Friday, December 07, 2012

Russian report on EU record on civil rights

The Russian government has published a Report on the Human Rights Situation in the European Union, seriously criticising the EU's record on human rights. The report reads as though it has been put together by a team of people tasked with trawling the national press in member states. They have included a range of stories critical of each particular jurisdictional authority's behaviour which have a civil rights angle/s. They are  not always accurate in their reporting of the cases - take this at the bottom of page 17:
"On April 2, 2012 a 21-year-old student Liam Stacey from Swansea was sentenced by a British court to the a 56-day imprisonment for his insulting comment on the social network "Twitter" about an exhausted football player who had African roots. In spite of support provided by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Liam Stacey did not manage to appeal the sentence."
The claim that Fabrice Muamba was "exhausted"is a little strange is it not?!

But they have chosen a relevant selection of cases - Stacey, the torture of Omar Awadh, the killing of Baha Mous, MI6 alleged involvement in torture of Abdel-Hakim Abu Qatada, Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Moazzam Begg(former Guantanamo Bay detainee), News International phone hacking, Matthew Woods (jailed for Facebook obscenities about murdered little girl April Jones), alleged untrammeled police surveillance of protesters, and a selection of others on alleged racism, discrimination, immigration, child protection, homophobia and general lack of engagement with several international instruments associated with human rights.

Liam Stacey, for example, behaved like a moron.  But he was not a criminal and should not have been jailed.

Yet this kind of reaction by the British authorities in this and other similar cases and the mass production/implementation/normalisation of rights abusing laws and behaviours by the public and private sectors in the UK act as an absolute gift to governments and regimes with, to Western eyes, nominally less respect for human rights. Civil rights activists have been pointing out for years that it is hypocritical to lecture Russia or anyone else on about the speck in their eye on human rights when the Russians believe they can point our the plank in ours. President Putin would greet with glee the notion that the UK government were driving through a measures like the Communications Data Bill.

The authors devote 6 pages to the UK - more than any other country with Germany being the nearest challengers with 4 - but the cases they choose, at least in the UK context, have raised significant rights questions. So there is little surprise that they are highlighted even if the report is occasionally a bit fuzzy to say the least on the details. So when the government panders to the 'tough' (aka stupid) on crime, stupid on the causes of crime mob, they do substantial damage that extends way beyond the UK's borders.

I can't comment on the detailed cases chosen in a lot of the countries highlighted but I was a little disappointed that my homeland merited a mere half a page in the report:
"In general, the human rights situation in Ireland can be described as satisfactory. At the same time, the following problems exist in this area.
In Ireland, the continued marginalization of the Romani that form an unrecognized ethnic minority is a rather stringent social issue. In spite of the State adaptation policy, in daily life they often face discrimination in employment, medical care and education.
There are some problems for refugees and internally displaced persons, in particular, the excessively long bureaucratic procedures for registration. As a result, persons of that category have to wait for their residence permit for much longer than 6 months provided for by law.
National and international human rights activists pay special attention to the implementation of human rights during the extradition of criminals, including those suspected or accused by the U.S. authorities of belonging to terrorist organizations, from European countries via the airport of the city of Shannon to the United States. The Irish Human Rights Commission has repeatedly proposed to launch its own monitoring of foreign aircrafts to exclude cases of torture and degrading treatment of prisoners. The Irish authorities do not allow it referring to relevant provisions of the national legislation.
The media has repeatedly touched the issue of human rights violation in national prisons. It mainly consists in exceeding the number of prisoners in cells determined by law, inconsistency of places of detention with health and conditions of detention standards.
Since the end of 2008, due to the economic difficulties, the Irish government has conducted a number of budget cuts in the area of activities of public authorities related to human rights implementation in Ireland. For example, the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism and the Combat Poverty Agency were disbanded. National human rights activists have expressed serious concern about those actions of the government. According to them, the measures taken caused serious damage to the national human rights institutions and to Ireland’s international image in the human rights sphere."
"Satisfactory"! That's an insult.  I demand a recount.  They really could do with some serious lessons in the history and contemporary politics of the beautiful Emerald Isle.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Irish Data Protection Commissioner still a Facebook friend

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner's Information Officer, Stewart Fennell, has responded to my communique of 12 November.
"Dear Mr. Corrigan

Thank you for your email highlighting a concern over items of personal data which you believe were not provided by Facebook Ireland (FB-I) in response to your access request.

The issue of FB-I responding to access requests for personal data was a key focus of the audit carried out by this Office, a report of  which was published in December 2011 (available on our website ).  In that Report it was indicated that " the key requirement in response to an access request is to ensure that a user has access to their personal data.  Therefore, either the data must be available on the requester’s profile page, their activity log, which is a feature of the new user Timeline, or via the download tool.  From a transparency perspective, it is desirable that most, and ideally all, of a user’s data should be available without having to make a formal request.  FB-I therefore will be implementing a number of enhancements to the activity log to provide users with access to and control over information about them.”  Given the complexity of the engineering task to extract and make available or supply the personal data available to users, the report outlined a detailed schedule specifying when different data sets would be provided.  That process is now complete.  The one exception up to end of October was in relation to metadata associated with uploaded photos to the site.

Facebook has produced detailed help on how to access personal data on the site together with a detailed description of the data that is available either from a user's Activity Log or via the download tool  We have worked extensively with FB-I on this help page.

Based on our audit and follow-up work with FB-I, it is our position that there is no personal data that can be supplied by FB-I that is not now available to users.

We hope that the above comprehensively addresses the matters which you have
raised.   However, if  there are specific items of personal data that you
have not received and believe are retained by Facebook-Ireland,  we would appreciate it if you could give us details so that  we can consider the matter for  further investigation.

Yours Sincerely,

Stewart Fennell
Information Officer
Office of the Data Protection Commissioner Canal House Station Road Portarlington Co. Laois

Ph: 057 868 4800
Fax: 057 868 4757
He again asks me to give him details of "specific items of personal data" that I "have not received and believe are retained by Facebook-Ireland".

I haven't got the time to provide a considered response today but my first question again is how can I provide him with specific information on data that is not made available by Facebook?

If Facebook is holding “information constituting any personal data of which that individual is the data subject” that  it does not disclose - and it has admitted in its auto-response to my original complaint that this is the case - how do I find out what that data is, so I can tell the Irish Data Protection Commissioner specifically what the company is withholding?

Mr Fennell seems to be suggesting that his office is sympathetic to Facebook and the only way they will order complete disclosure is if someone somehow (legally, I presume) can determine what data Facebook are withholding, either deliberately or because of the technical complexities involved. So the DP Commissioner will consider further investigation, only if I can find out what is being hidden and let them know. This is real chicken and egg stuff. Why would I need the DPC to engage in "further investigation" let alone then consider actually ordering disclosure, if I had already found the data?

Maybe I should consult my favorite data expert...?

Update: It looks like the Europe v Facebook group are planning to tackle the Irish Data Protection Commissioner on this issue through the courts.