Tuesday, 29 June 2010

As 28,000 police face axe, chiefs blow £500k on champagne gala

By Jason Lewis and Alan Rimmer
Last updated at 10:25 PM on 26th June 2010
Sir Hugh Orde
Leader: ACPO's president Sir Hugh Orde is paid £183,000-a-year
Britain’s top police officers will spend half-a-million pounds of taxpayers’ cash on luxury hotels and a champagne gala this week just days after the Government ordered savage police budget cuts.
The huge outlay is for the annual conference of the UK’s most powerful policing body, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).
Chief Constables and senior officers will be treated to champagne and strawberries dipped in chocolate at the three-day affair.
The policing organisation, which trades as the private company ACPO Limited, is funded with £10million from the taxpayer.
The conference comes as The Mail on Sunday has obtained a confidential ACPO document suggesting 28,000 frontline police officers could be axed and replaced by cheaper civilian staff.
As police forces across the country face the threat of budget cuts and job losses, ‘not-for-profit’ ACPO stands to make about £200,000 from the event at Manchester Central Hall – adding to the £395,000 ‘surplus’ it made from similar events in 2008 and 2009.
The revelation will increase pressure on the organisation which is in charge of everything from anti-terrorism policy to speed cameras, and is already facing major questions over how it is run.
ACPO is under fire after The Mail on Sunday revealed it is:
* Selling information from the Police National Computer for up to £70 a time – even though it pays just 60p to access details.
* Marketing ‘police approval’ logos to firms selling anti-theft devices.
* Operating a separate private firm offering training to speed-camera operators.
It has also spent millions of pounds meant for counter-terrorism work on luxury London flats for senior officers.
Its new boss, Sir Hugh Orde, the former Northern Ireland Chief Constable who became ACPO President last year, is also facing questions over his future after he threatened to quit if the Tories came to power.
He is paid £183,000-a-year on top of a police and civil service pension to run the self-styled ‘global brand name’.
But despite Sir Hugh’s pledge to reform the organisation, last year it had an income of more than £10 million – almost all of it from the taxpayer – and an incredible £15 million cash ‘at hand’ in its bank account.
Sir Hugh put himself on a collision course with the Tories last year when he attacked their proposal to introduce directly elected police commissioners.
Lowry Hotel
Three-day jolly: Manchester's Lowry Hotel, where officers will be wined and died as part of the £500k event
Now he must address his police colleagues on the subject, before introducing the new Home Secretary Theresa May, who is determined to push the policy through.
One senior officer who is due to attend the conference said: ‘Sir Hugh has lost face over this and has quietly signalled a U-turn.
'Powerful people are referring to him as a lame duck.’
Mrs May is also determined to apply the 25 per cent cuts outlined in last week’s Budget.
It is already feared large numbers of officers will be axed and police stations shut to make the savings.
An internal ACPO ‘Insight’ report suggests ‘modernisation’ could replace 28,000 beat officers with civilians.
The Manchester event will be funded from ACPO’s coffers and by the 44 police forces sending representatives.
The individual cost of attending the conference is £771 including VAT – a total cost of more than £269,000 to the taxpayer.
In addition, ACPO has booked hundreds of premier city centre hotel rooms at £150 a night, adding an estimated £157,000 to the bill.
Officers can also attend a champagne reception and black-tie gala dinner at the city’s luxury five-star Lowry Hotel costing £98 a head.
Individual police forces will cover hundreds of pounds in expenses for their officers’ travel and other costs.
Last year, the Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who is also head of ACPO’s national counter terrorism command structure, claimed £551 for his travel and hotel room at the conference.
Cambridgeshire’s Chief Constable Julie Spence has claimed almost £1,000 to attend ACPO conferences and the force’s Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hopkins another £553.
Delegates will arrive on Tuesday night for a drinks reception. Two more parties follow.
The highlight is the Gala Dinner at the Lowry where delegates have been invited to the magnificent River bar for a reception with Perrier-Jouet champagne and strawberries dipped in chocolate.
This will be followed by an extensive menu including Cornish lobster, Aberdeen fillet steak and pan-fried wild sea bass with asparagus.
An ACPO spokeswoman refused to discuss the profit the organisation stands to make from the event, or suggestions that officers’ partners are invited to some of the social events.
She said: ‘The conference, held in association with the Home Office, is funded through sponsorship, delegate fees and the international policing exhibition which runs alongside the event.
'Sir Hugh Orde has made clear his wish to reform the Association’s status. We are talking to the Government and we hope they will address the issue.’

