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Information, Connection and Signposting Services (ICSS) Update

ICSS update

A little while ago I was approached by someone else that shares an interest in the subject of Information, Connection and Signposting Services (the so-called ICSS), about which I have previously written on Trefor.Net.

As a brief reminder, someone will buy up all the Google Ad-words (or, I suppose, the Yahoo equivalent if they’re still a thing) for “British Gas Customer Services” and variants thereof, and show a revenue sharing phone number, such as 0844 (which can be upto 7 pence per minute plus your phone company’s access charge) which they then translate to the actual customer service number and pocket the difference.

Since I last wrote about this, the Consumer Rights Directive was transposed and the Financial Conduct Authority implemented a similar requirement to outlaw the use of “premium rate” calls when contacting a company in connection with a contract.

Firstly, some pedantry from me. The term premium rate is bandied about far too often by everyone. It has a very distinct legal meaning, which is based in the Ofcom Premium Rate Services Definition. Broadly, that means it has to be more than 7 pence per minute in terms of the Service Charge element; and as the National Telephone Numbering Plan (given force by virtue of General Condition of Entitlement 17) prohibits the use of anything above 7 pence per minute to just 087x and 09x ranges, then 084 numbers and 03 numbers are not Premium Rate by definition. Hopefully some sub-Editors for the Daily Mail shall take note. Incidentally, the numbering plan doesn’t prevent 087 being used below 7 pence per minute – in the changes to the non-geographic call services market in the summer of 2015, many operators set a service charge of 1-2 pence per minute for 0870 numbers to maintain the status quo. This means they are not “premium rate” despite the fact the next number block in sequence might be 13 pence per minute.

So, now we are all up to speed, why the renewed interest? Well, PhonepayPlus intervened in the ICSS market where the Service Charge element was over 7 pence per minute (i.e. premium rate where they have jurisdiction). They set a prior permission regime, which denoted ICSS has high risk, but then softened this to Special Conditions along with the rest of the prior permission regime in an update to the PhonepayPlus Code of Conduct. Their intervention wasn’t a smooth one, with some ICSS operators seeking a judicial review of their intervention. That will give you an idea of what the market is worth – a view supported by the growing number of entities apparently offering such a “service”. I have a list broken down by year and it has demonstrably been growing over time.

I cannot think of any direct PhonepayPlus censure of an ICSS provider; however, the Advertising Standards Authority has intervened in a couple of cases. The first brought to my attention was in 2014 whereby the ASA ruled against them on the basis it wasn’t clear it was a connection service. Interestingly, in a case in 2015, they went further, discussing that customers looking for a number for customer services wouldn’t go into detailed small print. This is heartening as it means the ASA is almost going further than PhonepayPlus and is a useful alternative body to make complaints to.

Unsurprisingly, the Fair Telecoms Campaign made a suggestion that all ICSS should be treated as Premium Rate Services (i.e. under Phonepayplus control) in their response to the Ofcom consultation on the latest Phonepayplus Code of Conduct. Ofcom dismissed this in their Statement due to a lack of consumer harm being evidenced, which is a stock Ofcom answer for “not important enough to warrant our resource or attention yet”.

That Ofcom position also correlates with me having made representations on behalf of some financial institutions who were rather aggrieved at being passed off (which is still the advice I give people – treat it as impersonation more than a telecommunications regulation issue).

So, it’s clear there’s still a problem, and potentially one that is growing. Where do we go from here?

Well, it is heartening that a Google search I have performed for a few private sector companies people may wish to call (including those I referenced in my original piece) has them in the top couple/three hits with ICSS at least being less obvious and less baiting then I recall, although they are still there. This of course doesn’t get around the natural human instinct of just dialling the number that’s there at the top, of course. However, I cannot say the same for government departments who appear to be subject to it, and, in terms of Ofcom’s statutory duties, should have them pay more attention as it presents services used by the more vulnerable in society.

I believe that the ASA has broader power and is clearly more disposed to using it in situations where ICSS is misleading. The problem here is two-fold though. First, it is a lot harder for a commercial entity to make a complaint to the ASA (something I found out when ITSPA were going to refer EE for its “shed load of data” advert a couple years ago). Secondly, there is a balance between offering a service at a premium taken willingly by lazy consumers (the economists would say “reducing their search costs”); just like being put through to a number given to you by the guys in moustaches at their 118 rates, ICSS can be argued to have a legitimate role in society.

That means we need to have a debate, which is where Ofcom should come in. They are the subject matter experts and have a wide range of powers available for them to research and intervene as they feel appropriate. So, I think my advice needs to be updated as follows;

  1. Complain to the ASA. It is easier for it to be given attention if the consumer does it as opposed to the passed off company.
  2. Be in control of your search engine results and outspend the ICSS people if needs be. I haven’t experienced it myself as it isn’t my area, but one ITSPA members tells me Google are receptive to  companies complaining they are being passed off, so that should be something done as well.
  3. Complain to Ofcom. Google “Ofcom contact us” and pray I haven’t been mischievous and bought the ad words for it and translated an 0908 number to their 0300 to fund an Aston Martin. In all seriousness, their details are here.


My experience from dealing with fraud, net neutrality and other issues that various agencies want to try and ignore is that once there’s a clear weight of evidence, in fairness to those agencies, they do start to act. So let’s get the evidence to them and break the vicious cycle of “no action because no reporting” and “no reporting because no action”.

End User Legal

Stay or Leave – the results of the poll

EU Referendum Poll result

At last tomorrow is the big day and I thought I’d share my own EU referendum poll result.

Stay in the EU 170 51.8 %
Leave the EU 158 48.2 %

It’s very close. Quite gratifying in one respect as this would appear to match many bigger and no doubt more expensive polls to run.

328 votes is quite a nice level of participation. There were a few duplicate IP addresses – they have been weeded out but by and large there were as many in each camp and I think they don’t represent attempts to skew the result. People probably expected to see the results of their vote and this plugin doesn’t seem to support that. At least the way I had it set up

It matters not. I’m hoping that the real poll tomorrow will be a far more definite result – to stay in the EU. It will be a lot easier to put the subject to bed if this is the case. A close result would do as long as it was the right one although I sense there will be trouble if it is close. There will probably be trouble whatever happens.

I’m not sure I’ve seen anything bring out the bad side of people in this country as much as this referendum. The leave campaign has been run with very misleading messaging that I have found extremely objectionable. I don’t trust the politicians involved.

The remain campaign, which we must remember is supported by a large majority of MPs and most global businesses, institutions and political figures, has been forced into playing the same game.

In the meantime tomorrow I’ll be heading for my usual morning swim before going around the corner to vote. I’m then in London for the ITSPA council meeting so if you are around maybe catch a beer? Friday is going to be an interesting day…

PS you will still be able to vote in this poll but I’m going to consider this post as drawing a line underneath it. Remain wins.

Follow the referendum here on the BBC.

Business Legal security

House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report on Cyber Security

House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report on Cyber Security and all that jazz

Email came through from ITSPA this morning regarding the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report on  Cyber Security: Protection of Personal Data Online Contents

In general, the report focused on the need for increased consumer awareness of cyber security breaches and recommended that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) should have a robust system of escalating fines to sanction those who fail to report, prepare for, or learn from data breaches. It also stated that Government need to urgently address the huge amount of data that will be created by the Investigatory Powers Bill and how this will be secured from data breaches.

I’ve listed the key recommendations together with my own comments below:

  • Companies should report their cyber security and data protection strategies to the ICO

This is somewhat naive. How many companies are there in the UK? The ICO would be swamped and in anycase to have the resources to do anything with the information.

  • The ICO should have additional powers of non-consensual audit, notably for health, local government and potentially for other sectors

More red tape and you have to question the efficacy of this. I can understand auditing the public sector but private industry???

  • The Government should initiate a public awareness-raising campaign on cyber security
  1. Waste of time though. For a campaign to be effective it would have to be prolonged, permanent even, and cost a fortune.
  • It should be easier for victims of a data breach to claim compensation

Seems like a good idea if likely to be somewhat complicated and difficult to do.

  • All relevant companies should provide well-publicised guidance to customers on how they will contact customers and how to make contact to verify that communications from the company are genuine

What makes a company relevant? In principle this sounds sensible but it is red tape.

  • All telecommunications companies should take steps to ensure that compliance with data protection rules and Cyber Essentials are key criteria when selecting third party suppliers

The more I think about this is its interference in private industry.

  • Cyber security should sit with someone able to take full day-to-day responsibility and who can be fully sanctioned if the company has not taken sufficient steps to protect itself from a cyber-attack

Cost. Overhead.

  • To ensure this issue receives sufficient CEO attention before a crisis strikes, a portion of CEO compensation should be linked to effective cyber security


  • The vulnerability of the massive new data pools that will be created by the Investigatory Powers Bill needs to be urgently addressed by Government

I’ve been saying this for years but all you will get is lip service.

There you go. The UK approach to cybersecurity. I’m not saying it isn’t an important subject and that we all need to be cyber secure. I’m not sure that more rolls of red tape is the way to do it.

My thanks to the ITSPA secretariat for their contributions to this post (which is most of the post apart from my comments)

End User security surveillance & privacy

I break my silence on the Snooper’s Charter

my latest observations on the snooper’s charter

I have in the past been very vocal when it comes to the snooper’s charter. Especially when I was more active in the ISP industry. Having throttled back a bit I let others, the professionals, have their say and stuck to my own counsel.

Just received a summary of the comments from MPs in respect of the latest incarnation of the Bill from the ITSPA Secretariat. I’ve pasted it below with a few of my own observations.

Internet Connection Records

  • Burnham said that whilst the Government’s position in the draft code of practice makes it clear that URLs are not communications data and therefore, by definition, cannot be included in ICRs, it would be more useful to have a single, clear definition of ICRs in one place in the Bill.
  • Burnham stated that communications data should not be capable of being accessed to investigate any crime, regardless of how serious the offence is and the impact on victims.
  • Member of the Public Bill Committee, Gavin Newlands MP, said that the measures in the Bill are not limited to internet access, email or telephony and include, explicitly, communication without human intervention. He added that the industry has indicated a willingness to work with the Government to help implement ICRs, but the trouble is that the industry does not know what ICRs are, and it seems Government still do not know either. He said that these powers were intrusive and needed to be properly defined.
  • Member of three Committees which scrutinised the Bill, Matt Warman MP, said that people needed to be reminded that it was CSPs and not govt who would hold ICRs and govt would not be dipping into this information for any other purpose than to stop serious crime.
  • Alistair Carmichael MP said that it was unacceptable at this stage of proceedings that there is still no proper clear definition of ICRs.


Tref writes: Government has no idea what it is talking about in respect of ICRs and is probably keeping things deliberately vague so that they can apply the “definition” to anything that suits them.

Matt Warman is also missing the point. It doesn’t matter who keeps the data – it will be hacked into and leaked. Also we hear all sorts of stories about RIPA requests from councils wanting evidence on relatively trivial “crimes”. The concern is that once the data was available all sorts of people would come out of the woodwork wanting to look at it.


  • Member of the Public Bill and Joint Committee, Suella Fernandes MP, said that the UK wants world-class encryption and privacy, but also wants world-class security and citizens should trust the skill and restraint of the analysts, the cryptographers, the mathematicians and the codebreakers who safeguard security and have maintained confidence and discretion in relation to the secrets they have seen.
  • Stephen Hammond MP said that encryption was hugely important to the digital economy and said it should not be undermined, however, he said he had faith in the security services that they would use restraint.


Tref writes: they are totally missing the point here. If encryption methods are designed to be hackable by government codebreakers then criminals and hostile foreign powers can do the same. You can’t have “world-class” encryption if it can be hacked.

