UK Gov, and privacy invasion without a safety net

Your data, their hands, that button


Comment It’s scarcely unusual. You’re preparing an email, you start typing an email address, autocomplete fills one in from you, and then you may or may not notice as the email speeds off that it’s going to someone entirely different from the intended recipient. If the email includes personal details of 10,000 people and the person you’ve just sent it to is a journalist, well…

In the case of the autocomplete disaster that’s just happened to Gwent Police, the original error wasn’t spotted until The Register reported it, and was even compounded by a second email alerting a baffled Chris Williams to an updating of the internal phone directory (but no, at least they didn’t send us the directory as well). As we understand it, Gwent has an officer with a similar name, so unbeknownst to himself our Chris Williams had blundered onto a distribution list, and presumably would have continued to receive Gwent bulletins, perhaps even slowly moving up the distribution pecking order.

That’s if The Register hadn’t informed them, and Gwent’s techies hadn’t spent last weekend ripping autocomplete out of their systems. We are slightly wistful over the loss of a bizarre but potentially useful information conduit that we didn’t know we had until the other day, but we do take people’s privacy seriously, and regard it as having been our responsibility not to use the data, to destroy it, and to give whatever help we can to Gwent in order to stop this kind of leak happening again.

However… Although we accept that Gwent also takes this matter very seriously and will make honest and strenuous efforts to control the data it handles, it is the nature of the beast — the Criminal Records Bureau checking regime — that this kind of leak will happen again and again. Autocomplete errors, poor list management and (we suspect) excessive use of the cc field aside, the elephant in the room is that file — why was it even possible for someone to have that volume of sensitive data in a single file, far less to email it out unencrypted?

Is your data transfer really necessary?

And did six people really need a copy of what appears to have been only a part of the force’s CRB check database? There are two aspects to the real problem here. First, in common with much of government and other organisations in the public and private sector, the force’s systems are not set up to just prohibit the bulk transfer of personal data. It’s conceivable that systems could be built in this way, and in the long run we feel it inevitable that they will be built in this way. But a lot of people’s personal information is going to go walkabout on lost notebooks and USB sticks before that happens.

And quite a lot of it is going to go walkabout because the data has to be bulked up to be sent to an external organisation without the existence of an adequate secure channel. The mother of all leaks was perpetrated by HMRC, which in 2007 contrived to lose 25 million personal records in the post. One could (and one did) question why anybody needed that amount of data in the first place, but granted somebody needed some HMRC data, the only way to actually get it to them was what we used to call sneakernet.

No amount of huffing and puffing about security and encryption, and dumping on the poor saps who pressed the buttons is going to change anything — if data needs to be transferred and there isn’t a secure channel, then it’s going to leak.

Now consider what’s happening with the criminal records checking. Millions of people now have to undergo a CRB check in order to get a job, undertake voluntary work or do anything involving children. Records of the personal data of tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of people will be collated and exchanged between organisations.

Industrialising privacy invasion

Some of these organisations will be police forces — who obviously have to be involved although they didn’t exactly ask to have to collate big piles of CRB check results, others will be government and others private sector. The CRB will take in lots of money because of the regime, while at the same time industrialising the process by farming it out to the private sector.

We’re not suggesting the private sector’s data handling will be any worse than the public sector’s (au contraire…), but there’s a monster here that won’t be tamed without a revolution/revelation in government IT planning, design, security and privacy awareness. They’re invading our privacy industrially, systemically and on the cheap via ill-conceived and ineffectual checking regimes, then blaming operator error and carrying on regardless. They should stop building this stuff until they’ve learned how to control it. Or preferably, they should stop building this stuff. ®


Other stories you might like

  • IT staffing, recruitment biz settles claims it discriminated against Americans
    Foreign workers favored over US residents because that's what clients wanted, allegedly

    Amtex Systems Incorporated, an IT staffing and recruiting firm based in New York City, has agreed to settle claims it discriminated against American workers because company clients wanted workers with temporary visas.