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Ambush marketing banned for Olympics

Police  will be used to arrest people involved in so-called ambush marketing stunts during the London Olympics.
Anyone attempting to advertise at events at the 2012 Games without signing lucrative marketing deals with the organisers could face criminal prosecution.
The agreement to protect commercial sponsors of the Games was made by the former Labour Government.
The revelation is likely to alarm civil liberties groups because it is thought to be the first time the police have been used to protect the commercial interests of multinational companies from rivals.
A little-known clause in the Olympic Act makes it a criminal offence to engage in unauthorised marketing at the Games or even in the host city.
It will carry a £20,000 fine for people or firms involved in the illegal marketing activities and could see them jailed if they fail to pay the fine.
Legal critics say the Act is too widely drawn because the offence applies to advertising ‘of any kind’. It will be an offence to ‘distribute documents or articles, the display or projection of words, images, lights or sounds’ and applies to ‘material which has or may have purposes or uses other than as an advertisement’.
The Act also suggests the final say on what is or is not an offence will be dictated by the Olympic organisers themselves.
Last night the Department for Culture, which is overseeing the Olympics, said police would be called in only as a last resort and added that cases were likely to be dealt with ‘informally’.

ITV gave Robbie Earle 400 World Cup tickets

By Jason Lewis, Mail on Sunday Security Editor
Last updated at 11:14 PM on 19th June 2010

Robbie Earle
Not guilty: Robbie Earle insists he had no idea the World Cup tickets he gave to Keith Higgins would be sold on
ITV was at the centre of a new World Cup ticketing storm last night after it was revealed that it supplied its disgraced football pundit Robbie Earle with an astonishing 400 tickets for the tournament, including 40 for the final with a black market value of at least £2,000 each.
A top ITV executive – one of its four directors of news and sport – helped organise Earle’s massive allocation for 11 high-profile matches, including England’s group games, with a face value of £70,000.
In contrast, the BBC applied for only 200 tickets for the whole tournament, including 20 seats for the final which will be distributed by a staff lottery.
In an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, ex-footballer Earle claims that he told ITV the seats were for a ‘close friend’ for use by his family and friends and ‘business clients’.
But a Mail on Sunday investigation has established that the friend, Keith Higgins, has also regularly been involved in the unofficial sale of tickets for sold-out international sporting events, concerts and West End shows – including supplying them to a top political public relations firm with close links to the Labour Party.
Earle says he had no idea of his friend’s business activities and would never have risked his reputation in football by allowing tickets in his name to be sold on.
Last night, football supporters’ groups said the case highlighted how the World Cup organisers favoured sponsors and broadcasters over real fans.
Kevin Miles, of the Football Supporters Association, said: ‘The big issue here is why FIFA gives less than half the tickets at the World Cup to real fans.
‘It lavishes tickets on corporate sponsors and broadcasters and then those seats go unused or are sold on the black market.’
There are strict rules on the re-sale of tickets because of fears over hooliganism, crime and terrorism, yet ITV News Group director Guy Phillips agreed to Earle’s request for the huge number of tickets – including supplying 40 seats with a face value of around £600 each for the World Cup Final on July 11.
And despite the large numbers of tickets involved, ITV says it did not expect the tickets to be passed on.
The revelations come after ITV sacked the ex-footballer from its team covering the tournament in South Africa after a large number of his tickets were used in a so-called ‘ambush marketing’ stunt by a Dutch brewery.
'I told them that I was giving them to a friend and I even asked if he could pay ITV directly for the tickets he had.'
Earle says he was offered the tickets by ITV last December and had face-to-face meetings with Mr Phillips to discuss his requirements.
He claims no one at ITV questioned why he wanted so many tickets and that he had volunteered that he was passing them on to a friend and that the friend was using them for his own friends and family and business clients.
‘I told them that I was giving them to a friend and I even asked if he could pay ITV directly for the tickets he had,’ said Earle.
ITV rejects this claim, saying that Earle was given a bill for the tickets when he picked them up from its offices last month and that it would never have agreed to accept payment from a third party.
Earle, who was awarded the MBE in 1999 and had worked for ITV Sport for nine years covering top European and international matches around the world, says that earlier this year he had sent ITV an itemised list of all the games he wanted tickets for.
This list included England’s group stage games against the USA, Algeria and Slovenia, other top games including those involving Holland in the early stages of the tournament, and more tickets for the later knockout games in which England were expected to feature and large numbers for the semi-final and final.
Dutch girls
Caught out: Girls advertise the Dutch brewing company during the match between Holland and Denmark.
He said: ‘I discussed it with Keith and we put in for more than 400 tickets. He never expected to get them all. Normally you put in for say four tickets for a major final and you end up with two.
‘But early last year ITV got in touch and said I was getting almost all the tickets I had asked for. The total cost was around £65,000 to £70,000. At this point Keith realised he had asked for too many tickets and I asked ITV if I could cut the number I was taking. But they told me I couldn’t as they had been ordered and I’d have to take them.’
On March 8 Mr Phillips wrote to Earle confirming the arrangements. He said: ‘Please find attached details of your allocation for the FIFA 2010 World Cup  .  .  .  ITV Sport will be in contact with you nearer the time to discuss arrangements for payment.
‘We are pleased to be able to tell you that for nine of your chosen matches you will receive the number of tickets you asked for but not necessarily the categories you requested.
‘For the other two matches – the Semi-Final on July 6th and the Final on July 11th – we can confirm that you will receive 40 of the 50 tickets you have requested for each match.
‘We are hopeful that we will be able to give you the extra ten for each match nearer the time.’
Noisy: The Dutch girls, who were advertising the brewer Bavaria, 
certainly caught the attention.
Noisy: The Dutch girls, who were advertising the brewer Bavaria, certainly caught the attention.
Mr Phillips adds that he has enclosed ‘a copy of the FIFA rules and regulations about tickets at the World Cup Finals’.
FIFA’s terms and conditions ban the transfer or sale of tickets without the organisers’ consent. It also prohibits ‘Ambush Marketing and Other Marketing Activities’.
The rules also required ITV, as the Ticket Applicant, to ‘provide a copy of these general terms and conditions to the individuals receiving tickets’ from it.
ITV says that Earle was spoken to on at least three occasions and also sent several letters, including one in May, reminding him that he could not sell on the tickets and that they were to be used only by him and his close family and friends.
Earle claims he had no idea that Mr Higgins intended to sell the tickets and says that he told him the huge number of seats were for his friends and family and clients in the ‘music business’.
‘He assured me from the outset that there was no way he was going to sell these tickets,’ he said.
‘I knew it was my reputation on the line and he knew that too. But he is
a friend and I trusted him when he said the tickets would never be out of his control. He has badly let me down and cost me my job at ITV, where I have been for nine years.’