Cost Recovery

  • Newlands highlighted that owing to uncertainty about the extent and definition of ICRs and the extension of CSPs that will be affected by the proposed provision, the cost is difficult to estimate, but industry figures have said that they expect it to be anywhere between £1 billion and £3 billion. He said that it was not good enough that govt had not produced robust figures which could be examined whilst the Bill was being scrutinised.


Tref writes: they have no idea what the implementation of the Bill is likely to cost and are keeping quiet about it because the eventual figure is likely to be unpalatable.

Business Legal Regs

Should I stay or should I go?

In out shake it all about

The EU Referendum poll on this blog is picking up momentum thanks to all the background publicity the BBC et al have been giving it. The referendum not my poll 🙂 I realise it’s an important decision but personally I’ve been turned off by al the hype and switch off anytime it appears on radio or TV.

I’m not going to tell you the numbers until shortly before the 23rd. Also I will need to sanitise it as one or two people have tried gaming the system. Thought I had the controls in place to stop it but those votes won’t count in any case.

The community in which i live and work is largely an international one. The talk is as often as not how many more tier points you need to make gold, or even the couple of steps you can make it above that. Personally I’m not prepared to spend most of my life on a plane to do that. I digress.

My point is that I’d expect most people in the internet industry to vote remain because the nature of their lives is international and not parochial to the UK. You will have to wait and see the results.

You can still vote – see the sidebar underneath the camper van hire ad (still some slots available if you want to go to a festival this summer).

The one thing that has annoyed me more than any regarding this referendum is the total bullshit brought out by some of the politicians. They are only interested in getting simple one line messages out designed to sway the waverers. This is normal politics but this politics is getting dirty. Outright deception.

All I can say is that the UK is going to be littered with the bodies of dead political careers after this summer is out. The conservative party is likely to never be the same again. The knives that over the last few years have been gripped tightly but have hitherto remained in their sheaths are now being brandished. Their steely blue blades will be bathed in blood before the druids have returned to their homes from the solstice (thought i’d get a poetic bit in:)

I don’t think you can ever get a perfect politician. They are by definition imperfect animals. They can only really attain such a status in the eyes of other politicians. Probably the best a politician can do is not be seen to have cocked up too much. Tony Blair for example will be admired by his peers for his staying power and political skills but not by many of the general public.

It’s looking like a huge cockup on the part of David Cameron. The referendum is only being held because of internal Conservative Party strife. Let hope the polls got it as wrong as they did in the last General Election and we have an emphatic win, one way or another.

If we vote for a clear remain then at least we can kill off a few political careers and get on with life. If we vote to go god knows what’s going to happen.

Business Legal

Brexit – in or out? Get your vote in now!

Have your say over Brexit

With the media frenzy now in full flow over Brexit I thought it would be a good idea to have our own opinion poll regarding whether the UK should be in or out of the EU.

This won’t be representative of the population as a whole but it may be somewhat representative of the tech community.

It’s a simple question. In or out and all you have to do is vote in the poll in the sidebar. Only one vote per person. Let’s see how we get on.

Anyone can vote and voting is anonymous. There is obviously quite a whole before the 23rd June polling day. I’m likely to be in Dublin on that day so will have to make sure I get a postal vote.

Feel free to leave a comment if you want. I think the most important thing over the next few months is to try and see  through all the hype. It’s very difficult to actually quantify the effect of leaving – what we really want to see are details. Costs. Jobs created or lost.

I doubt anyone really knows so we are being asked to vote on the basis of gut feel. Maybe you can chip in with some numbers that will stand scrutiny?

My own view is that we should probably stay in the EU. In an ideal world we would have the common market but without all the single superstate nonsense. I can see why mainland European countries might see the latter to be attractive. No more intra European wars for example.

My gut feel is that getting out of Europe would be a backward step and that we should stay and make the best of it from within the system. There you go. Have your say and vote in Brexit the poll in the sidebar on the right of this site.

End User surveillance & privacy

Like a bit of porn do you fnaa fnaa wink wink

What price privacy? Snooper’s charter 2015 – round “n”

The snooper’s charter debate shouldn’t be about what will be monitored by the government.  We should be discussing exactly what price we are prepared to pay for our security. Considering that any data stored under this edition of the “charter” will eventually be hacked and leak out are we ok with this?

The supplementary debate of how effective the monitoring will be in catching terrorists is a different matter.

Check out a ton of posts on the snooper’s charter.

Btw the featured image is simply a seasonal photo taken this morning in the car park of Yarborough Leisure Centre where I go swimming. Nothing to do with the snooper’s charter 2015 unless something is hiding under there…:)

surveillance & privacy

Off we go again – snoop snoop nnngggggg aaargh

Home Secretary Theresa May wants to look at your browsing history

Home Secretary Theresa May will announce plans to give Police the power to view the web browsing history of everyone in the country when she introduces the Government’s new surveillance bill in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

You are talking to confused of Lincoln here. On the one hand I want the government to catch spies, terrorists, child molesters, cyber criminals etc etc etc. On the other hand I don’t want a 15 year old kid being able to hack in to the database where all my personal online activity is stored and being able make use of what could be very interesting data to someone. If the database doesn’t exist then the kid/crook/etc won’t be able to hack it.

An offline existence seems to be quite an attractive proposition at the moment. One where I can make sure all my doors and windows are locked before I go out and the burglar alarm is set. A life where I don’t wake up in the night and pick up my phone to see what goes.

On the other hand I just bought a book – Venice by Jan Morris. I got it from Amazon, who store my credit card details and inside leg measurement. Had I used offline means to buy the book I would probably never have found it in the first place.

I wanted the book because Anne and I are off to that city in January courtesy of a flash online sale by BA. I found out about the sale via Slack, an IM platform that LONAP uses for intra team communication. BA too have my credit card data and know that I prefer an aisle seat (1C depending on the plane).

Before clicking “buy” I was able to check the reviews of the hotel in Venice. I didn’t go for the first hotel and also opted to upgrade to a room with a view of the Grand Canal, thanks to the reviews. I may use Uber to get me to the airport and quite possibly on another occasion AirBnB to find somewhere to stay.

So the 15 year old kid will be able to watch me take off and then go and burgle my house before heading off himself to a sunny spot (sunnier than Venice in January) paid for with my credit card.

A holiday at home is starting to sound good. I’d amble out and buy a paper every morning. Chillax in a cafe in Lincoln’s Bailgate with a pal, watch the people go by and then buy a few bits and a nice fresh crusty loaf before ambling home for lunch. In the afternoon I may attempt to catalogue my book collection whilst listening to some music on my record player (or possibly a CD if the vinyl is scratched).

Presumably I’d phone a friend to see if he (or she) fancied a coffee or it could be a long standing arrangement (if it’s Tuesday…). I wouldn’t use Facebook…

I’m just a crazy mixed up 53 year old. Is it a generational thing? The demographic 20 years older than me tends not to have an internet connection. They are the dwindling number of people in the UK without broadband. Am I part of a generation with one foot either side of the technological divide who can remember the days before the internet but has until now totally embraced it and who now grows dizzy in this data whirlwind of a world in which we exist.

HELP HELP I cry. I don’t know what to do. I’m just one entry in a database. And anyway I’m off away for the weekend – Durham and York. But then you knew that didn’t you…

Business ofcom

UK Calling what does Ofcom new ruleset really mean?

Ofcom new UK calling rules muddy the waters – calls to mobile and 0870/0845 will rise

Today is the day that brings changes to the way telephone calls are charged for 084, 087, 09 and 118 numbers. The Ofcom new UK Calling rules are the latest initiative from the UK regulator that claims to make the cost of calling these numbers clear for everyone.

However, looking over the website, it doesn’t actually say what the cost of calling an 0845 number is on the new scheme. Their own calculator on the ‘Cost of Calling’ page is no use either. Enter ‘0845’ and it says “Calls are typically charged at between 1p and 12p per minute depending on the time of day for landline customers, plus a call set-up fee. Calls from mobile phones generally cost between 5p and 40p per minute.”

Doesn’t seem clear to me? What is the cost? Tell me the money!

The new charging structure is as follows. There is an access charge and a service charge that together make the overall call charge. The access charge is what your provider charges you and the service charge is the portion that goes to the service provider. Add the two together and I get the call rate. Makes sense to the telephone geeks, me included. I like maths but at least I have the sense to know that most people don’t.

To be fair to Ofcom, this works best with telephone voting on TV. You will now see a message that says something like vote for Dan, “Calls cost 20p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge.”

This should be clearer if you can remember the access charge for you provider!

You can probably tell from the tone of this article that I am not supportive of this initiative. I have often joked that Ofcom has no powers to fix the problems in the market unless it is related to TV voting and then they come up with this UK Calling nonsense that seems to be focussed on TV voting!

The more I look at Ofcom’s project, the less I am sure of what it is trying to achieve. Fact, non geographic numbers are confusing, no one knows how much it costs to call them, even me with my power for numbers. Fact, mobile providers charge ridiculous rates for calling these numbers.

So Ofcom must have some goals?  Goal, simplify the whole system so that more people understand the costs of calling non geographic numbers. Goal, try to ensure mobile and other telecom providers reduce their rates to the caller.

So let’s look at the first goal. Simplification.

When I speak to customers and they ask me the cost of something, they always want a straight answer or at least something that makes sense in English. Up until now I have been able to answer the question, how much does it cost us to call 0845, 0870 and 0871 from our  service? The answer was 3p and 1p and 11p. Pretty straightforward. Now the answer is that we charge an access charge of 3p, plus the service charge for that number. My answer now doesn’t tell you the actual cost to call. The answer to that question is an now unknown and possibly different for every number you may dial. If I was speaking to the customer I would probably now say, ‘well we charge 3p per minute plus whatever you will get stung for by the service charge but I am with you on this one regarding the costs, who knows, it’s a lottery mate’.

Doesn’t sound simpler to me.

So what about reducing costs. In the past Mobile providers have managed to charge huge amounts for calling 08 numbers. But guess what, this UK Calling thing hasn’t sorted this. Mobile access charges are still high. A text regarding the change from my provider Three managed to include a hidden message to Ofcom.

‘Do you call numbers that start 084, 087, 09 or 118? From 1 July how these calls are charged is changing & will cost more. To find out more click …’

Did you spot it? Yes, ‘will cost more’. A small F you to Ofcom?

One second though. 0800 and 0808 numbers are now free to call on mobiles. Yes, this is indeed the greatest thing go come out of the whole initiative. Except, sorry Ofcom, no credit or pat on the back for this. You are just finally fixing something you should have stamped down on the day the mobile providers started charging for something that was meant to be free anyway. Dense question of the week for you. Freephone, how much is that to call? Anyone? Anyone?

Another reason the cost of calling has also gone up, is because Ofcom has let service providers set their own pricing for their number ranges. 0870 which were cheaper to call thanks to Ofcom’s previous initiative are now up by 10p per minute and 0845 service charges seem to be several pence per minute higher now from the providers I have checked. And why not? It’s a good time for service providers to take the opportunity to make increases hidden amongst the other changes.

So Ofcom have neither simplified nor reduced costs to the consumer with this new initiative!

The painful outcome of all this is. It has increased the cost of calling these number to the end user. Ofcom has allowed service providers to set their own prices on 0845, 0870 and 0871 and therefore fragmented the number ranges to make it impossible to answer the question, how much does it cost to call an 0845. Ofcom has forced providers to waste hours changing systems and communicating this to customers for no tangible benefit.

But wait, there might be one really positive and hidden message from all of this.
“Service providers, ditch your expensive 084 and 087 numbers and get an 03 number instead. That is if you want anyone to call you.”

See also this post by Simon Woodhead in which he quantifies how much prices will go up as a result of this move by Ofcom.