    The US Department of Justice on Wednesday announced the agreement, which followed from a US citizen filing a discrimination complaint with the DoJ's Civil Rights Division’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER).

    "IT staffing agencies cannot unlawfully exclude applicants or impose additional burdens because of someone’s citizenship or immigration status," said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a statement. "The Civil Rights Division is committed to enforcing the law to ensure that job applicants, including US workers, are protected from unlawful discrimination."

    Continue reading
  • Will this be one of the world's first RISC-V laptops?
    A sneak peek at a notebook that could be revealed this year

    Pic As Apple and Qualcomm push for more Arm adoption in the notebook space, we have come across a photo of what could become one of the world's first laptops to use the open-source RISC-V instruction set architecture.

    In an interview with The Register, Calista Redmond, CEO of RISC-V International, signaled we will see a RISC-V laptop revealed sometime this year as the ISA's governing body works to garner more financial and development support from large companies.

    It turns out Philipp Tomsich, chair of RISC-V International's software committee, dangled a photo of what could likely be the laptop in question earlier this month in front of RISC-V Week attendees in Paris.

    Continue reading
  • Did ID.me hoodwink Americans with IRS facial-recognition tech, senators ask
    Biz tells us: Won't someone please think of the ... fraud we've stopped

    Democrat senators want the FTC to investigate "evidence of deceptive statements" made by ID.me regarding the facial-recognition technology it controversially built for Uncle Sam.

    ID.me made headlines this year when the IRS said US taxpayers would have to enroll in the startup's facial-recognition system to access their tax records in the future. After a public backlash, the IRS reconsidered its plans, and said taxpayers could choose non-biometric methods to verify their identity with the agency online.

    Just before the IRS controversy, ID.me said it uses one-to-one face comparisons. "Our one-to-one face match is comparable to taking a selfie to unlock a smartphone. ID.me does not use one-to-many facial recognition, which is more complex and problematic. Further, privacy is core to our mission and we do not sell the personal information of our users," it said in January.

    Continue reading
  • Meet Wizard Spider, the multimillion-dollar gang behind Conti, Ryuk malware
    Russia-linked crime-as-a-service crew is rich, professional – and investing in R&D

    Analysis Wizard Spider, the Russia-linked crew behind high-profile malware Conti, Ryuk and Trickbot, has grown over the past five years into a multimillion-dollar organization that has built a corporate-like operating model, a year-long study has found.

    In a technical report this week, the folks at Prodaft, which has been tracking the cybercrime gang since 2021, outlined its own findings on Wizard Spider, supplemented by info that leaked about the Conti operation in February after the crooks publicly sided with Russia during the illegal invasion of Ukraine.

    What Prodaft found was a gang sitting on assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars funneled from multiple sophisticated malware variants. Wizard Spider, we're told, runs as a business with a complex network of subgroups and teams that target specific types of software, and has associations with other well-known miscreants, including those behind REvil and Qbot (also known as Qakbot or Pinkslipbot).

    Continue reading
  • Supreme Court urged to halt 'unconstitutional' Texas content-no-moderation law
    Everyone's entitled to a viewpoint but what's your viewpoint on what exactly is and isn't a viewpoint?

    A coalition of advocacy groups on Tuesday asked the US Supreme Court to block Texas' social media law HB 20 after the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week lifted a preliminary injunction that had kept it from taking effect.

    The Lone Star State law, which forbids large social media platforms from moderating content that's "lawful-but-awful," as advocacy group the Center for Democracy and Technology puts it, was approved last September by Governor Greg Abbott (R). It was immediately challenged in court and the judge hearing the case imposed a preliminary injunction, preventing the legislation from being enforced, on the basis that the trade groups opposing it – NetChoice and CCIA – were likely to prevail.

    But that injunction was lifted on appeal. That case continues to be litigated, but thanks to the Fifth Circuit, HB 20 can be enforced even as its constitutionality remains in dispute, hence the coalition's application [PDF] this month to the Supreme Court.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022