He told The Mail on Sunday that he had known Mr Higgins for 15 years after the pair were introduced by another ex-footballer, Warren Barton, who played with Earle at Wimbledon in the Nineties.
Earle described Mr Higgins as a ‘very close friend’ but could not say what he did for a living.
He said: ‘He does something in the music business. He is some kind of public relations man, something like that. I don’t know exactly.
He said that Mr Higgins had previously supplied him with tickets for West End shows and concerts ‘through his music business contacts’ and had also given him tickets to use as prizes for charity events.
But The Mail on Sunday has discovered that Mr Higgins has been involved in the selling of tickets for sold-out events for some years.
Staff at top public relations firm Finsbury, which has close relationships with top Labour figures such as Peter Mandelson and Ed Balls, say Mr Higgins regularly supplied the firm and its clients with hard-to-get event tickets.
Mr Higgins’s common law wife Mandy Tupper was Office and Hospitality Manager for the firm until about two years ago. During that time ‘Keith regularly supplied
tickets that you couldn’t get elsewhere’, said a senior figure at the firm.
‘I got the impression that he did it for a living.’
The couple also arranged for Earle to play in a charity five-a-side match at Chelsea Football Club organised by Finsbury in aid of then Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s wife Sarah’s fundraising activities.
Between 2002 and 2004 Mr Higgins also ran an events firm, Elite Sports and Tours Limited, from an address in Islington, North London.
The firm never filed accounts and was struck off the companies register in 2004. On company documents Mr Higgins and a fellow director, an Islington pub landlord, give their occupations as ‘Tour Rep’.
And last month Mr Higgins listed his personal mobile phone number on the Craigslist website selling tickets for the Capital Radio’s Summertime Ball at Wembley Stadium.
Last night Earle said he had not known that his friend had regularly been involved in selling tickets.
He said: ‘This all looks really bad. People will think that I must have known Keith was involved in selling tickets and that I got these tickets for him at the World Cup so he could sell them on.
‘But that is not the case. I clearly have been naive, but he is my friend. I have known him for years. I trusted him. I have received no money for these tickets and have been promised nothing for them.’
Earle was sent home from the World Cup last week, hours after the South African authorities detained a group of 36 models wearing orange mini-dresses at the Holland-Denmark match who were apparently publicising a Dutch lager company.
Stirring up trouble: As a result of tickets registered for Robbie 
Earle being found in the wrong hands, the former professional footballer
 has had his contract terminated by ITV
Stirring up trouble: The ticket scandal has cost Robbie Earle his job at ITV
It is claimed they were sent to the game to circumvent the exclusive stadium advertising deals between FIFA and multinational companies including US beer giant Budweiser.
A criminal case has now been started against two women alleged to have masterminded the stunt.
Earle had his £150,000 contract with ITV torn up after he confirmed his tickets had been sold on. Eindhoven-based firm StarTripper supplied the seats for the marketing stunt.
The firm, which sells package tours to Dutch fans flying to England to watch Premiership games, sold the tickets for nearly £11,000. The Dutch agency last night confirmed that it had sold a total of 80 tickets for two matches obtained from Earle’s ITV allocation.
The firm says that it paid face value for the tickets and sold them for a £2,000 profit.
Earle says that a phone call from ITV head of sport Niall Sloane last Monday lunchtime was the first he heard that his tickets had been sold on and were at the centre of a major police and FIFA investigation.
He said: ‘I had been due to join the rest of the team covering the Ivory Coast versus Portugal game, but Niall Sloane said I was being taken off air while it was sorted out. Over the next three hours I made a lot of calls. I spoke to Keith Higgins and he confirmed he had sold the Dutch tickets and that quite a number of others were also out there – that he had sold them on.
‘I could not believe what was happening. Then Niall Sloane called again. He said my contract was being terminated. I was booked on the 8.30pm flight that night. I didn’t get to say goodbye to the rest of the team. I was in shock. Now I felt like I was leaving by the back door. After nine years I was out. I had spent years earning my good name in football. I was a well-respected pundit. I am on FA committees. I would never have put that at risk trying to earn a bit of money on the side selling tickets. But I trusted my friend. He let me down.’
Friends: Earle and wife Sandra, left, with Keith Higgins and his 
common law wife Mandy Tupper
Friends: Earle and wife Sandra, left, with Keith Higgins and his common law wife Mandy Tupper
Yesterday it was still unclear why ITV did not question why Earle needed so many tickets. The company, along with other broadcasters, including the BBC, which have signed multi-million-pound deals with FIFA to cover the tournament, are offered the right to buy tickets for their staff at face value by the football authorities.
A FIFA spokesman said these tickets were available on a ‘proportional basis’ determined by the size of the broadcaster’s operation in South Africa. But he declined to say how many tickets ITV received..
Last night an ITV spokesman said: ‘Robbie Earle signed an official form acknowledging FIFA’s rules and regulations. He assured us that these tickets were for his friends and family. Without the knowledge, or approval of ITV or FIFA, he breached this agreement, and passed a substantial number to a third party, flagrantly disregarding the undertaking he had made.’
Last night Keith Higgins was not available for comment.
He declined to meet The Mail on Sunday and did not return calls left on his mobile phone or with his solicitor, Sean Poulier.
He was also not available at the £600,000 home of his common law wife Mandy Tupper in Whetstone, North London.