Business net neutrality Regs

EC Single Telecoms Package position on roaming charges and Net Neutrality

European Commission plan to end roaming charges and establish net neutrality rules – EC Single Telecoms Package

Hot in from the ITSPA (Internet Telephony Service Providers Association) secretariat is this commentary:  Late last night the European Commission, Council and Parliament concluded their final round of negotiations on the Single Telecoms Package. The key parts of this initiative are a plan to end mobile roaming charges and the establishment of net neutrality rules.

With regard to net neutrality, the following principles have been agreed to:

  • All traffic to be treated equally with no blocking, throttling, degradation or discrimination of Internet traffic and also no paid prioritisation.
  • There are a limited number of exceptions to the general net neutrality rule:
    1. compliance with legislation related to the lawfulness of content or with criminal law;
    2. preservation of the security and integrity of the network (malware, DOS);
    3. minimising network congestion that is temporary or exceptional; and
    4. spam and parental control filters (with prior request, consent and possibility to withdraw consent)
  • The provision of specialised services is allowed as long as this does not harm general open internet access. Specialised services are services that require technical requirements which cannot be ensured in the best-effort open Internet.
  • Zero-rating of traffic will be allowed, but regulatory authorities will have to monitor and ensure compliance with net neutrality rules.
  • National regulatory authorities will be tasked to monitor and enforce open Internet rules and will be empowered to set minimum quality of service requirements on Internet access providers.

ITSPA has published a press release welcoming the news which can be viewed here. In summary, we are pleased with the news and have supported the Latvian Presidency of the European Council’s work on the subject which has found a compromise which balances Open Internet principles with an approach that ensures that the Internet can still be run in an effective manner.

ITSPA has campaigned on this subject – particularly the practice of mobile VoIP applications being blocked by network operators for anti-competitive reasons (which will now be prohibited) – for approximately two years at both EU and UK level. The announcement should be considered a great achievement for ITSPA.

The new rules are expected to come into force in early 2016.

The Council has published a press release and the European Commission has published a fact sheet – the latest agreed text has not yet been published.

PS we can particularly look forward to the end of the mobile data roaming ripoff.

End User internet security surveillance & privacy

Anderson Report on Terrorism Legislation

Anderson Report on Terrorism Legislation

The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, yesterday published his report into investigatory powers. The Anderson report on terrorism legislation is almost 400 pages long and includes 124 recommendations so you need some stamina to plough through it.

Following the report’s publication Home Secretary, Theresa May MP, gave a statement (watch it here) to the House of Commons. She set out a timetable and provided some general comments:

A draft bill (Snooper’s Charter revisited) will be published in the Autumn and subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee. A Bill will then be published early in the New Year with a view to passing a final act before the DRIPA sunset clause come into effects at the end of 2016.

While generally accepting Anderson’s recommendations, May seemed to question the viability of his proposals to require judicial authorisations for warrants, highlighting the need for balancing the responsibilities of the Judiciary and Executive.

In addition to the draft bill, Government will look at a reform of the mutual legal assistance framework (in response to the Sheinwald Report which has not yet been published).

The Anderson Report

Overall approach by David Anderson is as follows:
‘A clear, coherent and accessible scheme, adapted to the world of internet-based communications and encryption, in which:

a. public authorities have limited powers, but are not shut out from places where they need access to keep the public safe;

b. procedures are streamlined, notably in relation to warrants and the authorisation of local authority requests for communications data;

c. safeguards are enhanced, notably by:

i. the authorisation of warrants by senior judges;

ii. additional protections relating to the collection and use of communications by the security and intelligence agencies in bulk;

iii. greater supervision of the collection of communications data, including judicial authorisation where privileged and confidential material is in issue or novel and contentious requests are made;

iv. improved supervision of the use of communications data, including in conjunction with other datasets and open-source intelligence; and

v. a new, powerful, visible and accountable intelligence and surveillance auditor and regulator.’

This forthcoming bill is going to require very careful scrutiny and it will be interesting to see how many of Anderson’s recommendations are implemented. Governments have a habit of listening to these things only when it suits them. Theresa May is already suggesting that she wants the power herself that Anderson is saying should be given to Judges. It’s exactly this situation that we want to avoid.

In principle I don’t think any sane person can object to a government wanting to make it easier for themselves to catch more crooks. However we don’t necessarily need to give them authority to monitor every one of us. Why can’t they stick to just monitoring suspected criminals?

Thanks to the ITSPA secretariat for some of the inputs to this post.

Other Snooper’s Charter posts (lots of them) here.

Business security surveillance & privacy

Snooper’s Charter a honeypot for security breaches

Snooper’s Charter security breach – an “accident” waiting to happen.

The Snooper’s Charter, they aren’t going to get away from that name, is the proposed law where the Government seeks to legitimise spying on all our internet communications. They of course have very legitimate reasons for wanting to do this – national security, prevention of terrorism etc and promise not to look at the information of innocent persons.

I’m not going to go into the lengthy list of issues with this (list here). Except that is to say that one of my objections to the Snooper’s Charter is the fact that once the government has gathered all this communications data it will lose it. Once lost it will eventually it will find its way into the public domain.

“No no no don’t worry it will be very secure” says a government minister (I’m sure). “Oh no it won’t” says I, as sure as hard drives will fail or get left on a bus.

It isn’t just that the information will get left on a bus. Someone will hack into the vault where it is stored and steal it.

The latest news from the US is that some overseas government (allegedly) has hacked into the Office Of Personnel Management and pinched details of the entire staff of the US government.

Just imagine if this was the Snooper’s Charter database. UK government ministers would have details of their affairs made public, or at least placed in the hands of agencies that might make “good use” of the information.

Who will be the first to be blackmailed? When will the first really serious compromise of national security happen as a result?

This is just an example of a possible scenario. It could be information about you. No national security involved but quite possibly embarrassing. Maybe you don’t want the world to know that you buy women’s underwear for your own use, or that you are a trainspotter.

It will happen if we implement the Snooper’s Charter. It’s up to you to decide whether that is a good thing or not. I don’t think it is.

Snooper’s Charter security breach – an “accident” waiting to happen.

End User Legal security

Snoopers Charter Revisited – here we go again

Gets tedious doesn’t it, this constant battle to introduce defend against the Snooper’s Charter. You will all have seen from the Queen’s Speech (gawd bless ya Ma’am) that the Comms Data Bill (Snooper’s Charter) has been reincarnated into the Investigatory Powers Bill (Snooper’s Charter).

Page 64 is what you are looking for. Details yur if you can’t be bothered to look.

The purpose of this legislation is to:

Provide the police and intelligence agencies with the tools to keep you and your family safe.

Address ongoing capability gaps that are severely degrading the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies ability to combat terrorism and other serious crime.

Maintain the ability of our intelligence agencies and law enforcement to target the online communications of terrorists, paedophiles and other serious criminals.

Modernise our law in these areas and ensure it is fit for purpose.

Provide for appropriate oversight and safeguard arrangements.

The main benefits of these clauses would be:

Better equipping law enforcement and intelligence agencies to meet their key operational requirements, and addressing the gap in these agencies’ ability to build intelligence and evidence where subjects of interest, suspects and vulnerable people have communicated online.

Maintain the ability of our intelligence agencies to target the online communications of terrorists, and other relevant capabilities.

Provide for appropriate oversight arrangements and safeguards.

This will respond to issues raised in the independent review by the Independent Reviewer of Counter-Terrorism legislation, which is due to be published shortly.

The main elements of the clauses are:

The legislation covers all investigatory powers including communications data, where the Government has long maintained that the gap in capabilities are putting lives at risk.

The legislation will enable the continuation of the targeting of terrorist communications and other capabilities.

On the face of it none of this text is controversial. The problem lies in the detail. My guess is it is unlikely to have changed materially from its previous incarnation although the bit that says “This will respond to issues raised in the independent review by the Independent Reviewer of Counter-Terrorism legislation” is an attempt to smooth things over.

It’s the snoopers charter revisited. Our problem this time around is that the Lib Dems aren’t around to stop it happening. We may be in for a fight.

For a general read around this subject see the multifarious blogs on this site here. For a more specific list of issues see here.

broadband Business net neutrality

Global broadband competition stakes heat up

China broadband

Picked up this article in Total Telecom.  China plans to spend $327Bn on rolling out ubiquitous broadband by 2020. The slowest performance will be 20Mps with urban connurbations (or however you spel it:) ) of more than 200k people getting 100Megs.

I don’t know how that compares with the per head spending in the UK but I guess the two things that stick in the mind are the 100Megs in cities and 20Megs on the farm. It’s very difficult to come up with a business model that justifies the investment but of course in China that doesn’t matter.

The UK government should take heed though. In some respect, at least in the cities, competition will ensure that we get the speeds we need. Poor old Farmer Giles however is never going to be looked after. Unless he looks after himself and even then they will probably be exporting milk from China to rural Britain because Farmer 賈爾斯 (look it up) is going to have an edge on him.

Actually there are some things you just can’t leave to a competitive marketplace. I was at RIPE70 in Amsterdam last week (now a distant memory). Someone from the GSMA stood up and towed some bland corporate line on how market competition meant that net neutrality was not an issue in the mobile space. We all know that this is total rubbish. At least in the UK.

I was able to inform the assembly that the only reason net neutrality had been accepted by some mobile operators in the UK was down to 3 years of intensive lobbying (including by ITSPA) and the tacit threat of government legislation if operators didn’t toe the line.

So sometimes governments do need to get involved, even if as in the case of net neutrality they were just a threatening presence in the room. I think that our government should really start thinking about how a competitive UK plc should have a competitive broadband infrastructure, and by this I don’t mean the cheapest services although that does help.

We have always struggled with finding MPs that understand technology enough to be able to make informed decisions. I even recall an anecdote a few years ago whereby the civil servants who worked on the Digital Britain report had all been joking about the fact that none of them had ever been on Facebook. I guess that having ex Facebook Director Joanna Shields in the government could help here. We now also have former Telegraph Technology Editor Matt Warman as an MP.

Only time will tell whether these new kids on the Parliamentary block will make any difference. We shall see. In the meantime if you live in China broadband is coming your way.

Business ofcom

Ofcom Business Connectivity Market Review

Ofcom Business Connectivity Market Review

As part of their Business Connectivity Market Review (BCMR), Ofcom published a document last Friday detailing its proposals related to competition in the provision of leased lines.

Ofcom are looking at whether BT should grant access to its Dark Fibre network to other ISPs. They also want to consider reducing the Service Level Agreement for leased line installations by Openreach from 46 to 40 days by 2017 (for some reason Ofcom call this Quality of Service). Also Ofcom thinks London is a highly competitive market (which it is) and doesn’t include the Capital in the review.

The news has come as a surprise to many as Ofcom’s previous review of business connectivity (carried out in 2012) which also investigated leased lines rejected the idea of using ‘passive remedies’, including ‘dark fibre’ access.

The proposals are subject to a consultation which will close on 31 July 2015, with Ofcom stating that they expect to publish their final decisions in the first quarter of 2016.

What Ofcom should also be doing in tandem is insisting the government review the whole business rates system for fibre which is stitched up by BT. It’s all very well making BT open up it’s dark fibre estate to competition but BT’s favourable rates deal means that they are almost certainly going to be able to quote the end customer more competitive rates for that same fibre route.

Ofcom also published a press release on the proposals which is available here.

Loads of posts on the subject of fibre rates on this blog here. More specific detail on the subject in the post entitled Fibre Rates Inequity Iniquity. In Valuation Office Parlance the rates are called hereditament btw. Just shows you how archaic the whole system is. The whole system needs reviewing. The problem is that it’s a huge bag of worms. BT may well argue that they pay a fair amount of rates based on their business as a whole but it doesn’t stop the fibre rating system being wrong.

