Feeds

Liberty: Observer story takes liberties

Newspaper conjures data endorsement for mobile operators

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

Updated The civil rights group Liberty has rubbished a newspaper report that it has been approached by several UK mobile operators in an attempt to win its public support for their data protection policies. If such an approach had been made it would have been rejected on principle, Liberty told The Register.

The lead of The Observer report that prompted Liberty's comment said: "Mobile phone companies are seeking an endorsement from Liberty, the civil rights group, to assuage consumer concerns over possible misuse of the private data they hold on file".

No they don't

The story, which was published on Sunday and at time of writing is running prominently on the technology site of sister newspaper The Guardian, claimed that "several" firms had approached Liberty for an endorsement that they will not misuse data. At first glance it might not seem a far-fetched idea: public awareness of data loss and privacy remains high, and given the central role they play in modern lives mobile phone operators are apt to attract plenty of suspicion.

But the substance of the story was odd. Although Liberty has campaigned extensively on data protection and privacy law, it has no particular technical expertise that would qualify it to certify huge mobile networks' back end systems. Even more strange is the question of why would it consider lending its reputation to multinationals who make a killing selling data to third parties and plan a new market in tracking their customers' locations on behalf of commerce.

This was surely a big story then; a potential major change of culture and strategy at an organisation that offers one of civil society's highest profile public voices. That surely merited more investigation than The Observer's four paragraphs.

Yet the story contained no quote or paraphrasing of Liberty's position on commercial endorsements. The Observer had called Liberty for basic checks of its story, hadn't it?

"No," said a spokeswoman for the group. The Register's call on Monday was the first it had heard of the story or any alleged approach. Gareth Crossman, Liberty's policy director, said: "Liberty is an independent human rights organisation. We would not compromise our independence by endorsing private companies or products."

Hmm... then the story is - gasp! - fiction!

Just in case, we rang all five operators in an attempt to track down the "several" of their number who supposedly sought the impossible endorsement. Here's their responses:

3: Did not approach Liberty

O2: "This is not us."

Orange: PRs said they're still working on finding out.

T-Mobile: PRs said they were unable to confirm its position before publication of this story.

Vodafone: "We haven't been in conversation with Liberty on this issue."

To summarize then: three out of five mobile phone operators said they never approached Liberty. The other two's PRs said couldn't find out*. But Liberty said no mobile operator approached it. If they had Liberty would not have discussed any endorsement under any circumstances.

Still, The Observer's story went on to sagely observe that, "No deals have been signed, but if industry players could secure Liberty's endorsement, it would be a coup for those attempting to persuade users that they can be trusted with such private data". It would indeed be a coup for mobile operators to extract a blessing from a respected civil rights group that has no history of nor interest in such arrangements - especially if they were to manage it without even trying.

But perhaps if 3, O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone would seek to allay fears over data it would be simpler for them to take their cue from the newspaper industry, which created the "self-regulating" Press Complaints Commission at least in part to convince the public of its commitment to the truth. Oh, wait...

Before we were due to file this article, Liberty got back in touch to say it would be writing to The Observer to criticize the story and clarify its position. ®

*We'll update this story if they ever do. However, of the five network operators, Orange and T-Mobile are the two to have outsourced their press offices to PR agencies and past experience indicates we shouldn't hold our breath.

Update

Orange's in-house press representation rang on Wednesday morning to confirm that it never contacted Liberty.

Update 2

T-Mobile rang on Wednesday afternoon to confirm that it didn't approach Liberty. That makes a full house.

Bootnote

The Observer was recently forced to apologise after it accused the human rights charity Survival of misleading the media over a supposedly "undiscovered" tribe in the Amazon. It hadn't.

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Same old iPad? NO. The new 'soft SIMs' are BIG NEWS
AppleSIM 'ware to allow quick switch of carriers
Arab States make play for greater government control of the internet
Nerds told to get lost in last-minute power grab bid at UN meeting
Brits: Google, can you scrape 60k pages from web, pleeease
Hey, c'mon Choc Factory, it's our 'right to be forgotten'
Of COURSE Stephen Elop's to blame for Nokia woes, says author
'Google did have some unique propositions for Nokia'
It's even GRIMMER up North after MEGA SKY BROADBAND OUTAGE
By 'eck! Eccles cake production thrown into jeopardy
Mobile coverage on trains really is pants
You thought it was just *insert your provider here*, but now we have numbers
Don't mess with Texas ('cos it's getting Google Fiber and you're not)
A bit late, but company says 1Gbps Austin network almost ready to compete with AT&T
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.