Monday, 7 June 2010

38 years after Bloody Sunday, soldiers face growing fear of murder charges

Last updated at 12:31 AM on 6th June 2010
    Soldiers and officers involved in Bloody Sunday could face prosecution and even murder charges over the events of nearly 40 years ago following the long-awaited verdict of the official inquiry. 
The investigation, launched by then Prime Minister Tony Blair, is due to release its final report after 11 years of hearings and lengthy delays that cost the taxpayer more than £200 million. 
Yesterday, sources in Northern Ireland claimed inquiry chairman Lord Saville’s conclusions would be ‘very bad’ for the Army and lead to files on the actions of soldiers and their officers being referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions. 
Lord Saville
Final report: Lord Saville was asked to lead the inquiry by Tony Blair
Lord Saville has been examining what happen in Londonderry on January 30, 1972 when 14 civilians were shot dead by paratroopers during a banned civil rights march – amid claims that IRA snipers had attacked the troops. 
Mr Blair set up the investigation in January 1998 and it heard its first oral evidence in November 2000, with soldiers allowed to give testimony anonymously because of fears for their safety. 
Its 5,000-page report will be published on June 15. In what became known to Republicans as the Bogside Massacre, 27 protesters were shot by members of the Parachute Regiment, with 13 men, including seven teenagers, killed and another man dying from his wounds four-and-a-half months later. 
Two protesters were injured when they were run down by Army vehicles and many witnesses, including journalists, testified that all those shot were unarmed. Five of the wounded were shot in the back. 
The Northern Ireland sources suggest the inquiry will conclude that some of the killings were unlawful, leading to a legal debate over whether charges can be brought so long after the events. 
An unlawful killing verdict has seemed the most likely outcome after several unlikely witnesses suggested that innocent people had been killed. 
In May 2007, former Army chief General Sir Mike Jackson, who served as a Captain in the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment in Londonderry on the day of the shootings, said he had come to the conclusion that soldiers shot dead innocent people on Bloody Sunday. 
Sir Mike, who also served as the Regiment’s adjutant at the time, did not take part in the shootings but took statements from soldiers who did. 
He told the inquiry: ‘Far from being an attempt to rewrite history, the direction [soldiers’ statements] I received was clearly an attempt to record what had happened. Further, I had been present and had a grasp of events overall. 