You have until the end of July to get your comments in, at which point there will be nobody in the office at Ofcom to read them.


Business Legal Regs

Sharing data in a Digital Single Market

lyndsey burton digital single marketLyndsey Burton comments on Digital Single Market

The European Commission announced details of their plan for a Digital Single Market in Europe. With it, they’ve outlined a “free flow of data” proposal. Unfortunately it’ll be another wait before we know exactly how they’ll do this – a detailed proposal won’t be ready until 2016. A Digital Single Market has been on the cards for years – earlier this year, the European Commission pushed forward plans for “protecting an open internet” and changes to mobile roaming rules. These were small steps toward more cohesive regulation. But the single market is set to go much further, with far more shared regulation – as the name suggests, the idea is to scrap Europe’s digital borders, creating one big, Digital Single Market.

Reforming data protection rules

To create a Digital Single Market though, a host of outdated policies need modernising first – among them, and the first thing to change, is a long awaited reform of the European Union (EU) Data Protection Directive 1995. The reform – first proposed back in 2012 – could finally be in place by the end of the year. The Commission’s approach is to: improve clarity and coherence of the rules; strengthen individual’s rights; and reduce administrative formalities.

Facebook’s recent experiences with EU national regulators highlighted the kind of red tape the Commission hope to avoid – after meeting Ireland’s data protection rules, the Netherlands and Belgium proceeded to take issue with Facebook’s data protection, and lock Facebook in a regulatory spiral. If the Commission’s plans go ahead, companies would have just one set of data protection rules to abide by in the EU, compared to the 28 they now grapple with. This would make it both easier and cheaper for companies to do business in the EU, and hopefully encourage new digital business in.

Benefits for consumers?

For consumers though, data protection reform is all about building trust, something many agree is lacking at present. Under the reform, we’ll be able to decide how our data is used; we can more easily access our data; we’ll have the right to know if our data’s been hacked; and we can choose to have our data deleted for good.

Overall, the Commission want to “strengthen individuals’ rights, and at the same time reduce administrative formalities to ensure a free flow of personal data within the EU and beyond”. That’s all great – in the UK, our Data Protection Act 1998 could probably do with an update too. But aside from modernising the law, the real point of the EU reform is to get the right rules in place so every EU member state is working under the same regulation ahead of other big digital changes.

Big Data and the Digital Single Market

Of all the uses reliant on data protection reform, there’s possibly none so obvious as the use of personal data for Big Data analyses. In their Digital Single Market strategy, the Commission say Big Data is a “catalyst for economic growth, innovation and digitisation across all economic sectors”. It’s a huge money-spinner. But the seeming contrast between Big Data and an individual’s right to keep their information private won’t be lost on most. How can we maintain control over our personal information, yet allow companies easier and freer access to it?

By March 2018, all new built European cars must have automatic emergency call devices as standard. This is an excellent example of technology that relies on Internet of Things (IoT) – simply, the cars will call up emergency services if there’s a crash, sharing some information about the crash in the process. Technically this isn’t a part of the Digital Single Market but it’s given us a glimpse of the kind of control we could keep over our data as more and more IoT services are introduced throughout Europe. Thanks to rules introduced in conjunction, automatic calls made after a crash would only give the minimum amount of data for the service to be of any use. This would include the type of vehicle, fuel used, time of the accident, the exact location, and the number of passengers. The information couldn’t be passed to any third party without express consent, and later the data would be fully and permanently deleted.

It sounds a logical and fair balance between an innovative, helpful service, and the need for companies to access our data to deliver that service. Let’s hope then, the Commission follows this same logic and doesn’t get too “free” with our data. The Digital Single Market will give us easier access to goods and services – who wouldn’t want that? But it’ll rely heavily on getting data protection right if its benefits are to really outweigh any consumer worry.

Lyndsey Burton is founder of Choose, a consumer information site covering personal finance, home media and retail.

Business Legal Regs

Digital single market strategy

EU Digital Single Market Strategy

The ITSPA secretariat have published a summary of issues that concern the Internet Telephony Service Providers’ industry in last week’s Digital Single Market Strategy. I’m sure much will be written on this subject in the coming months. In the meantime the ITSPA summary is a good little crib sheet of the issues:

Last week the EU Commission published its Digital Single Market Strategy. In the document the Commission sets out 16 key actions which it intends to complete by the end of 2016 based upon the three following pillars:

Better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods and services across Europe

Creating the right conditions and a level playing field for digital networks and innovative services to flourish

Maximising the growth potential of the digital economy

The DSM Strategy also included the following specific actions of particular relevance to ITSPA members and the telecoms industry:

Present legislative proposals to reform the current telecoms in 2016

the Strategy includes a pledge to overhaul the EU’s telecoms rules, including more effective spectrum coordination, and common EU-wide criteria for spectrum assignment at national level.

creating incentives for investment in high-speed broadband

ensuring a level playing field for all market players, traditional and new; and

creating an effective institutional framework.

Perform a comprehensively analysis of the role of online platforms (such as search engines, social media, app stores, etc.) in the market.

Reinforce trust and security in digital services, notably concerning the handling of personal data. Building on the new EU data protection rules, due to be adopted by the end of 2015, the Commission will review the e-Privacy Directive to ensure that it is aligned with the reformed data protection legislation.

We in the UK have big challenges over the next few years in respect of internet and tech related legislation. Not least since the General Election wiped some tech talent off the parliamentary map. I’m thinking in particular of former Cambridge Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert who was heavily involved in fending off the Snooper’s Charter.

It’s a bit of a worry when I see some of the text in the Digital Single Market Strategy. The worry comes in two guises. Firstly yes some of these areas need looking at. The role of search engines etc. We don’t want them forcing unfair practices.

Secondly I’m not sure I like the idea of government interfering. This is somewhat counter to my first point. If nothing else, governments rarely have the expertise required to get involved.

We aren’t going to solve it all here and now but certainly look out for more content in this space in the coming weeks and months.

4g Business Mobile ofcom UC webrtc

WebRTC and the mobile reseller opportunity

The WebRTC opportunity for mobile sales dealers

So far in the ipcortex WebRTC week we’ve talked a lot about the impact that WebRTC will have on how we might communicate, as well as exploring some of the technical aspects of the technology. One thing that we’ve not really touched upon is the way that WebRTC will change the commercial comms ecosystem and, being browser based technology, how it will come to affect the mobile business market.

We invited Dave Stephens,  ‎Sales Manager at major O2 dealer Aerial Telephones to share his views on the current challenges in the business mobile market, diversification into unified communications and how WebRTC will impact the delivery of solutions that marry the two.

A changing market

mobile conversationThe business mobile market is in a difficult space right now. Monthly prices are falling whilst handset costs are rising dramatically; a situation made worse in the UK where by and large we still expect to be able to get a free handset with a new contract. Of course we all know the handset is not really free, rather subsidised by the selected tariff, but the result is that many mobile providers only seeing a profit in month 18 onwards.

This differs from  most other countries, where the norm is to select a tariff and then have to purchase the handset separately. While this alternative is beginning to creep into the UK market it’s proving to be a very difficult shift from the “free handset” culture that’s become so ingrained over the last fifteen years.

The business mobile world has also taken a few other hits recently. Non traditional mobile players are making real plans to infringe on the space. WhatsApp are now offering phone calls over 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi, and Google have confirmed their intention to act as an MVNO (in the US at first). Their Project Fi will introduce pay-for-what-you-use data plans, where unused data allowance is credited at the end of the billing cycle. Add to this that within the last few months, Ofcom have proposed a dramatic cap on the price of mobile phone calls between different networks. This will reduce another revenue stream for most UK mobile providers.

For business mobile resellers, there is additional pressure in that many of them have seen their base being attacked by traditional IT or unified comms resellers. It is true that it is far easier for IT or UC resellers to move into the business mobile market than it for a mobile reseller to go the other way, which would take significant investment and upskilling.

Adapt or perish

ChameleonThis all contributes to an environment where companies in the mobile space must adapt or perish. This isn’t limited to resellers, either. It can even be seen at a mobile network operator level where even the big players are beginning to move into some very untraditional services such as hosted telephony, landline services and even hosted IT products.

For the opportunistic and imaginative reseller, however, moving into other areas of business comms like these can present significant benefits and is a challenge worth attempting. “Mobility” is a growing concern within the IT and Telecoms industry right now with many businesses striving to adopt a “work anywhere” approach. We are seeing a clear push to give employees the tools they need to be effective wherever they are. This is ideal for the savvy mobile reseller that has always had this as their core remit.

There are of course issues when looking after a truly mobile unified communications platform. Primarily this is related to the fact that there are 3 core mobile operating systems which are constantly being upgraded, not to mention the 1000s of different handsets that users can choose from, each with their own quirks and nuances. Standard native mobile apps delivered by PBXs produce all kinds of headaches for engineering teams. This is where the development of WebRTC is really exciting as it may negate the need to install, upgrade and manage these difficult situations.

That’s a long way off – not every mobile OS supports WebRTC – but we are watching the progression of the standard with a keen eye.

Previous posts from the ipcortex WebRTC week:

Real Time Campaigning: How will WebRTC and other tech impact elections in 10 years’ time?

Hacking together a WebRTC Pi in the sky – keevio eye

Wormholes, WebRTC and the implications of algorithmical analysis Defragmenting today’s communications

WebRTC – where are the real world applications?

Welcome to ipcortex WebRTC week on

Check out all our WebRTC posts here

End User social networking surveillance & privacy webrtc

Real Time Campaigning: How will WebRTC and other tech impact elections in 10 years’ time?

What might a WebRTC enabled democracy & election process look like in 10 years’ time? (Or, technically, 12)

There’s a lot of pre-election stuff that’s the same every year. The campaigning, the squabbles, the gaffes and the villains: they’re all regular plot lines in Britain’s most depressing pantomime. As we go to the polling stations tomorrow, however, we can reflect on 2015 as the year that something did change – the first year that the parties appear keen, rather than reluctant, to embrace technology. We’re seeing as many memes and mashups as we are manifestos; not surprising really as this is, afterall, what many of the traditional media outlets have dubbed “the social media election”.

It’s true that there’s been far more activity on the social media battlefield than ever before (even if they’ve not quite got it right) and it seems that parties are even beginning to use big data – although they’ve a long way to go to replicate the success that Obama had with data in his 2012 campaign. But what role could or should technology play in the elections of the future? What might, say, the 2027 election look like? How might WebRTC play a part in that? Here’s what I imagine might happen…

Every campaign sits on a foundation of micro targeting

TargetIf there’s a question worth asking, in 2027 there’ll be some data that supports the answer. Parties will dedicate greater spend to using big data as the foundation of each campaign – whether that’s in the capture and curation of data relevant to them or analysing it.
This will allow focus of specific campaign messages on certain groups, or even at an individual level. They’ll focus on swing voters, and those within swing constituencies, targeting them with whichever marketing method suits that opportunity, at that time. Meaningful, one-to-one engagement with individual voters will be commonplace, made easier with social media. In addition, these engagements will be more memorable because they’ll use video and other real time comms via WebRTC.
Shaping campaigns in this way has obvious benefits for the parties, but could this type of targeting backfire? Will voters get creeped out and perceive the relevant party in a negative way? Will the long heralded privacy backlash make it too difficult to capture the right data in the first place? Do we rely too much on the integrity of the people to whom we give our data?

Predicting outcomes and campaign agility

With so much data available, much of it collected from social media engagements, will it be easier to predict results?

In the 2012 election in the US, analyst Nate Silver created a model that accurately predicted the winner in every state. Was his success simply due to the fact that Nate was ahead of the curve with the system he was using, and no one had time to react? In 2027, prediction models will have become even more sophisticated and we will see a greater emphasis on doing this in real time. That will then have an effect on parties’ activities and focus throughout the campaign. Each party will need to be agile and have the means to react quickly to changing predictions. Technology like WebRTC could provide another way to communicate with party members, on the ground campaigners or even swing voters in a really quick and effective way.

