burglars and car thieves. The £25,000 swivelling spy camera made them feel they were at last getting a tangible benefit from Camden’s rising council tax.

But it didn’t take long for them to discover it was going to cost a lot more — in ways they hadn’t expected. The camera proved not very good at identifying suspects lurking in the shadows but it was very good at reading residents’ car numberplates.

Since the Albert Street camera was installed last year its operators have issued 2,558 penalty notices for a range of minor motoring offences, such as double parking to unload groceries or allegedly blocking the flow of traffic.

CCTV images, left, record Jonathan Futrell pausing to pick up a friend in Albert Street. The car is stopped for less than a minute, but the result is still a fine.