'I am sure it would have been clear to me if anyone was not telling the truth.'

'I am sure it would have been clear to me if anyone was not telling me the truth.’ 
Previously Sir Mike had insisted that those shot dead had been involved in IRA activity during the civil rights march. 
The late RUC Chief Superintendent Frank Lagan, who was in charge of policing in the city at the time, said in evidence that he met the then commander of British land forces, General Robert Ford, and the Army’s most senior officer in Londonderry, Brigadier Pat MacLellan, on Bloody Sunday. 
Ch Supt Lagan, who died in 2005, claimed General Ford ‘turned his back’ on him when he attempted to tell him that he had received a message that the marchers would not attempt to confront soldiers. 
And former Army Colonel Tim Collins claimed that a rifle used by soldiers on Bloody Sunday was found during an SAS operation in Sierra Leone. The rifle had been declared ‘destroyed’ by the Ministry of Defence along with 13 of the 29 rifles fired by paratroopers on Bloody Sunday. 
Bloody Sunday
Face off: Soldiers and demonstrators in Londonderry on January 30, 1972, when 14 civilians were shot dead
The Counsel to the Inquiry, Christopher Clarke QC, said it was not known which soldiers had carried out the majority of the fatal shootings. 
He also criticised the Army’s planning in the days before the march, saying it was left to more junior officers by General Ford. Lawyers representing some of the families of those killed have said the evidence to the inquiry suggests some of those involved must be prosecuted. 
Greg McCartney, a solicitor who represents the relatives of victim James Wray, warned that if Lord Saville did not make a finding of unlawful killing, or murder, then the inquiry would be rejected as a whitewash. 
That was the fate of a tribunal conducted immediately after Bloody Sunday by Lord Widgery. 
Last night a Northern Ireland office spokesman said new Secretary of State Owen Paterson had not yet received the final report.

How 'BT Sarah' spies on your Facebook account: secret new software allows BT and other firms to trawl internet looking for disgruntled customers