Real democracy in real time

Electronic systems could allow the public to vote on issues before or as decisions are taken in Parliament. The government paid lip service to using technology to help represent the public’ views with e-petitions, but will they ever be brave enough to open up decision making to registered voters on a regular, or even real time basis? Technology like WebRTC, with its low barrier to delivering enriched comms universally, could potentially be used to allow voters to watch a live debate and then vote at the end. This vote could then shape Members’ opinions or, even, make the decision outright. Would Parliament ever be that bold, and would MP’s accept their role being changed from being a voting representative of a constituency to its steward?

Some governments have already trialled this kind of approach, albeit to shape decision making in advance of its debate. DemocracyOS is an example of this: an open source solution that seeks to provide voters with the means to inform, debate and vote on bills before they are passed. According to them, it’s already been used by the Government of Mexico, the Congress of Buenos Aires, and by some congressmen in the US amongst others. Adopting this kind of approach would be an interesting way to reduce the effectiveness of large companies’ lobbying, and ensuring that airtime in front of MPs isn’t just a question of money and power.

I easily can imagine that forward-thinking councils in the UK, or even individual MPs could use this kind of democratic technology to debate local issues, gaining traction by social media sharing. It would be a welcome alternative to local, “public” consultations that are conducted so discreetly that the public are not properly represented.

Even if government, councils and elected representatives don’t themselves adopt that approach, there are other organisations that seek to make government more democratic from the outside. US startup Placeavote has an interesting model, where site members vote on bills on any range of topics and Placeavote’s candidates will represent the majority of voters. It has failed to gain much traction so far but could prove disruptive given the chance, and I imagine that by 2027 we could have seen someone try a similar approach in the UK.

Reducing expenses, humanising politics and customer service 101

keevio webrtc interfaceIn 2027, MPs will find it much easier to balance their Parliamentary duties with those in their constituency. Technology like WebRTC will mean there’s little excuse to not participate in a debate or vote because they will be able to do so remotely, and there would no longer be the possibility for bills to be passed due to poor scheduling and low turnour. Furthermore, MPs won’t need a second home in London and can spend more time in their constituency.
Internet connectivity will be ubiquitous, as will devices to access it. This means that they can use tech like WebRTC to engage with their constituents in a different way with memorable, multimedia enriched conversations with the same universal reach of the phone systems of the past. For example, elected MPs and their representatives could use this to make their “MP surgeries” more accessible for their constituents by negating the need to travel. They could even adopt a real time “ask me anything” approach during pre-election campaigns.
By 2027, local MPs will have learned lessons from the way that businesses use technology to improve their customer service. Communicating with your MP will be more efficient and timely and, as a result, people will engage with them more than ever before.

The voting process itself

DecisionAn obvious area where technology could improve elections is in the voting process itself. For example, how backwards and archaic is it that we should turn up to a physical location with just a polling card and no verification of identity, yet we already need an online government gateway ID to get a passport? And how secure is it really to leave counts of paper ballots to volunteers? Technology like WebRTC could reduce the technical barrier of providing biomechanical verification in the process.

In addition, increasing the number of people who are registered to vote, and those who actually do place a vote is an ongoing challenge. Technology could make the process of registering and voting more convenient in the hope of increasing participation. To this end, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has already proposed that all electors should have the choice to vote online in the UK by 2020. Electronic voting has already been trialled in some countries and so some level of e-voting in the UK by 2027 is not unimaginable – although the experience in Estonia hasn’t actually increased turnout in itself so its effect on this could be in question. Furthermore, whilst paper counting by humans may have its drawbacks, it is very open, auditable and therefore resilient against high level, systematic abuse. Will we ever have the same level of assurance with an electronic vote?

Whatever happens, it’s pretty safe to say that the stage has been set for much wider use of technology during the election process. The challenges will be cultural and institutional – and we’ll be interested to see which parties will be first to adopt real time technologies to make a real difference to the voting public.

Previous posts from the ipcortex WebRTC week:

Hacking together a WebRTC Pi in the sky – keevio eye

Wormholes, WebRTC and the implications of algorithmical analysis Defragmenting today’s communications

WebRTC – where are the real world applications?

Welcome to ipcortex WebRTC week on

Check out all our WebRTC posts here

Engineer surveillance & privacy video webrtc

Wormholes, WebRTC and the implications of algorithmical analysis

James Batchelor is Founder and Chief Executive at Alertacall, an organisation which uses neat technology to deliver services which increase human contact with people at risk and are used to improve the lives of many thousands of vulnerable people. Prior to that he was involved in the creation several ventures in the internet service provision, internet retail, telecoms, recruitment and telecare sectors. James has been an ipcortex customer since some of our earliest days and is one of those people who, every time I have the pleasure of chatting to him, I always walk away with a valuable bundle of unique insight. I posed the question to James about the technology impact of WebRTC, and this is what he came back with…

WebRTC meets wormholes

On a long-haul flight in 2001, with the occasionally pungent aroma of reconditioned air in my nostrils and the drone of Rolls Royce engines through my headphones I was transported for a few hours not only to USA – but in to an alternative future. I had the immense pleasure of having time and little else to do but read a novel and a science fiction one too.

The story I read, “The Light of Other Days”, is centred on the discovery of wormhole technology which can be used to pass information instantaneously between points in the space-time continuum. The technology is commercialised by a global media company and used to create the “wormcam” which allows for anything anywhere to be viewed with profound implications for privacy.

As I ponder the applications and implications of WebRTC, and explore its own wormhole like qualities, I wonder whether there are similar impacts for humanity and how the absolute digitisation of our communications streams – coupled with the massive computing power now at our fingertips – could impact upon our own privacy in novel and unexpected ways.

My own company Alertacall is particularly interested in understanding how patterns in the way people communicate with us can indicate a change in their “need”. This is with the positive goal of helping our older customers get the help they need before a situation escalates and becomes materially more difficult to manage. And, as our future products and services start to use WebRTC and other similar communications technologies I wonder what additional data we’ll have at our disposal.

Real-time analysis

I’ve long hypothesised that computers should be able to detect from cameras and other input devices subtle things about human physiology that the human eye cannot, but only had clear evidence of it after stumbling across the fascinating TED talk See invisible motion hear silent sounds.

This talk demonstrates the possibility of detecting heart rate with nothing more than video, by analysing the microscopic movements in our skin caused by pulsating arteries. I wonder how long it is before a methodology to determine skin temperature is devised, or what can be inferred by knowing how quickly someone breathes, blinks or swallows?

In 2012 the mathematician Mr Max Little announced that Parkinson’s symptoms can be detected by using algorithms that analyse voice data. There is also Voice Stress Analysis, which can indicate a range of emotional states including the detection of whether someone is potentially lying. What else could be inferred from a “call”?

But what specifically has this got to do with WebRTC and similar stacks? I suggest that the incredible proximity of these communications streams to silicon provides an unprecedented opportunity to develop applications that exploit all of these methods for causes good and bad. For example: imagine if calls to emergency services were prioritised using real-time analysis of video and voice, where the person most likely to be having a heart attack is answered first.

Also, imagine a world, in which the person or organisation you are in a call with has installed one of the dozens of analysis applications that are likely to emerge – and can infer huge amounts about your physiology. “Mum, I’m absolutely fine” the daughter says to her mother, but moments later the concerned mother’s machine tells her it’s simply not true with a simple Chrome plugin.

We’re tremendously excited about the applications we can build with WebRTC to connect with our customers and to connect our customers to each other – but live in constant wonder about what opportunities will emerge.


Previous posts from the ipcortex WebRTC week: Defragmenting today’s communications

WebRTC – where are the real world applications?

Welcome to ipcortex WebRTC week on

Check out all our WebRTC posts here

End User social networking spam surveillance & privacy

fling flung over twitter

Fling – adult social network – I’m not supplying a link

Somewhat surprised that Twitter let this ad through. I’ve been pushed a promoted tweet by “fling” three times in the last few days. There’s nothing in the ad to tell you what fling is. Just looks like an odd way to push photos.

It’s only when you click to go to their website and are faced with a wall of nude photos that you realise what it is – an adult social network. For adult read porn. I find this quite distasteful of Twitter. I also find myself in the unusual situation of saying “Facebook would not have allowed that ad” although this is not based on any knowledge of fact.

You can see from the featured image in this post that the ad says “Send your snaps to 50 people around the world at random”. This must surely be something that the Advertising Standards Agency would want to take a look at. It’s something that kids might inadvertently click on. After all it suggests something like Instagram.

Fling must have some money to spend if they’ve pushed the ad to me three times. Unless I’m considered to be of a “certain demographic” which could be a bit worrying. Makes you wonder what data mining is being done by Twitter.

An individual is pretty helpless in this situation. We need the social networks as they have become part and parcel of our everyday lives but seem to have little control over what those networks might do with our data1. It feels to me that governments should start taking a much tougher stance with these guys.

Lots of posts on the subject of surveillance and privacy elsewhere on this blog. Check them out in the surveillance and privacy category here.

1 eg class action against Facebook for privacy breach & Facebook admits to tracking non-users

End User surveillance & privacy

Privacy International

25th Anniversary Privacy International

Article 12 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says ‘No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home, or correspondence.’ This is the message driven home on the front page of human rights charity Privacy International who this year celebrate their 25th anniversary.

Gus HoseinExecutive Director Gus Hosein recently made an excellent contribution to our week of advice to the next government regarding internet related legislation. I thought because it’s their 25th birthday I’d tell you a bit more about them. In particular we have to remember that they are a charity and need everyone’s help in continuing their good work.

I first came across Gus and PI in the rush to defend against the Snoopers Charter. I spoke at an event he helped organise at The London School of Economics called called “The Race for Safety”. I was on a panel with Shami Chrakrabarti of Liberty and David Davis MP. Both seriously knowledgeable people.

Their achievements are best noted in the following bullet points:

  • they are working on state surveillance; privacy in developing, emerging and weak democracies; and on data exploitation by companies and governments
  • fought against RIPA, against the UK ID Card and helped set up NO2ID, against communications data retention in Europe, travel and financial surveillance by the Bush Administration, biometric passports
  • are now exposing the trade in surveillance technologies to undemocratic regimes, creating a global movement of advocates including in weak and emerging democracies, and applying the rule of law to intelligence agencies’ practices

The PI organisational statement is:

“Privacy International is committed to fighting for the right to privacy across the world.

We investigate the secret world of government surveillance and expose the companies enabling it. We litigate to ensure that surveillance is consistent with the rule of law. We advocate for strong national, regional, and international laws that protect privacy. We conduct research to catalyse policy change. We raise awareness about technologies and laws that place privacy at risk, to ensure that the public is informed and engaged.

To ensure that this right is universally respected, we strengthen the capacity of our partners in developing countries and work with international organisations to protect the most vulnerable.

Privacy International envisions a world in which the right to privacy is protected, respected, and fulfilled. Privacy is essential to the protection of autonomy and human dignity, serving as the foundation upon which other human rights are built. In order for individuals to fully participate in the modern world, developments in law and technologies must strengthen and not undermine the ability to freely enjoy this right.

Privacy International, a registered UK charity (No. 1147471), was founded in 1990 and was the first organisation to campaign at an international level on privacy issues.”

Please help Privacy International by donating what you can. Their fundraising page is here.

PS It will be interesting to see if any of the subjects raised in the political week on this blog get covered in the election campaigns of any party.

End User ofcom Regs

Ofcom annual plan at a glance

Quick shufty at the Ofcom annual plan for 2015/16 with some comments

The Ofcom Annual Plan 2015/16 is available at a glance here. Ofcom has a very wide ranging brief and one does wonder how they get anything done1 but I thought I’d pick out some bits for your attention.

