European Commission sues UK for not implementing privacy and data protection rules on confidentiality of electronic communciations

The European Commission has decided today to refer the United Kingdom to the EU’s Court of Justice for not fully implementing EU rules on the confidentiality of electronic communications such as e-mail or internet browsing. Specifically, the Commission considers that UK law does not comply with EU rules on consent to interception and on enforcement by supervisory authorities. The EU rules in question are laid down in the ePrivacy Directive 2002/58/EC and the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC. The infringement procedure was opened in April 2009 (IP/09/570), following complaints from UK internet users notably with regard to targeted advertising based on analysis of users’ internet traffic. The Commission previously requested the UK authorities in October 2009 (IP/09/1626) to amend their rules to comply with EU law.

The Commission launched the legal action against the UK in April 2009 following citizens’ complaints about how the UK authorities had dealt with their concerns about the use of behavioural advertising by internet service providers (targeted advertising based on prior analysis of users’ internet traffic). These complaints were handled by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, the UK personal data protection authority and the police forces responsible for investigating cases of unlawful interception of communications.

The Commission considers that existing UK law governing the confidentiality of electronic communications is in breach of the UK’s obligations under the ePrivacy Directive 2002/58/EC and the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC in three specific areas:

  • there is no independent national authority to supervise the interception of some communications, although the establishment of such authority is required under the ePrivacy and Data Protection Directives, in particular to hear complaints regarding interception of communications

  • current UK law authorises interception of communications not only where the persons concerned have consented to interception but also when the person intercepting the communications has ‘reasonable grounds for believing’ that consent to do so has been given. These UK provisions do not comply with EU rules defining consent as “freely given, specific and informed indication of a person’s wishes”

  • current UK law prohibiting and providing sanctions in case of unlawful interception are limited to ‘intentional’ interception only, whereas EU law requires Members States to prohibit and to ensure sanctions against any unlawful interception regardless of whether committed intentionally or not.

Uganda: Terror Charges Against Pakistanis Dismissed

On September 23, 2010, in Uganda, the Nakawa Chief Magistrates Court released two men from Pakistan who had been in custody in the case of the July 11, 2010, bombings in Kampala. Seventy-six people died and many others were injured in the bombing during a World Cup soccer match. The two men were Shaykh Zamir Naufal, who owns a business called Tech-Access Africa, Limited, and Dithan Peter Ntale, who works for Naufal.

State Attorney Joan Kagezi had asked Chief Magistrate Deo Ssejjemba to release the suspects, because the public prosecution office had withdrawn the charges against them. Kagezi said that she had been told to drop the case, as the director of public prosecutions “has lost interest in prosecuting them because there is no sufficient evidence against them.”  Two other men involved in the case, a human rights activist from Kenya, Al-Amin Kimathi, and another Kenyan, Omar Awadh Omar, who is suspected of being a terrorist, were remanded into custody until there is a review of their objection to the plan to transfer them back to the police for questioning. There are still 36 suspects detained in connection with the bombing.

US House of Congress Passes Bill to Help With 9/11 Health Care

The House of Congress approved legislation on Wednesday that would provide billions of dollars for medical treatment to rescue workers and residents of New York City who suffered illnesses from breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke from ground zero. The vote was 268 to 160, with 17 Republicans joining Democrats in support of the bill. Opposing the measure were 157 Republicans and 3 Democrats. Republicans raised concerns about the $7.4 billion cost of the program. (Bill here.)

US ‘backscatter vans’ used inside the US to scan contents of cars

American Science & Engineering, a Billerica, Mass.-company, tells Forbes it has sold more than 500 ZBVs, or Z Backscatter Vans, to US and foreign governments. The mobile X-ray technology works by bouncing narrow X-ray streams off an object like a car and then analyzing the scatter rate of the returning rays. Operators can then locate less-dense objects that could be bodies or bombs.

The US Department of Defense has bought the most for war zone use, but now it appears that US law enforcement has also deployed the vans to search for bombs inside the US, according to Joe Reiss, a company spokesman.