Last updated at 7:05 PM on 6th June 2010
Lilly Allen: BT was forced to act swiftly after she posted comments online complaining about their service
Some of Britain’s biggest firms were last night accused of ‘spying’ on their customers after they admitted ‘listening in’ on disgruntled conversations on the internet.
The companies include BT, which uses specially developed software to scan for negative comments about it on websites including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Budget airline easyJet, mobile-phone retailer Carphone Warehouse and banks including Lloyds TSB are also monitoring social networking sites to see what is being said about them.
The firms claim there is nothing sinister about the practice, with BT insisting it is merely acting as ‘a fly on the wall’ to ‘listen and engage with our customers’.
But privacy campaigners have accused them of ‘outright spying’ while legal experts have suggested that firms making unsolicited approaches to customers could fall foul of data protection laws.
There are also fears the technique could be used to inundate customers with sales pitches and advertising,  or be used by political parties.
Research published last year found that a negative review or comment by a frustrated customer on the internet can lose companies as many as 30 other customers.
A negative comment from a celebrity can be even more damaging. Earlier this year, BT was forced to act quickly after singer Lily Allen wrote on her Twitter page: 
‘Anyone know who the CEO of BT is? I’d find out myself but my internet connection is so bad I can’t even Google. Such bad service, awful.’
BT is using software called Debatescape, which trawls social networking sites for keywords to identify anyone making negative comments about the company. Angry customers are then contacted by email suggesting ways BT can help to solve the problem.
The move comes as many of BT’s customers turn to the web to air their complaints because of the difficulties in getting through to its call centres. 
Ironically, many of the comments on BT’s own Twitter page are written by those complaining they are not able to reach service staff.
Managers overseeing BT’s social networking operation claim ‘most of the feedback we get is positive – customers like it when we pick up on their BT-related issues without them asking directly’.
Lily Allen's angry Twitter post
However, one disgruntled customer said he was stunned to be approached by the firm after he posted angry comments on his personal Facebook page.
The BT business customer, who has asked not be named, wrote that he thought ‘BT are just a bunch of unaccountable, business shafting, useless b*******’.
Within hours he had been contacted by someone calling themselves ‘BT Sarah’, saying: ‘I saw your post about having problems with your BT services. Is there anything I can do to help?’
The customer, who runs an online business, said: ‘I did not expect what I was saying to my friends to be seen. I have since changed my privacy settings so only my friends can access my page. What happened was quite Big Brotherish and sinister.’
It comes just two years after BT was involved in another internet privacy storm over its installation of software called Phorm, which delivers targeted advertising to internet customers. The Information Commissioner’s Office and the European Commission both voiced legal concerns about the system.
But Warren Buckley, BT’s managing director of customer services, defended the practice, saying the system has been used to help around 30,000 people.
‘The key is we are only looking at what people are talking about in public spaces,’ he said. ‘We are not picking up anything private. These are all discussions that can be seen by anyone on the web.
Listening in: Some angry BT customers, unable to get through to its call centres, are turning to the internet to post disgruntled messages
‘I would liken it to someone having a conversation in a pub – it’s just a very big pub. We can’t stop people saying negative things about us. What we can do is identify them and offer to address those concerns.
‘Many people we contact in this way are wowed by it. And for us it is another way to listen to what our customers are saying and to reach out to them.’
A spokesman for easyJet, which uses the internet for 97 per cent of its ticket sales, said using Twitter and Facebook was a natural extension of its online presence.
‘The initial reaction of some is that it is a bit like Big Brother watching them,’ he added. ‘They can be quite upset. But when they realise we are trying to help they are quite surprised and positive.’
A spokesman for Carphone Warehouse said: ‘We can often use this to turn a negative situation into a positive one. People complaining on the internet do it in an instant.
‘They are frustrated and use it to vent that anger. When we identify them we can often offer a solution. People we speak to are often blown away that Carphone Warehouse is listening and are overwhelmingly positive about it.’
There are continuing concerns over the level of protection given to people’s information on Facebook.
The firm came under fire last year after it introduced changes to its default privacy settings which allowed people’s personal details to be viewed by anyone from internet search engines like Google.
BT comments
Warren Buckley, BT's managing director of customer services, defended the practice, saying the system has been used to help around 30,000 people
Simon Davies, director of human rights group Privacy International, said: ‘People venting to their friends do not suddenly expect the object of their anger to be listening in and then to butt in on their conversations. This is nothing short of outright spying.
‘The firms liken this to listening to a conversation in the pub. But it is more like listening at someone’s door with a very large glass. It may not be illegal but it is morally wrong.  And it is unlikely to stop there. If the regulators decide there is nothing wrong then political parties are sure to use it, along with lobbyists and firms trying to sell us things. ’
Dr Yaman Akdeniz, a legal expert and director of online privacy group Cyber-Rights, also warned that many of the firms could be breaking data protection laws.
‘Just because I am on Facebook or Twitter does not give BT or any other company the right to contact me unsolicited,’ he said. ‘These may be public conversations but firms should not be contacting users without their consent. 
'People should refuse to speak to those companies and register a complaint with the Information Commissioner.’
Liberal Democrat MP Alan Reid called for an investigation.
‘This may well be within the law, but I don’t think I would be very pleased if a firm suddenly contacted me out of the blue after I said something on the internet,’ he added.’

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Google Street View secretly took your wi-fi details... and will use the data to target ads at mobile phones

By Jason Lewis, Mail on Sunday Security Editor
Last updated at 10:23 PM on 29th May 2010
Google is facing renewed privacy concerns after it secretly mapped every single wireless internet connection in Britain – including those in millions of homes – to help it sell advertising and other services.
The move was part of the search engine’s controversial Street View project, which drew widespread criticism after it photographed people’s houses and published the images on the internet.
Now it has been revealed that the firm had failed to disclose that it was simultaneously building a massive database of individual home wi-fi networks across the UK and in other countries.
As Google’s distinctive fleet of cars, fitted with roof-mounted cameras, cruised Britain’s streets over the past three years photographing every house and public building, antennae inside were also pinpointing the wi-fi hotspots.

There were earlier reports that Google had admitted accidentally collecting some emails from ‘open’ wireless networks. But The Mail on Sunday today reveals how – and why – the company has collected details of all wi-fis, even those protected by security.

