99% of UK gov websites are breaking the law

Most have no idea how much they are violating


Most public sector organisations do not ask internet users' consent to cookie tracking, a survey has said.

The UK's Privacy and Electronic Communications (Amendment) Regulations implement changes to EU law and were brought into effect in May. The new law requires website operators to make sure they have "informed consent" from users for the use of cookies.

Cookies are small text files that websites store on users' computers. The files contain information about users' online activity.

Only six out of 603 public sector websites audited were found to be compliant with the regulations, the report by the Society for Local Authority IT Managers (Socitm) said. Socitm is an independent organisation funded through the membership of local government IT workers.

Martin Greenwood, Socitm Insight programme manager, said: "We audited about 600 local public sector websites including all local authorities and police, fire and housing websites and a few others and had a look to see how many cookies are on the sites," Greenwood said.

Socitm's research, which was conducted using special automated search technology operated by Cookie Reports Ltd, found that on average English county council websites had 186 cookies, while Scottish council sites had 86, Greenwood said. He said that organisations grossly underestimated the number of cookies that their websites use.

"We found that there are far more cookies on these sites than those organisations thought. We did not know what the size of the problem would be before hand so we asked organisations how many cookies they thought they had and the best guess was 19 per cent of the actual total," Greenwood said.

The UK's privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which is charged with ensuring organisations comply with the new cookie regulations, has previously said organisations were being given a year to find ways to obtain "informed consent" from users to cookie-use before it will properly enforce the regulations. It has the power to issue fines of up to £500,000 for serious breaches of the laws.

The ICO has previously issued guidance on how websites can comply with the new cookie laws. It said that websites can obtain consent through a number of methods, including asking users to consent through screen prompts. Less obstructive methods, such as obtaining consent from websites' terms and conditions or users' preference settings were also deemed appropriate by the ICO.

A spokesperson for the ICO told OUT-LAW that it was up to individual organisations to work out which technical method is best suitable for obtaining users' consent.

"By next May we expect businesses and organisations to have clear information about the way in which cookies are operating on their websites and to be obtaining consent to set those cookies," an ICO statement said.

"Exactly how far each organisation will need to go in getting consent will depend on exactly what the purpose of the cookie is. Certainly, having widely available and easily understood information that is relevant to users is fundamental. Our work on helping people to comply with the new rules is ongoing. We have published initial advice but we never intended that would be the end of it. We are very interested in how businesses and organisations are working towards solutions," the statement said.

Socitm's Greenwood said that organisations have quite a lot to do before they comply with the UK regulations but that it was "realistic" that they can be in a position of compliance by May next year. Socitm will send a report detailing its findings to all the public sector website operators it audited along with a guide on options for inform the public about cookies, Greenwood said. Website operators will have to pay Socitm for information on the exact location of the cookies Socitm found.

The government is working with Mozilla, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Adobe and the Internet Advertising Bureau to deliver an efficient technological solution to obtaining users' consent, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) told OUT-LAW in May.

In June, the European Commission set a deadline for European companies to create a uniform way for web users to opt out of being tracked by cookies within a year. The Commission has said it will take action if industry does not standardise opt-outs in that time.

Copyright © 2011, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Carnival Cruises torpedoed by US states, agrees to pay $6m after waves of cyber attacks
    Now those are some phishing boats

    Carnival Cruise Lines will cough up more than $6 million to end two separate lawsuits filed by 46 states in the US after sensitive personal information on customers and employees was accessed in a string of cyber attacks.

    A couple of years ago, as the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold, the Miami-based biz revealed intruders had not only encrypted some of its data but also downloaded a trove of data – names and addresses, Social Security info, driver's license and passport numbers, and health and payment information for thousands of people in almost every American state.

    It all started to go wrong more than a year earlier, as the cruise line became aware of suspicious activity in May 2019. This apparently wasn't disclosed until March 2020.

    Continue reading
  • India extends deadline for compliance with infosec logging rules by 90 days
    Helpfully announced extension on deadline day

    India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and the local Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) have extended the deadline for compliance with the Cyber Security Directions introduced on April 28, which were due to take effect yesterday.

    The Directions require verbose logging of users' activities on VPNs and clouds, reporting of infosec incidents within six hours of detection - even for trivial things like unusual port scanning - exclusive use of Indian network time protocol servers, and many other burdensome requirements. The Directions were purported to improve the security of local organisations, and to give CERT-In information it could use to assess threats to India. Yet the Directions allowed incident reports to be sent by fax – good ol' fax – to CERT-In, which offered no evidence it operates or would build infrastructure capable of ingesting or analyzing the millions of incident reports it would be sent by compliant organizations.

    The Directions were roundly criticized by tech lobby groups that pointed out requirements such as compelling clouds to store logs of customers' activities was futile, since clouds don't log what goes on inside resources rented by their customers. VPN providers quit India and moved their servers offshore, citing the impossibility of storing user logs when their entire business model rests on not logging user activities. VPN operators going offshore means India's government is therefore less able to influence such outfits.