Promote effective competition and informed choice:

  • Undertake a Strategic Review of Digital Communications (as previously announced on 12 March)
  • Ensure effective competition in the provision of communications services for businesses, particularly SMEs
  • Improve the process of switching providers for consumers

Hopefully the strategic review will conclude that Fibre to the Premises is the only sensible long term goal. Unfortunately they will also say that they don’t know how to achieve this and they can’t see it happening on their watch.

Also I’m not sure how they will help SMEs. In particular very small businesses get ignored because they are too expensive to service/sell to and they don’t want to pay top dollar in taking the services.

Protect Consumers from harm

  • Introduce clearer pricing for numbers starting 08, 09 and 118, and make ‘080’ and ‘116’ calls free from mobiles
  • Monitor and ensure improved quality of service and customer service performance
  • Protect consumers from harm in a range of priority areas including nuisance calls

Funnily enough the latter two points are dear to my heart. Check out the customer support graphs.  Also the still warm post on scam calls here. As far as customer service monitoring goes I think that’s a commercial issue not a regulatory one. It should make commercial sense for Communications Providers to offer good customer service as this should provide them with a competitive advantage.

Promote Opportunities to Participate

  • Review the factors that potentially affect the sustainability of the universal postal service (uhuh)
  • Promote better coverage of fixed and mobile services for residential and business consumers

It’s all very well saying they want better coverage but unless the government mandates it, which they won’t because they won’t want to pay for it, it isn’t cost effective for the networks.

Protect consumers from harm

  • Work with UK and international bodies to promote improvements in caller line identification
  • Support industry and Government initiatives to improve levels of trust in internet services
  • Work to ensure that critical services are supported on next generation voice networks
  • Ensure consumers have access to redress for service failures and poor quality of service

Quite interesting ones here. The international cooperation bit must surely be a very long term aspiration. I can’t see it succeeding. It’s too difficult. As regards improving trust in internet services this is somewhat at odds which what the government aspires to in removing your on-line rights to privacy. The critical services reference relates to 999 and Emergency Services access. It’s a complex bag of worms that really needs a total rethink but you will never find a government willing to do it. They don’t want to be held responsible for the “burning granny”.

I’m quite supportive of the last point. I see a lot of people complaining about long term absences of service whilst being tied in to contracts. It should be easier for people to say to a service provider “bye I’m off – you haven’t been doing a good enough job”. I can of course also see the service provider side of things especially with the difficulty of maintaining services running on this country’s ageing copper infrastructure but on this occasion I’m siding with the consumer.

There you have it. My quick shufty at the Ofcom Annual Plan for 2015/16. There is more to it but I wasn’t interested in the rest of it. Ciao amigos.

1 Now now I’m sure they must have got something done and that someone will list these achievements as a comment. There is a very interesting annual communications market report for one.  They aren’t just there to take hospital passes aka the Digital Economy Act.

Business net neutrality Regs

ITSPA Heroes and Champions Awards

ITSPA Champions are Philip Davies MP and Jon Beardmore. Latvian EU Presidency gets members pick.  net neut

philip davies mp itspa awardSomewhat belated congratulations ot Philip Davies MP and ITSPA Council member Jon Beardmore on their winning of the ITSPA Champions category of the ITSPA Awards, held last Thursday at the Tate Modern.

Philip Davies won it for his support in tackling anti-competitive blocking of VoIP services by certain mobile providers. That’s him pictured centre with me on the left and AQL CEO Adam Beaumont on the right.

Likewise Jon Beardsmore, pictured with me below, was a winner for his work in leading ITSPAs efforts on the open internet over the last three years. The combined efforts of our two winners have been particularly successful. Philip Davies raised the profile in parliament and Jon has been putting pressure on all stakeholders.

trf john beardsmore itspa awardsThe upshot is that all major network operators have openly committed to net neutrality – a position that was definitely not the case hitherto – something that has been hidden in the small print of ts and cs never read by customers.

Kudos to Jon’s employer BT for giving him free reign to to this work which has involved frequent travel to Brussels.

This leads me on the the ITSPA Awards Members’ Pick which is The Latvian Presiedncy of The European Union and was given “for their leadership in developing a workable council text on the Open Internet”. This might surprise you but Latvia has taken a lead in promoting net neutrality against a plethora of vested interests.

I quote ITSPA Chair  Eli Katz: ‘We have been very active in this area over the last few years. We believe the Latvian Presidency’s Open Internet proposals strike the right balance between promoting competition whilst enabling innovation. They will put an end to abusive practices by a minority of ISPs who have tried to frustrate competition with their own services whilst at the same time allowing specialised services to be offered with enhanced levels of prioritisation. This is essential if the internet is to reach its full potential – for example by delivering TV services over broadband to free up valuable radio spectrum for mobiles.’

The featured image is of Guy Miller ITSPA Council Member presenting the award to Ildze Jansone, Coordinator of the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the EU at the Embassy of Latvia in the United Kingdom. She shot off before I could get one of her and me (no idea why!) so I’ve used this one courtesy of ITSPA.

So all in all a good day for net neutrality at the ITSPA Awards. Loads of posts on net neutrality on this site btw. Check them out here.

End User Regs

Technology Politics Round-up

Just wanted to say thanks to all for their contribution to the technology politics week on (ok one post slipped into this week but it was worth waiting for:)). The week was a great success – we had around 200 social media shares with just short of 3,000 visits. The readership is typically  from the networking and voip industries so your post will have had a  visibility by a technically aware and relevant audience.

A wide range of quite diverse subjects were covered:

James Firth on more use of startups for innovation advice rather than large businesses
Gus Hosein on reform of data protection and government surveillance laws
Paul Bernal suggests government should hire advisers versant in modern internet technology
Andrew Cormack asks for guidelines on safe use of cloud tech
Monica Horten on Why Magna Carta matters where privacy policy is concerned
Julian Huppert MP asks for a framework of principles around online rights
Peter Farmer on Ofcom, number portability reform and structural changes to the way BT works
Domnhall Dods on the Reform of the Electronics Communications Code and
James Blessing on investment in education, fibre infrastructure, IPv6 and Open Data

Had I written all the content myself I couldn’t possibly had come up with such a variety of interesting and important matters. Makes you realise how complex our online world has become and how difficult it is for a government to steer a right course.

The shame is that now that we are in full electioneering swing none of these subjects is likely to feature in in the hustings, except possibly privacy. Economic policy, Europe and the NHS are likely as usual to be the main bullet points thrust in our faces.

All important stuff of course but we as an industry should perhaps think hard about how we can influence the next government in the tech related matters described above and not find ourselves again in the position of having to fight rearguard actions against laws conceived with the right intentions but with very little informed direction.

Thanks again to all who took part. A beer/coffee (you choose) is on offer the next time we meet.

To see the full lineup of political week posts click on a link below:

James Firth on why government should stop looking to big corporates for tech innovation
Gus Hosein on Data Protection Reform and Surveillance
The Julian Huppert crowd funding campaign here
Paul Bernal suggests government should hire advisers who know what they are doing
Domhnall Dods on Electronic Communications Code reform
James Blessing Says “No matter who you vote for…
Peter Farmer on Ofcom really isn’t an all powerful deity
Dr Monica Horten on Why the Magna Carta applies to technology policy
Dr Julian Huppert MP proposes online rights framework to protect our privacy
Dave Levy talks digital policy from the perspective of a Labour Party Member and Open Rights Group subscriber.

See all our regulatory posts here.

End User Legal Regs

The Politics of Digital

dave levyIn this broad ranging article, Labour Party member Dave Levy talks digital policy and includes repeal of the Digital Economy Act as one of his reforms for the next parliament.

The issues raised by the digitisation and virtualisation of society by the internet can be seen as broken into two classes of issue, citizenship in the digital age and the digital economy.

It’s not going to be easy to predict Labour’s policies until the manifesto has been published but as a Labour Party Member and a subscriber to the Open Rights Group I am hopeful that on citizenship Labour’s promises will be better than expected by the LibDem led civil liberty lobby. Labour has also thought hard about its digital policy and published the Digital Government Review.


On citizenship the pressure group @LabourDigital has called for Labour to support the EDRI charter of Digital Rights and a number of Labour’s MEP candidates signed up for the charter’s voting exchange.  The charter has 10 points addressing the issues of democratic participation, privacy, equality before the law, and asserting citizens’ rights in intellectual property law. I proposed its adoption on  here, if you can go there and vote it up, that’d be great.

When considering Labour historic record, it must be recognised that it was a Labour Government that passed the Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information acts,  key statutory rights for the defenders of civil rights and liberties. Labour has come under attack by a number of civil libertarians, not all of it fair in my opinion since their preferred champions, usually Liberal Democrats have an unenviable record to justify over the term of this parliament, the introduction of secret courts, the restriction of legal aid & judicial review and the passage of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) Act.

Privacy & Security

Yvette Cooper in her speech to Demos last year, on Privacy & Security, expressed a balance that  many libertarian critics of the last labour Administration would not expect. She emphasised

The digital age generates every second new and amazing opportunities that we should seize. But we cannot duck our responsibilities to face up to the difficult challenges it poses too – to make sure that the digital age serves the public and our democracy, and not the other way round.

Some other aspects of the citizenship debate are hung up on copyright reform where the voices arguing that the content industry’s definition of legitimate copyright and enforcement is a threat to civil liberties and democratic participation are scarce and weak. Intellectual property laws should protect the interests of the creator and of those who are inspired by the creation together with an overarching public interest. They must support the creation of derived works as well as so-called original creativity. The UK’s laws are amongst the strictest in the world and do not meet these goals. The proposals, made law in the Digital Economy Act legalising strong enforcement, private surveillance and industrialising the court process act as a constraint on freedom of speech, the right to fair trial, and continue the moves towards the privatisation1 of investigation and prosecution of crime. The European Union rejected this approach and we should remember David Martin, a Scottish Labour MEP’s role in killing this law at the European level since it wouldn’t enhance the legal rights of the citizens of Europe. The reason that the DE Act has not been back to parliament for confirmation is that now that the copyright holders have to pay for it, they don’t want it2.

Copyright & Innovation

The PLP Leadership have been captured on Copyright by the Musicians Union. For the record, there is no public interest argument for the current copyright laws. At the heart is an unjust duration, and an egregiously prohibitive exceptions policy. Harriet Harman spoke of the resurrection of the Digital Economy Act at Labour’s last conference and Labour’s culture team have been captured. They can’t get it through their heads that now that the Music Companies have to pay for the tribunals and IT to pursue fans, they don’t want to. They also need to get it through their heads that this isn’t about Google vs. European culture; if it’s between any two corporations it’s between the US Datenkraken and the big three content companies, (Sony, Universal and Warner Brothers) non of which are headquartered in either the UK or the EU. However, again, the parliamentary opposition to ACTA in the EU and the Digital Economy Act in the UK was led by Labour MPs. Labour’s National Policy Forum has said nothing about copyright; I expect the manifesto commitment to be poor.

There is also a cretinous populism in Parliament, which Labour shares about more e-voting despite all the evidence and expert testimony that it’s dangerous since it opens a huge risk for tampering and other older forms of corruption.


On Privacy the record of the Labour Party is better,  with the European Parliament’s formidable defence of the rights to Privacy being led by Labour’s Claude Moraes and the majority of those MPs who voted against the emergency scheduled “Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act” being Labour MPs. The commitments to the sunset clause and civil oversight board would not have happened without Labour’s awkward squad and possibly without David Blunkett publically recognising that the Labour Government’s RIPA has insufficient judicial input leaving politically supervised police to authorise search warrants. If clever, this could be a differentiator between Labour and the Tories since Cameron seems to be happy with a politically authorised warrant, one would hope that might be picked up.

