Could a new government bring changes to data privacy and security issues in the UK?

Opinion by Dan Raywood

In case you missed it, Great Britain has a new Prime Minister in David Cameron and a new administration made up of a coalition of the Tories and Liberal Democrats, with Nick Clegg taking the position of Deputy Prime Minister.

In case you missed it, Great Britain has a new Prime Minister in David Cameron and a new administration made up of a coalition of the Tories and Liberal Democrats, with Nick Clegg taking the position of Deputy Prime Minister.

I expect that yesterday's breaking news will continue to dominate the headlines for the next week, and it does lead to some interesting dilemmas and questions for the technology and security sector.

While watching Sky News last night, it was suggested that a Freedom Bill would be passed to extend freedom of information rights and include the ability to repeal ID cards and harvest DNA and introduce biometric passports. This was further substantiated by, which claimed that a Freedom Bill will abolish identity cards, the national identity register and end moves to introduce biometric passports.

Meanwhile, and other media reports have claimed that the Freedom Bill would also extend the Freedom of Information Act and increase regulation of CCTV cameras.

The move certainly echoes what was being said in their manifestos, with both the Tories and Lib Dems saying that they would abolish ID cards and the register, but only the Lib Dem document added biometric passports and CCTV regulation.

In the first joint press conference, Clegg and Cameron launched the coalition agreement, which confirmed a ‘full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour government and roll back state intrusion'.

This is to include the aforementioned Freedom or Great Repeal Bill, the scrapping of the ID card system, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the ContactPoint database.

It will also outlaw the fingerprinting of children at school without parental permission, further regulation of CCTV, ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason and a new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

Cameron claimed that the government would be founded on freedom, fairness and responsibility', and that the two parties would spend the afternoon with the National Security Council.

Elsewhere, Theresa May has been appointed as Home Secretary, William Hague as Foreign Secretary and Jeremy Hunt is to become Secretary of State for culture, media and sport, after previously being the shadow equivalent.

In January the Conservatives promised a Cyber Threat and Assessment Centre. This is still to be declared, or possibly even discussed, but Ian Moyse, EMEA channel director at Webroot, welcomed it, claiming that it will help raise awareness of cyber crime among the general public.

He said: “However, it shouldn't be used to lull companies or individuals into a false sense that security is all being done for them. It would be a dangerous and risky move if organisations and individuals do not keep up their personal diligence and security investment.

“The other challenge for the new Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government is to have an objective and non-biased approach to the strategy and technology provided by multiple vendors, instead of relying on a single provider.”

Commenting on the cancellation of the ID card scheme and centralised NHS patient records, Garry Sidaway, director of security strategy at Integralis, said: "It came as no surprise that both the Tories and Lib Dems agreed on the cancellation of the entire £5 billion ID card scheme and the centralised NHS patient records. Big projects like these require large investment and are easy to fail without clear objectives that outline value for money.

"We always advise organisations in both public and private sectors to ensure they plan out where exactly their money is going before they go ahead with the project; it is essential to have a strategy that demonstrates what will be delivered and at what cost."

There has been no announcement on the future of policies such as Labour's plans to supply free laptops and broadband access for 270,000 low-income families so far; while the contentious Digital Economy Bill, passed through in parliamentary wash-up in April, could be reconsidered following some Lib Dem opposition at the time.

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, claimed that there ‘was a lot that we can hope for from the new administration'. He said: “On the other side, there are some big questions.

“For all of us campaigning around the Digital Economy Act, we are concerned that the process is likely to proceed and recommend a disconnection regime which requires political will to prevent. We sincerely hope the views Nick Clegg espoused during the election will hold, and be put into action. This will help restore trust among younger voters.

“There is an opportunity to repeal this, from the start, with the body of laws the new administration are hoping to repeal very shortly.”

Commenting, Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, congratulated the new government and in particular, the new Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor. She said: “We note the importance that both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have placed on civil liberties in their coalition talks and look forward to working with government and opposition to ensure that fundamental rights and freedoms are better protected in the new parliament.” 

From a security perspective, Stuart Okin, managing director of Comsec Consulting, claimed that the current Data Protection Act states that information should not be kept longer than necessary, so he did not see anything that was ‘wildly different to what is already there'.

He said: “The problem with guidelines is that they are that, they say to keep information for six years and that is why archiving has become so sophisticated. If you look at the current Data Protection Act at the moment it says that you cannot store information that is not deemed necessary, so this is not any different to the Data Protection Act at the moment.

“It is not bad to refine it, but it is not a big difference. It looks like the Lib Dems and Conservatives are asking if they really need to store the data, without thinking about what has been done previously.” 

He concluded by commenting on the decision to scrap the ContactPoint database. He said it was a good thing as they need to be specific on abuse and fraud threats and decide how to check information so local organisations are able to liaise with one another.

While we will wait and see what further appointments are made to cover technology and Digital Britain, the moves so far by Cameron and Clegg look to be positive when it comes to data security. The effort of a new government to make sweeping changes is a long trodden path, see President Obama's first day promise to close Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, but the implementation could be further into the future.


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