    Continue reading
  • Hangouts hangs up: Google chat app shuts this year
    How many messaging services does this web giant need? It's gotta be over 9,000

    Google is winding down its messaging app Hangouts before it officially shuts in November, the web giant announced on Monday.

    Users of the mobile app will see a pop-up asking them to move their conversations onto Google Chat, which is yet another one of its online services. It can be accessed via Gmail as well as its own standalone application. Next month, conversations in the web version of Hangouts will be ported over to Chat in Gmail. 

    Continue reading
  • 5G C-band rollout at US airports slowed over radio altimeter safety fears
    Well, they did say from July, now they really mean from July 2023

    America's aviation watchdog has said the rollout of 5G C-band coverage near US airports won't fully start until next year, delaying some travelers' access to better cellular broadband at crowded terminals.

    Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in a statement this month that its discussions with wireless carriers "have identified a path that will continue to enable aviation and 5G C-band wireless to safely co-exist."

    5G C-band operates between 3.7-3.98GHz, near the 4.2-4.4GHz band used by radio altimeters that are jolly useful for landing planes in limited visibility. There is or was a fear that these cellular signals, such as from cell towers close to airports, could bleed into the frequencies used by aircraft and cause radio altimeters to display an incorrect reading. C-band technology, which promises faster mobile broadband, was supposed to roll out nationwide on Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile US's networks, but some deployments have been paused near airports due to these concerns. 

    Continue reading
  • IBM settles age discrimination case that sought top execs' emails
    Just days after being ordered to provide messages, Big Blue opts out of public trial

    Less than a week after IBM was ordered in an age discrimination lawsuit to produce internal emails in which its former CEO and former SVP of human resources discuss reducing the number of older workers, the IT giant chose to settle the case for an undisclosed sum rather than proceed to trial next month.

    The order, issued on June 9, in Schenfeld v. IBM, describes Exhibit 10, which "contains emails that discuss the effort taken by IBM to increase the number of 'millennial' employees."

    Plaintiff Eugene Schenfeld, who worked as an IBM research scientist when current CEO Arvind Krishna ran IBM's research group, sued IBM for age discrimination in November, 2018. His claim is one of many that followed a March 2018 report by ProPublica and Mother Jones about a concerted effort to de-age IBM and a 2020 finding by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that IBM executives had directed managers to get rid of older workers to make room for younger ones.

    Continue reading
  • FTC urged to probe Apple, Google for enabling ‘intense system of surveillance’
    Ad tracking poses a privacy and security risk in post-Roe America, lawmakers warn

    Democrat lawmakers want the FTC to investigate Apple and Google's online ad trackers, which they say amount to unfair and deceptive business practices and pose a privacy and security risk to people using the tech giants' mobile devices.

    US Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and House Representative Sara Jacobs (D-CA) requested on Friday that the watchdog launch a probe into Apple and Google, hours before the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, clearing the way for individual states to ban access to abortions. 

    In the days leading up to the court's action, some of these same lawmakers had also introduced data privacy bills, including a proposal that would make it illegal for data brokers to sell sensitive location and health information of individuals' medical treatment.

    Continue reading
  • Behold this drone-dropping rifle with two-mile range
    Confuses rather than destroys unmanned aerials to better bring back intel, says Ukrainian designer

    What's said to be a Ukrainian-made long-range anti-drone rifle is one of the latest weapons to emerge from Russia's ongoing invasion of its neighbor.

    The Antidron KVS G-6 is manufactured by Kvertus Technology, in the western Ukraine region of Ivano-Frankivsk, whose capital of the same name has twice been subjected to Russian bombings during the war. Like other drone-dropping equipment, we're told it uses radio signals to interrupt control, remotely disabling them, and it reportedly has an impressive 3.5 km (2.17 miles) range.

    "We are not damaging the drone. With communication lost, it just loses coordination and doesn't know where to go. The drone lands where it is jammed, or can be carried away by the wind because it's uncontrollable,"  Kvertus' director of technology Yaroslav Filimonov said. Because the downed drones are unharmed, they give Ukrainian soldiers recovering them a wealth of potential intelligence, he added.  

    Continue reading
  • TSMC may surpass Intel in quarterly revenue for first time
    Fab frenemies: x86 giant set to give Taiwanese chipmaker more money as it revitalizes foundry business

    In yet another sign of how fortunes have changed in the semiconductor industry, Taiwanese foundry giant TSMC is expected to surpass Intel in quarterly revenue for the first time.

    Wall Street analysts estimate TSMC will grow second-quarter revenue 43 percent quarter-over-quarter to $18.1 billion. Intel, on the other hand, is expected to see sales decline 2 percent sequentially to $17.98 billion in the same period, according to estimates collected by Yahoo Finance.

    The potential for TSMC to surpass Intel in quarterly revenue is indicative of how demand has grown for contract chip manufacturing, fueled by companies like Qualcomm, Nvidia, AMD, and Apple who design their own chips and outsource manufacturing to foundries like TSMC.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022