Last night the firm, one of the world’s most powerful companies and worth £28billion, admitted that it should have been ‘more transparent’ about the full extent of the project and pledged to stop mapping any new personal wireless networks in future.
But it said it would not delete the information it had already obtained from the Street View project which now covers almost every road in Britain.
Personal wireless equipment – known as a router – allows people to access the internet from anywhere in their homes without plugging laptops and other devices into a telephone point.
However, the broadcast signal is not confined by the walls of a property and its footprint will often spill into neighbouring buildings and the street outside.
Internet providers encourage people to set up passwords to prevent anyone from using their web connection without their knowledge or potentially gaining access to personal information held on their computers.
But, even with a password in place, Google was able, without alerting anyone in advance or seeking any permission, to log the locations of all these wi-fi networks noting their names, called SSIDs, and the unique MAC, or Media Access Control, address of people’s personal equipment.
There are fears – dismissed as ‘conspiracy theories’ by Google officials – that personal information, together with the precise location of specific computer devices mapped by the firm, could be cross-referenced to track individuals’ internet use for commercial reasons.
The internet giant, which made profits of £4.5billion last year, says it is now using the data it gathered to offer location-based commercial services and advertising to mobile phone users and people with other portable devices, including Apple’s much-hyped iPad.
google street view
Watch out, Google's about: Street View swivels around Parliament Square looking towards Big Ben from every possible viewpoint
Software and phone ‘applications’ can pinpoint exactly where a mobile or computer device is by triangulating its position with the nearest wireless hot spots either at businesses or private addresses.
Google’s Mobile App, for example, allows users to link directly to restaurants and shops, find cinemas and theatres and hotels in their area and even to track the precise location of their friends and display information on their recent movements.
The search engine makes money by selling advertising attached to its internet maps and other content on its site, and also charges business when customers ‘click through’ to their websites to book a table or reserve a hotel room.
Using the wi-fi hotspot locations means Google can pinpoint users more precisely and more cheaply than using mobile phone masts or global positioning satellites.
According to its website, Google advertisers can ‘connect with the right customer at the right moment, wherever they are’.
It adds: ‘Is your customer just around the corner from you? Mobile users’ locations can be pinpointed with metre-level accuracy. Advertisers can easily target or tailor your message according to location and automatically show your customer relevant local store information, like phone numbers and addresses, to enable them to take immediate action.’
The concern about Google’s new system has also raised questions about other less well-known firms who have been quietly building up their own database.
One, Skyhook, says it has collected its information by ‘deploying drivers to survey every single street, highway, and alley in tens of thousands of cities and towns worldwide, scanning for wi-fi access points and cell towers plotting their precise geographic locations’.
There are also fears about possible future uses of the information, which could include users being targeted by unsolicited local advertising sent to them automatically as they walk or drive down a specific street.
For example, an automatic message paid for by a multinational coffee shop chain could be sent saying: ‘Feeling thirsty? You’re just 100 yards from our nearest coffee shop.’
Details of this secret side of the Street View project emerged this month after German regulators demanded details of the data Google was collecting on its citizens as it mapped the country for its version of Street View.
google street view
A Google street-mapping car in Bristol: Antennae inside were also pinpointing residential wi-fi hotspots
It was only then that the California-based multinational revealed that it was mapping people’s wi-fi networks and in some cases had inadvertently downloaded people’s personal information, including emails and web browsing history.
The German regulator, and also the Information Commissioner’s Office in Britain, have now ordered Google to delete this personal data.
And the firm is also facing a series of court cases in America over the issue, with one lawyer, Robert Carp, who is representing a Massachusetts internet firm, saying that the secret data collection was ‘nothing more than a further attempt to enhance their advertising capabilities’.
He added: ‘Whether information that is sent over someone’s private network is encrypted or not, no one has a right to access it, decode it, and use it for any purpose.’
US privacy campaigners are urging the country’s Federal Communications Commission to investigate Google for ‘wiretap’ offences for what they say amounts to illegally intercepting people’s personal communications.
Last night, British privacy campaigners were urging the Information Commissioner’s Office and Government to intervene.
Human rights group Privacy International said Google was trying to put a spin on the story as being about its mistake in capturing of fragments of people’s emails and internet searches, saying it was ‘sorry’ and would delete it.
A spokesman for the campaign group said: ‘We are deeply unsettled by Google’s assertion that this situation was caused by a mere “mistake” brought about by accidental use of inappropriate code developed for sniffing the content of wi-fi networks. This explanation to us seems entirely implausible.
‘Only a full-scale audit will help uncover the facts. This is a disappointing chapter in Google’s history.’
The group said Google should delete the ‘intrusive’ information it had mapped on people’s personal computer network.
The spokesman added: ‘This is a very serious matter and regulators need to place limits on the use of this private identification without consent.
‘The ghost of Street View continues to haunt Google.
‘We think it will historically be viewed as a horrendous breach of law and something which a better regulator with a better understanding of the issues and the technology would never have allowed to happen.
'There should be a parliamentary inquiry which should question Google and finally get it to explain what it is up to both technically and commercially.
‘The idea that it can log everyone’s wi-fi details because it is all “public” is a bogus argument. It is bogus because of the question of scale and the question of integration with other information which would amount to a huge breach of our privacy.
'The regulator, the ICO, is equally to blame for this mess as it has totally failed to grasp the implications of what Google has been doing.’
Last night, Google acknowledged that it should have been more open about what it was doing, but was unrepentant about its decision to build the database of home internet connections for its commercial use.
Peter Barron, the ex-BBC Newsnight editor who is now head of Google’s corporate affairs department in Britain, said: ‘We collect wi-fi network information to improve location-based services like Google Maps.
'For example, people can identify their approximate location based on the wi-fi access points which are visible to their mobile device.
‘Many other companies have been collecting data like this for as long as, if not longer than, Google. We don’t collect any information about householders, we can’t identify an individual from the location data Google collects via its Street View cars, and we don’t publish this information.
'This is publicly broadcast information which is accessible to anyone with a wi-fi-enabled device, but we accept in hindsight it would have been better to be more transparent about what we collect.’
Asked why Google had failed to announce its decision to map people’s home networks, he added: ‘Given that this information is accessible to any wi-fi-enabled device, we didn’t think it was necessary.’
He promised that Google would never use the information gathered for any other purpose and added that it was not technically possible to use the details to trace individual internet users and their searches on the Google network with the data they had gathered. He added: ‘We make privacy a priority because our business depends on it.’
Despite Google’s failure to alert British authorities to the massive project, the Information Commissioner’s Office said it was merely watching the situation closely.
A spokesman for the ICO, which is already facing criticism for not investigating the computer firm in more detail over its capture of people’s emails and other personal information, said: ‘We are aware that the collection of information by Google Street View cars has raised a number of issues which we are considering.
‘All organisations that process personal information must comply with the requirements of the Data Protection Act.
‘Organisations are only permitted to collect data for a specific purpose. Similarly, organisations must only retain data for as long as necessary.
‘If we find evidence of significant wrongdoing, we will of course investigate and consider what action should be taken.’

