Feeds

Road pricing - Blair's shock 'privacy guarantee'

Stronger than the usual 'safeguards'?

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

The Downing Street road pricing petition, which closed on Tuesday night, has had an immediate but largely unnoticed effect. It appears to have wrung a reasonably firm privacy commitment from Tony Blair.

We should stress at this point that it is only a reasonable commitment, not an absolute one, but although there is wiggle-room, Blair's words (if they're not to be eaten straight away) should place significant restrictions on the kinds of scheme designs that will be possible. Local authorities considering running the government's proposed road pricing pilot schemes would do well to note this now, because they could waste a lot of money on systems that break too many rules to be acceptable.

The key passage comes in Blair's email to the protesters, which went out shortly after the petition closed: "...any technology used would have to give definite guarantees about privacy being protected - as it should be. Existing technologies, such as mobile phones and pay-as-you-drive insurance schemes, may well be able to play a role here, by ensuring that the Government doesn't hold information about where vehicles have been."

The "definite guarantees" of protection of privacy are, as we've already seen in numerous other areas, worthless in that they can be suspended in the name of national security and fighting crime, and are unlikely to apply entirely to whatever long list of accredited officials the Government cares to attach to the enabling legislation. And just last month Blair kicked off a campaign to persuade voters that "over-zealous" data protection rules that impede the sharing of information on citizens should be relaxed. Historically, if the data exists the security services are going to be allowed to trawl it and numerous Government officials will have access to it, and will share it.

So the key commitment from Blair comes with "by ensuring that the Government doesn't hold information about where vehicles have been", and the Government needs to be pressed hard on precisely what he means by that. What is wrong, we could ask, with changing that to "ensuring that nobody holds information about where vehicles have been"? That wouldn't be accepted, but it would help to highlight the intended exceptions.

The current most likely candidate for future road pricing schemes isn't particularly promising when it comes to non-retention of data. In theory various different technologies are likely to be piloted, but the most favoured technology is the European Galileo satellite system, which has been repeatedly referred to in road pricing related speeeches and proposals. Blair himself notes that it will be "ten years or more before any national scheme was technologically, never mind politically, feasible", and is quite clearly talking about Galileo. There is also, from a pan-European perspective, a political necessity that Galileo appear in some way to pay for itself, and road pricing is one of the less hopeless of the ideas hopefully put forward to justify it (the delusional applications they hope will make Galileo a success are worth dealing with in their own right, but another day...).

A system designed around Galileo would work (we use the word advisedly) in a similar way to the lorry road pricing scheme currently used in Germany, and proposed for the UK's Lorry Road User Charging scheme (LRUC), which was abandoned in favour of a general, national scheme in 2005. A 'black box' in the vehicle would be needed to take the vehicle's position from Galileo and to record and/or transmit on this data for use by the charging systems. In such a set-up positioning and use data is clearly collected, and clearly needs to be related to a charging mechanism (which in the case of most motorists would be a named account), and there you have your snoop record, the data that "the Government doesn't hold."

So who does, for how long, and what are the exceptions to deletion? Here, friends, we have arrived in the wiggle space. Short of an unexpected counter-revolution that knocks us back to the 1970s, private contractors will be involved. From a business perspective these will have no need to retain data for long periods, and insofar as there will be cost implications in terms of storage, security and retrieval (for the exceptions), their commercial interest lies in deleting the data fairly speedily once they've got the money. As is the case, ahem, with telecommunications companies and ISPs where, as you may have noticed, Government doesn't hold the data either. It orders the telcos to hold it then helps itself when it feels the need.

It is possible to allow the companies running a road pricing schemes to delete the data quickly, or even, as the consequence of a sudden rush of data protection concern to the head, for Government to require this deletion, but it would be entirely out of character. It would also run counter to planning in Europe, the Department for Transport, police services, and automotive technology.

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
JINGS! Microsoft Bing called Scots indyref RIGHT!
Redmond sporran metrics get one in the ten ring
Driving with an Apple Watch could land you with a £100 FINE
Bad news for tech-addicted fanbois behind the wheel
Murdoch to Europe: Inflict MORE PAIN on Google, please
'Platform for piracy' must be punished, or it'll kill us in FIVE YEARS
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
Sony says year's losses will be FOUR TIMES DEEPER than thought
Losses of more than $2 BILLION loom over troubled Japanese corp
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.