The digital economy

On the broader economic issues and on government projects, Chi Onawurah MP, the only engineer in the House of Commons and Labour spokesperson on Digital Government has commissioned a review and is developing a series of policies for Government. The review focus very much on the Government as a consumer. The key differentiators between Labour and the others will be on the issues of ownership and inclusion.  On technology as a macro-economic growth engine, Labour has the strongest policy and understanding, addressing explicitly digital skills, local authority partnerships, commitments to open data and proposing small steps towards public money buying access and usability, the need for an ethical government data management policy and the centrality3 of open standards & licenses (again). The proposals for an Investment Bank and the reduction of tuition fees are also knowledge economy issues.

My four critical proposals are for reforms that

  1. Ensures that public money buys public domain2
  2. Supporting a strong right to privacy against both the Government and private companies
  3. Law must be transparent, and so the law’s code must be open and subject to public scrutiny in a court of law.
  4. Incrementally implement a fair copyright law, limits and exceptions need to offer certainty and be reasonable. The Hargreaves Review and consequent laws are a first step. We need to consider implementing a more robust fair use regime and we need to reduce copyright duration on a worldwide basis.

In addition I’d argue that the Digital Economy Act should be repealed. It’s unworkable, the music companies no-longer want it now they have to pay for it. It makes the UK one of the most restrictive legal regimes in the world, more so even than the USA.

While the remainder of this piece talks about issues broader than the digital economy and digital society, they remain important as reasons for selecting who to vote for.


The election is likely to be tight, there are committed libertarians standing for re-election as Labour Candidates who have got all the big digital liberty issues right. If they are all returned then the Parliament will be a better place for the politics of digital citizenship. Labour’s awkward squad will vote against the whip, we don’t know about the courage of the LibDems. For those for whom these issues are critical, you’ll need to find out what your candidates think, the dynamics within the parliamentary parties may become as important as the manifesto commitments.

Also by making an individual constituency decisions, we can help ensure that more expertise will arrive in the next parliament since it’s woefully short in the current one.

Other things are also important

There is no doubt that for many people issues such as macro-economic policy i.e fiscal and monetary policy, the funding and governance of the National Health Service, Housing, Education and Energy will more important and for them the choice is obvious; there are only two realistic candidates to become Prime Minister but for those concerned with the state of the politics of digital, a Labour led House of Commons with a strong pro-citizen group may well be the best result. The coalition result on surveillance, privacy, secret courts, legal aid and secret courts shows the potential future. The Coalition’s Minister for Justice argues for the withdrawal from the EU and its court and the European Court of Human Rights.  If the politics of digital is your first priority, then you should find out what your MP or PPC thinks and recognise that you are voting for an MP, not a government.  To these broader issues, I’d add that Ed Miliband’s promise of a constitutional convention maybe the best bet we have of getting a genuine proportionate voting system in place as well as abolishing the House of Lords.

First published on

Dave Levy has worked in IT for over 30 years, employed in Government, Financial Services and by IT Systems Vendors. He continues to work as a consultant, primarily in the City of London. While working for Sun Microsystems in the late 2000’s he represented them on NESSI, the European Union’s internet industry R&D incubator. Dave is a member of the Labour Party and a member of the Open Rights Group’s Supporter’s Council. He writes here in a personal capacity, these opinions do not necessarily represent those of his employer, or anyone else. He blogs on Technology, Politics and Technology Politics here. (

Other tech reg posts include:

James Firth on why government should stop looking to big corporates for tech innovation
Gus Hosein on Data Protection Reform and Surveillance
The Julian Huppert crowd funding campaign here
Paul Bernal suggests government should hire advisers who know what they are doing
Domhnall Dods on Electronic Communications Code reform
James Blessing Says “No matter who you vote for…
Peter Farmer on Ofcom really isn’t an all powerful deity
Dr Monica Horten on Why the Magna Carta applies to technology policy
Dr Julian Huppert MP proposes online rights framework to protect our privacy

See all our regulatory posts here.

1 For the logical endpoint, of the privatisation of law enforcement, see Jennifer Government.
2 It’s more complicated than this, but for reasons of space I’ll leave it there.
3 This is clearly easier said than done, since the Tories promised this in 2010.
4 This is a slogan but the UK should adopt the US principle that the public sector’s knowledge assets are available to the public.

End User internet online safety Regs security surveillance & privacy

Julian Huppert MP proposes that the next government implements an online rights framework of principles

Online rights framework will help safeguard privacy

The internet is increasingly key to our daily lives and a crucial part of public policy making with ramifications across all areas. However, too often what we get from politicians is poorly thought through kneejerkery. I’ve seen this myself, on far too many occasions.

Just to pick up a few examples, when we were re-writing the Defamation Bill, there was a proposal being pushed that ISPs should be required to filter out any defamatory content on their network – quite a tall order.

David Cameron has been particularly bad – you may remember his suggestion at the time of the riots that he should be able to turn off social media to avoid panic. It took a lot of work to stop that and make it something that was ‘not even considered’. More recently, he’s been insisting that we should ban any messaging system that cannot be decrypted by GCHQ, completely failing to understand the essential link between encryption and cyber-security.

But this problem strikes the opposition too. There have been some really alarming comments about filtering out legal material online that completely miss the point of what is technically possible or desirable. And of course there are people in each party who do actually get it, although not all of us get to have the necessary influence over our front benches to achieve sensible outcomes.

My party has taken these issues seriously, and there are several things we hope to achieve in this area. One of these is stable sensible regulation – something that almost shouldn’t need to be said. Brilliant new ideas can easily be killed off if regulation is tweaked unexpectedly and long term investment will drop off if there is a risk of irrational rule changes. We as politicians should set a framework of principles, which should then be relatively stable. We should call on technical experts for help and have  discussions with the community and businesses. We can then setting the detailed online rights rules in a rational way. That has to be the best way forward.

I’ve been particularly working to develop a Digital Bill of Rights, setting a basic framework for what people should expect online when it comes to issues like privacy, net neutrality and more. This has become especially important since the Snowden revelations. All of us want security, and all of us want privacy.  How do we try to achieve both of those goals? When should the police or security services be allowed to collect information on us, and for what purposes?

Typically, these issues have been dealt with largely secretively and reluctantly, and with a focus on specific data types. For example, strong controls were introduced on DNA data in the Protection of Freedoms Act, but the Police just sidestepped them when storing biometric information, without even attempting to learn the principles from DNA data.

So those are my two key points – stable and sensible regulation, and a clear principle framework for our online rights. If I’m re-elected I’ll fight for those but it would be great to have more colleagues to help with that.

If you want to help me achieve this vision, please consider helping me out – has the details.

Julian Huppert is Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge. He has a scientific background and is one of a very small minority of our MPs who can grasp issues relating to internet technology.

Although one or two more might creep in that pretty much concludes the week’s posts on advice to the next government. Other political week posts on are linked to below:

James Firth on why government should stop looking to big corporates for tech innovation
Gus Hosein on Data Protection Reform and Surveillance
The Julian Huppert crowd funding campaign here
Paul Bernal suggests government should hire advisers who know what they are doing
Domhnall Dods on Electronic Communications Code reform
James Blessing Says “No matter who you vote for…
Peter Farmer on Ofcom really isn’t an all powerful deity
Dr Monica Horten on Why the Magna Carta applies to technology policy

See all our regulatory posts here.

End User Legal Regs surveillance & privacy

Why Magna Carta matters to technology policy – listen up Dave

Monica Horten

Dr Monica Horten continues the internet privacy rights debate

This year is the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the Great Charter that established the right to a fair trial and  put an end to arbitrary justice in private hands. What, you may ask, does this have to do with technology policy for the 21st century? It’s a strange twist of fate that this year, in Britain, we face calls for private companies to take on the role of  (secret) police-man, judge and censor all wrapped up in one.

Post-election, the government of whatever colour – blue, red, yellow, purple or green – will have to face up to policy issues concerning the technology that runs our lives and the companies that control the underlying infrastructure. Broadly, the issues fall into two categories:

Control of content on networks (BT, Virgin, TalkTalk, Vodafone etc) and platforms (Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc)

Surveillance using the underlying data created by transmissions using  these networks and platforms

In both cases, the issue is whether technology companies can be asked to take action in respect of individuals and their private communications  at the demand or insistence of third parties. Those third parties might be governments but might also be other private or public interest groups with a range of  aims relating to, for example,   terrorism,   children,   defamation or copyright.   The kind of action they might be asked to take is to  block or filter content; or collect, store and supply data.

The suggestion by intelligence chief Robert Hannigan, in his Financial Times article, for a public debate is absolutely welcome, and it will be down to the next government to show the strength of character  to facilitate such a discussion.

My plea to politicians and government officials  is that they should not simply accept these kinds of demands at face-value. They should try to understand the importance of the balancing act that they are obligated to carry out when addressing individual communications. These obligations fall under the human rights framework and they  take us back to Magna Carta and the stand against arbitrary justice.  Whatever the policy aim, it is paramount that the government must balance such demands against rights to free speech and privacy, and  ensure that justice is conducted with due process.

There is scholarly and legal opinion that mass retention of communications data  puts privacy rights at risk. In particular, the risk concerns abuse of powers of access to the data. From local councils seeking to get at dog owners, as apparently happened a few years ago, right through to very nasty possibilities of  the misuse of data to spy on and pressure innocent individuals, such possibilities must be guarded against.

Similarly, it is widely recognised among experts that the blocking and filtering technology implemented by the broadband providers is capable of interfering with free speech rights,  and there is a growing body of case law to that effect. This is especially the case where the filtering is carried out with no legal basis, using secret black-lists created by third-parties, and outsourced to companies operating in other countries under foreign legal jurisdiction. Arguably, such filtering represents  an intolerable interference with a precious right to freedom of speech and uncensored publishing that we have enjoyed for over 300 years since the lapse of the Licencing Act in 1695.

In the country that gave birth to Magna Carta and to the most essential principles of democracy, it is incumbent on policy-makers to remember that any decision  regarding interference with personal communications and online content  must be necessary and proportionate, meet a legitimate policy aim and be provided for by law. Private corporations are the kings of today. Like King John, they should not be above the law. They should also not be asked to enforce the law.  Arbitrary demands that technology companies take action without the proper legal basis, arguably puts democratic speech on a slippery slope going backwards.

Dr Monica Horten is a Visiting Fellow, London School of Economics and Political Science. She is an independent expert on  the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on Cross-border Flow of Internet Traffic and Internet Freedom. She is the author of two books:  A Copyright Masquerade: how corporate lobbying threatens online freedoms and The Copyright Enforcement Enigma: Internet politics and the Telecoms Package and writes the Iptegrity blog   (Twitter: @Iptegrity). She has a new book on Internet policy forthcoming from Polity Press in early 2016.  She also has a forthcoming paper on free speech rights, private actors and the duties of the State.

First published on political week posts on

James Firth on why government should stop looking to big corporates for tech innovation
Gus Hosein on Data Protection Reform and Surveillance
The Julian Huppert crowd funding campaign here
Paul Bernal suggests government should hire advisers who know what they are doing
Domnhall Dods on Electronic Communications Code reform
James Blessing Says “No matter who you vote for…
Peter Farmer on Ofcom really isn’t an all powerful deity

See all our regulatory posts here.

Business Legal ofcom Regs

Ofcom. It really isn’t an all powerful deity.

Aladdin: You’re a prisoner?
Genie: It’s all part and parcel, the whole genie gig.
[grows to a gigantic size]
Genie: Phenomenal cosmic powers!
[shrinks down inside the lamp]
Genie: Itty bitty living space!