Oligarch friend of Mandelson faces cash launder quiz

By Jason Lewis
Last updated at 9:54 AM on 30th May 2010

Oleg Deripaska
In the wash: Mandy's yacht buddy Oleg Deripaska has been questioned in a Russian mafia money laundering case
Peter Mandelson’s controversial friend Oleg Deripaska is being treated as a formal suspect in a money-laundering case linked to the Russian mafia.
The Russian oligarch, who has entertained Lord Mandelson and Chancellor George Osborne on his luxury yacht, has been warned that he is a suspect at meetings with Spanish prosecutors in Moscow.
They questioned the billionaire about his alleged involvement in laundering £4.5million used to buy Spanish property via companies he controlled.
During taped testimony, Mr Deripaska, the chairman of the world’s biggest aluminium company, Rusal, reportedly admitted having contacts with the Russian mafia, saying he was forced to pay them protection money.
But he denied any involvement in criminal activity.
The Spanish state prosecutor’s office has confirmed to The Mail on Sunday that Mr Deripaska was interrogated as a suspected money launderer by an investigating judge from the country’s National Criminal Court earlier this month.
The interview was conducted in Moscow and the oligarch was cautioned by Judge Fernando Andreu that he was being interrogated as what in Spanish is known as an ‘imputado’.
The term is used when there are indications that a person has possibly committed a criminal offence. Such a person has the right to refuse to answer questions and the interrogation by the judge has to be conducted in the presence of a lawyer representing the person being questioned.
Fernando Noya, a spokesman for Jose Grinda, the state prosecutor who attended the hearing in Moscow, confirmed: ‘Mr Deripaska was interrogated as an imputado for suspected laundering of capital in Spain and elsewhere and criminal association..
It is unclear how Mr Deripaska reacted to the allegation. Last night he issued a statement through his London spokesman. It read: ‘Mr Deripaska was happy to answer the questions of the Spanish legal authorities during their visit to Moscow to assist in their investigation.‘Mr Deripaska intends to observe the confidential nature of the discussions and has no intention of making further comment other than to reiterate that has had no involvement whatsoever in the activities that are the subject of the Spanish investigation.’
Court orders signed by the Spanish judge show that the investigation has requested thousands of pages of evidence compiled for a case involving Mr Deripaska in the High Court in London.
In that case, Michael Cherney is suing Mr Deripaska for enforcement of contracts they signed in March 2001. Mr Cherney claims he is owed a 13 per cent stake in Rusal.
In the British court Mr Deripaska has denied that he was Cherney’s partner, or that he owes him shares or money.
The Spanish court has claimed that Mr Cherney is one of Mr Deripaska’s partners and an alleged co-conspirator.
Lord Mandelson, the former Business Secretary, has met Mr Deripaska on at least five separate occasions, staying on his luxury yacht in Corfu.
The case will also reignite questions over Mr Deripaska’s links to Mr Osborne, who was forced to deny asking him for a donation to the Tory Party.