On Tuesday, a counterterror operation snarled truck traffic on I-20 near Atlanta, where Department of Homeland Security teams used mobile X-ray technology to check the contents of truck trailers. Authorities said the inspections weren’t prompted by any specific threat.

“This really trips up the creep factor because it’s one of those things that you sort of intrinsically think the government shouldn’t be doing,” says Vermont-based privacy expert Frederick Lane, author of “American Privacy.” “But, legally, the issue is the boundary between the government’s legitimate security interest and privacy expectations we enjoy in our cars.”

AS&E’s Reiss counters privacy critics by pointing out that the ZBV scans don’t capture nearly as much detail of human bodies as their airport counterparts. The company’s marketing materials say that its “primary purpose is to image vehicles and their contents,” and that “the system cannot be used to identify an individual, or the race, sex or age of the person.”

Napolitano pitches plan for air security to 190 nations

The U.S. Homeland Security chief urges 190 nations at the International Civil Aviation Organization to improve aviation security with body scanners and other innovations to stop terrorists from carrying plastic and powdered explosives onto airplanes.The nearly 200 nations that make up ICAO  will agree Wednesday to improve aviation security through better technology and more sharing of information about terrorist threats, ICAO Secretary General Raymond Benjamin said in an interview. Napolitano said she expects the ICAO will issue a joint declaration that will commit 190 nations to strengthen aviation security measures. She said it will be followed up with a series of regional summits that will discuss implementing measures.

Napolitano also said it’s too early to say when aviation officials can lift a ban on liquids on board flights despite international officials saying it could come as early as 2012.

Napolitano told The Associated Press she’s surprised by International Civil Aviation Organization Secretary General Raymond Benjamin’s remarks that security equipment in most airports will allow for the ban to be lifted soon. Napolitano said the technology isn’t ready. “I think that’s premature,” Napolitano said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The European Union says it plans to phase out restrictions on carrying liquids onto planes by 2013.

Baader-Meinhof murder trial opens in Germany

The BBC reports that a former member of the radical far-left Red Army Faction (RAF) militant group is going on trial in Germany over the 1977 murder of a federal prosecutor. Verena Becker, 58, was arrested last year for her suspected role in the ambush of Siegfried Buback. Two men escorting him were also shot dead. Police said there was DNA evidence implicating Ms Becker on a letter in which the RAF claimed responsibility.

Although Ms Becker was arrested the month after the Buback assassination, after a shoot-out with police, there was insufficient evidence at the time to convict her of his murder. She was sentenced to life imprisonment for her involvement in six other murders, but was pardoned by then-President Richard von Weizsaecker in 1989 and released. She was re-arrested in August 2009 and charged earlier this year with conspiracy to murder after new forensic technology allegedly revealed traces of Ms Becker’s DNA on a letter by the RAF sent claiming responsibility for the Buback attack.

US accused of Yemen proxy detention

Al Jazeera reports that Yemeni security agents abducted and detained Sharif Mobley, an American citizen living in Yemen, on behalf of the US government. Mobley disappeared after visiting the US embassy in in Sana’a.

Mobley says he was chained, blindfolded, to a hospital bed, being interrogated by two men who introduced themselves as “Matt and Khan” and said they worked for the US government. His lawyers say the two men told him that he would never see his family again and would be raped in Yemeni prison.

The lawyers say he was interrogated repeatedly over the coming weeks, and that he was badly beaten by Yemeni security forces while being moved between detention facilities.

Eventually he says he was taken to another hospital, where Matt and Khan continued to question him over his links to al-Awlaki. His lawyers say that at no point was he offered consular assistance, and that he was desperate for news of his family, who he was told would be arrested.

In early March, Mobley is alleged to have launched an escape bid from the hospital, in which he is accused of shooting dead one of his guards and wounding another. Murdering a guard is a capital offence in Yemen; if found guilty in his upcoming trial, Mobley could be executed by firing squad.

Meanwhile, his lawyers are calling for US authorities to release all information pertaining to his case as a matter of urgency, arguing that the court needs the full facts surrounding Mobley’s initial detention in January to ensure he has a fair trial.