Aside from the comic genus of the late, great, Robin Williams, the Disney classic “Aladdin” reminds me of conversations I often have with people in our industry.

Telecommunications is regulated; heavily regulated. Sometimes we can be forgiven for forgetting this, because of the “General Authorisation” regime. Courtesy of the various European Directives which ultimately govern many facets of our industry, anyone is presumed to be a “fit and proper” person to run a network/reseller and provide a communications service. Compliance with the rules is presumed until otherwise demonstrated, or in the rare few cases where ex-ante regulation such as charge controls is imposed.

I have many conversations, often with smaller operators, but not exclusively, where a sentence like “Why doesn’t Ofcom do something?” comes up. Be that in the long-running net neutrality debate, something ITSPA members will remember, where Ofcom’s Chief Executive went before a Select Committee and invited more powers to deal with issues, through to perceived abuses of various legislative, moral or ethical codes (I would say number portability ticks all of those boxes).

Whilst Ofcom, in delivering taxpayer value, has slowly exited several floors in Riverside House, to the extent, for those that have had the misfortune of being summonsed into the inner sanctum, will know it truly is an itty bitty living space, many also seem to think that Ofcom has, or expects it to use, “Phenomenal cosmic powers!”. Aside from the obvious issue of how often it is currently found to have erred by the Competition Appeal Tribunal and how worrying such unmetered discretion could be, Ofcom is simply not an all-powerful Genie. Its powers are very limited, derived (in voice and data telecommunications at least) from a handful of European Directives, Recommendations and Regulations, with a little thrown in via the Communications Act 2003, Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 and a few competition and consumer-right centric pieces of legislation. Yes, Ofcom has the power to set retail and wholesale price caps, but only after going through an exhaustive exercise of consultation and demonstration that such regulation is necessary and proportionate; the presumption in the regulatory construct of the day is one of deregulation and light touch regulation.

Various layers of jurisprudence have layered on top of this and reinforced the non-interventionist approach, such as last year’s Supreme Court judgement which essentially says that there has to be actual demonstrable consumer harm before Ofcom can exercise certain dispute resolution powers, not just uncertainty whether it will be caused or not.

Increasingly, Ofcom expects its stakeholders to tell it what powers it has and how it should exercise them; maybe they just like trolling me, but it is certainly increasingly my experience that you have to do the heavy lifting for them and point to regulatory and legislative provisions before they’ll entertain acting, if they can at all. In fact, I think my most uttered phrase in industry meetings is “Ofcom doesn’t have the power to do what you ask”. On top, they don’t expect things they publish or consult on to necessarily be the first a regulated telco hears of something – last year’s drop in fixed termination rates was a journey that started with the adoption of a Recommendation by the European Union in 2009, for example.

All of this conspires together to create an environment where there has to be a grave injustice with a well constructed legal argument as to why there’s an injustice and why/how Ofcom can act. For small operators, this could be tantamount to investigating crimes committed against them and prosecuting their burglar themselves!

Let’s just say that David does defeat Goliath and Ofcom takes action against an alleged injustice; well heeled and deeply resourced Goliath just throws some barristers at the Competition Appeal Tribunal and has the entire injustice reheard. If Goliath doesn’t like the Tribunal’s answer, it can go off to the Court of Appeal – right now I believe there’s one application in progress and there’s been 3 judgements appealed in the last few years. Then there’s been further escalations to the Supreme Court and also the constant risk of a reference to the European Court of Justice.

Ofcom is far from a genie, hardly a powerful wizard either. Perhaps a wise and battle scarred druid would be an appropriate analogy? Its decisions have no certainty until after the window to litigate expires (2 months from the date of the decision) and I would suggest it is becoming increasingly litigation weary – a sense I get from the current nature of its decision making.

I write this in response to Tref’s request for something to inform debate before the parliamentary purdah; Parliament’s wings are clipped here too – various European Directives explicitly prevent it from directing Ofcom in certain affairs, however, there are two things I would suggest they could strongly hint that Ofcom do (although one is really pushing it in relation to the non-interference directive) to ensure the sustainability of our highly competitive and vibrant telecommunications industry, assuming they aren’t too distracted throwing more public money at BT’s FTTC roll-out. Oh, and a third thing they can do outright.

Firstly, number portability is a farce. We used to be the world leaders in this area having one of the first truly open and competitive markets, only to have been lapped by Yemen. I strongly believe Ofcom does have the power to implement the appropriate European Directive in a more rigorous way to deal with some or all of the shenanigans we endure daily, but won’t.

Secondly, without boring you all (unless I am requested by popular demand) with a lecture in economics, the way that BT’s charges are controlled afford it the ability to subsidise its quad-play offering and Premiership football rights acquisitions courtesy of your business – its regulated weighted average cost of capital is calculated by Ofcom with reference to its near-junk status bonds and its beta of equity which are both influenced by its extra-curricular activities and artificially inflate your charges.

Finally, there was a government consultation process on streamlining the post regulatory decision making process to make things more, in part, accessible and to address some of the issues I refer to here. That seems to have stalled and/or died in a ditch, so would be worth dusting off and pursuing to a conclusion.

Three, relatively small,  relatively simple things would address two grave injustices; fibre rollout (premises or cabinet), net neutrality, data protection, Openreach structural separation, privacy and snooping, nuisance calls – all great and important topics for politicians and ones I am sure will be covered this week; but these two would be a decent, easily administered shot of adrenaline for us all.

Other political week posts on

James Firth on why government should stop looking to big corporates for tech innovation
Gus Hosein on Data Protection Reform and Surveillance
The Julian Huppert crowd funding campaign here
Paul Bernal suggests government should hire advisers who know what they are doing
Domhnall Dods on Electronic Communications Code reform
James Blessing Says “No matter who you vote for…

See all our regulatory posts here.

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No matter who you vote for…

James Blessing discusses technology regulatory issues he sees that should be addressed by the next government.

Since we have a potential change of government coming up, it might be useful to see how well the current one has been doing in the telecoms and technology space and where the next one might repeat the same mistakes. These are the random scribblings of an individual, and not a position paper by ISPA or any company that I work for (though the are probably people in those organisations who agree with the sentiment).

There is a fine line that people in business need to tread when trying to get the government involved in something. Whilst there is often a space for government involvement, there is also some risk that they will try to dominate the process and move it from being a good idea to something that actually would have been better for all of us if they’d never been involved.

Let’s start with the biggest heffalump in the room, BDUK. Whilst the idea of government injecting funds into various projects to make sure the country’s infrastructure is the best in the world and no region gets left behind, most of the people in industry recognised that BT would win most (if not all) of the contracts. This isn’t because of the evil machinations of the government or BT (much though people would like to believe that) but rather because the “scheme” was designed by civil servants with a paranoia that Eurocrats would jump on any project that thought outside of the most convenient box.

The “good” news is that the third round of funding seems to be focusing on more creative solutions, but I fear for those communities that are going to be left with solutions that will leave them far behind their dense cousins in the cities. The bad news is that BT’s obsession with copper (which they have a lot of) rather than fibre (which they have a lot of too) seems to be continuing with In an ideal world, someone in government would recognise that fibre is the way forward, but it seems that only the smaller altnets are the ones who are delivering it.

Moving on from infrastructure, we have the fun that is monitoring and content. The two largest parties seem to have developed an unhealthy obsession with “out-nannying” each other (and many individuals in other parties have agreed with them on occasion). The last two governments have both tried (and failed for different reasons) to introduce widescale, automated watcher programmes that keep an eye on all internet activity using potential terrorism threat and “think of the children” as their rallying cries. If I were a betting man, then I’d put money that without the more liberal elements in the next government, we’ll see the same legislation in a new format raise its head over the parapet. It’s as if Sir Humphrey’s spirit lives long around the echelons of Whitehall.

Indeed, by using the “think of the children” approach, we also appear to channelling the late Mary Whitehouse in terms of restricting access to “objectionable content”. Whilst I agree that children shouldn’t be exposed to it, the approach being used where end users get no choice in the matter removes “parental” responsibility in terms of their own media, literacy and educational development; as well as teaching an entire generation to bypass security settings to get to the things they want to. For one, I pity the IT admins of the future, who have to deal with a generation who have been conditioned that the only way to source content is to bypass access control.

But what of looking forward? What should we be pushing our government (and politicians) to do from their ivory tower? Personally, I think it comes down to number of (relatively) simple steps that they could promote, and then leave the market/society to work out:

Education – So much promise has been shown with the Raspberry Pi and the maker community when it comes to what can be done when you set the mind free, but schools’ curricula have become so restricted to focusing on “now” and not encouraging “future”, that teachers are prevented from exploiting these developments purely for the ability to create. Not everyone wants to be a web developer, software designer or network engineer but letting kids run wild with technology is the only way new things happen. We need another generation of hackers – in the original sense of the word, meaning people who want to play around with things to find out how they work rather than emo kids who hang around in basements with green characters on a black screen. In fact we should probably just clone Tom –

Infrastructure – Many new different technologies are being predicted as being “just around the corner” (the cynic inside says that they’ve been just around the corner since the 80’s but hey…), the Internet of Things, Driverless Cars, 5G, 4K, TLAs, Virtual Reality, Distributed Energy – all of which will need underlying infrastructure to ship control data. Whilst there are frequently voices raised exclaiming that we’re in the top N countries in the world for XYZ, and that we should be proud to be there, surely we should be setting our sight and goals higher? Rather than settling for 25mbps to 90% of the country, we should be looking at delivering 1Gbps in the next 5 years to everyone, and then how we move from 1G to 10G 5 years later. We might decide we can’t quite make it on that time scale and lower the goals a bit, but, at the moment, we’re shooting too low. In 2000, broadband (when it was still called DSL) managed 512k maximum to less than 20% of the country, 10 years later the average was 5Mbps and the coverage was 71%. Our minimum goal should be 50mbps average by 2020, and to hit that, we should be pushing infrastructure capabilities and formats now!

IPv6 – Whilst the previous two are rather grand sweeping topics that need lots of things to happen and a longer period of time before we see the greatest benefits, rolling out IPv6 everywhere is a much more pressing issue. The IoT is going to consume vast amounts of address space, address space that we’ve already run out of. The security services are demanding traceability of end users, and more networks are hiding them as they cope with a lack of space. In both cases, deploying IPv6 now, where ever and when ever possible, will help. It’s painful to watch clever people come up with more and more crazy schemes to share address space when IPv6 would solve the problem. For politicians, this is a great thing to jump on, its easy to measure success and government involvement is pressure on organisations rather than central financial investment – just include it as a requirement in all government tenders (preferably pushed up to an EU level as well) and see how fast suppliers start adapting.

Open data – The other easy win, the data exists, people want the data – make it available. Okay, you’d lose some revenue from the postcode database but everyone’s life will be slightly better as there is no longer a reason not to include postcode lookup in applications (other than laziness, and we can let market forces deal with that). “Publish and be damned” I say, and its great to see already taking baby steps, but a change of government is an opportunity to push this issue forward at all levels.

And with that I’ll get my coat, take my soap box away and find another crowd to harangue.

James Blessing is currently CTO of Keycom PLC, a managed services provider. He has over twenty years of experience in internet technologies. Previously he was Strategic Relations Manager, EMEA at Limelight Networks, COO at Entanet, technical support manager and technical development manager at Zen Internet; senior project manager at Eunite; senior producer at Kiss102 and Kiss105; and a technical director at Net Nannies. James is also chairman of the trade body ISPA.

Other political week posts on

James Firth on why government should stop looking to big corporates for tech innovation
Gus Hosein on Data Protection Reform and Surveillance
The Julian Huppert crowd funding campaign here
Paul Bernal suggests government should hire advisers who know what they are doing
Domhnall Dods on Electronic Communications Code reform

See all our regulatory posts here.