uk election week

Suppression screening, terrorism and your vote

The election today and the aftermath of the appalling events at London Bridge and Borough Market have disrupted my momentum for writing about EU GDPR and what you need to know to get ready for next May 25th. I’m a frequent visitor to Borough Market and often walk across London Bridge, so like many others, this is the first time that terrorism has seemed so close to me.

Top of my mind this week is the news that the third mass murderer at London Bridge was an Italian/Moroccan whose name is apparently on the Schengen Information System – according to the BBC, “An Italian police source has confirmed to the BBC that Zaghba had been placed on a watch list, which is shared with many countries, including the UK.” Both the Westminster Bridge and London Bridge attacks were conducted using hired vehicles, the first a car and the second a van. Last month, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration announced that it wants truck rental agencies to be more vigilant in efforts to prevent these attacks and according to the same article, Penske (a nationwide truck leasing company in the US) screens customers using a watch list.

So, the first question that springs to my mind after London is “Should vehicle rental companies in Europe be screening customers against the Schengen list?” Obviously, not all such attacks are committed using hired vehicles, but many (if not most) are committed using hired or stolen vehicles – and stolen vehicles are likely to be on a police database with an active watch being kept out for them. The larger the vehicle, the more dangerous it is, the more likely it is to be able to crash through barriers and kill and maim people – and the more likely it is to be hired or stolen rather than owned.

The next question that rose to my mind was “Will the UK still have access to the Schengen list after Brexit?” Hopefully, however “hard” Brexit turns out to be, UK and EU negotiators will have cooperation on terrorism at the top of their list and such information will continue to be shared, so increasing systematic use of this data should be top of many people’s agendas.

Last, I worried whether the increased responsibilities for protection of personal data (and vastly increased fines) being introduced with GDPR next May will lead to companies putting their own interests first when it comes to (not) sharing information about suspicious persons with the authorities, or whether there need to be exemptions written into the guidance to ensure that individuals and organisations don’t get fined for breaches of GDPR through trying to do the right thing to help protect the public? I can ask this at next week’s techUK Data Protection Group, where one of the people developing the legislation and guidance from the Department for Culture, Media & Sport will be in attendance.

One other thought concerning data about people seems particularly relevant today – last Tuesday’s Telegraph “fears that thousands of postal ballots could have been sent out to voters who have died, putting their vote at risk of being used by somebody else”. Of course, speaking from personal experience, potentially a much bigger fraud could be all the residents of care homes, especially those with Alzheimer’s, being sent postal votes. Are additional precautions taken in checking that these votes are being filled in by the residents themselves? I know that in at least some cases, the postal vote addressee is not screened against the Power of Attorney registers. Given that GDPR obliges organisations to make sure the personal data that they keep is accurate and up-to-date, I wonder how the formula for fining an organisation 2-4% of global gross revenue under GDPR applies to a taxpayer-funded body such as a local authority!?