Monday, 23 August 2010

Too secure for its own good

The BlackBerry (BB) is under fire. Security issues have prompted countries around the world to consider taking measures that will limit the use of the smartphone.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced in early August that, as from 11 October, BB users in the UAE will no longer be able to check their email, browse the internet or use instant messaging services. Saudi-Arabia (SA) had announced to do the same, although it has, for now, withdrawn a ban. Indonesia said on 4 August it is considering following the UAE’s move and India has indicated it might do the same. On 11 August, the German Interior Minister revealed that the German IT security agency has advised German Government officials not to use the BB any longer.

The reasoning behind this is that BB data is encrypted and routed overseas, sent through servers in Canada, where the BB manufacturer Research In Motion (RIM) is based. Since users need a national telecom provider in their country to access the RIM server, the UAE has banned its national operators to offer BB online services. 

The BB is much more secure than other phones, since it makes messages far harder to monitor than those sent through domestic servers that authorities can tap into. So its excellent security features have actually become a security issue for a number of governments, for different reasons. The UAE wants a local BB server and data sharing deal so it can monitor its citizens’ messaging traffic, something RIM has – so far – refused. The German Government is uneasy about all its data passing through the RIM centre in Canada. India thinks terrorists use the BB because Indian security services cannot intercept the messages.

The matter has exposed the increasingly cross-border character of online technology. If the controller of a server or website does not wish to share its users’ data, governments hardly have any other possibilities than an outright ban.

RIM now faces the choice to switch to national servers, which governments can tap and which keep data in the home territory, or to hold on to its encrypted messaging server system through Canada, and potentially lose a lot of business.

If, for example, SA imposes a BB internet ban after all, it is expected millions of Saudis will switch to phones that do offer online services. As a result BB sales will drop and with more than 45 million BB users in SA alone, that is not something RIM is looking forward to.

Published in the August issue of E-Commerce Law & Policy Magazine. Copyrights apply.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Tag me if you dare

In July, the social networking website Facebook celebrated the milestone figure of 500 million users, meaning that one in 12 people in the world have a Facebook account. For many people, Facebook has become a part of their daily life and the website’s growing importance has raised legal issues.

Although Facebook often escapes liability thanks to its Terms of Use (posts should not be ‘threatening, unlawful, defamatory, infringing or abusive’), the website has become a fertile ground for legal claims. Users against users. Apart from the ongoing discussion about its Terms of Use and privacy settings, one case in particular deserves attention.  

The High Court of England and Wales awarded, on 27 July, £10,000 in libel damages to Raymond Bryce. Bryce took offence when a former friend posted an image of child sex abuse on Bryce’s Facebook page with the comment ‘Ray, you like kids’. Although the picture was removed within 24 hours, the image was ‘tagged’ (linked) to Bryce’s and 11 other profiles, allowing thousands of ‘friends’ to see the picture for hours after it had been posted.

Dr Ian Brown, from the Oxford Internet Institute, said: “This is worse in some ways than putting offensive posters on lamp posts because it’s going directly to your friends or colleagues. It is almost impossible not to see it”.

The case comes a year after the High Court awarded £22,000 to a businessman whose personal details were made public in a fake Facebook profile, created by a former friend. Although cases like these are still relatively rare - and it is not easy to build a libel case - the rulings emphasise that what is posted online has consequences. There is a very fine line between libeling someone and just poking fun at a friend or colleague, when innocent banter turns into libellous smear. Jeremy Clarke-Williams, Partner at Russell, Jones and Walker, said: “What a lot of people do not realise, users of Facebook and other social networking sites can be just as much subject to the laws of libel as other media outlets if the information, as in this case, is published online for third parties to view”.

However, even if someone has been subject to defamation, suing is not always the best option, according to Louise Fullwood, Legal Director at Pinsent Masons: “Going so far as to sue may be counterproductive in both drawing more attention to the comments made and often provoking ill-feeling and further actions”.

Published previously in the July issue of E-Commerce Law Reports, London 2010 - (c) 2010 CP Publishing

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The 'other' side of London

1200 pictures of the 'other' side of London, the ugly side that is. And since the city is so big, we divided the vast amount of images in different categories. Explore the city of Britan's capital you never saw before, from Bermondsey to Waterloo, and from Harrow to Lewisham, the decline cannot be avoided. The pictures were taken by Paul Talling (c) 2010.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Oman to equip ID card with electronic payment features

The Sultanate of Oman is going to link e-payment options to national ID Cards, the Oman Information Technology Authority (ITA) has announced. 

Under the 'e-Purse system', introduced last year to promote cashless and electronic payments in the Sultanate, ID cards will be equipped with payment features using an embedded application in the Smart chip on the ID card. According to Muhanna Moosa Baqer, ITA’s e-Payments Manager, “ID cards can soon be used for paying fees, driving licences, shopping, phone subscriptions, visa applications, parking and tollgate fees”. 

“[Oman] puts a contactless e-purse on the national ID card as a way to kick-start the shift to cashless environments”, said David Birch, Director of Consult Hyperion. “As well as providing an alternative to debit and credit cards, it will help government departments to collect their payments.” The e-Purse system was introduced in May 2009. The first phase of this national e-wallet system began in July last year, allowing Omani citizens and residents to upload and store money on their national ID cards, in order to pay government and police bills. In the next few months, the system will be rolled out further.  ITA stated that all major banks in Oman are participating so retailers will be able to collect payments via the ID card. “This is a prime example of how government agencies and private institutions can partner to improve services to the public”, said Bruce Palmer, Managing Partner of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost’s Muscat office. Abdullah Al Kalbani, Captain of the Royal Oman Police, said: “Since it is mandatory for every adult resident in Oman to have a national ID card this will help those citizens in Oman who have no bank accounts, who do not carry debit or credit cards”. 

Mr Kevin Wong, General Manager of Astute Pte Ltd, the Singaporean company that is behind the development of the new Omani ID card, said: “The company is in discussions with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan for a similar service”.  

“The future of payments is the future of identity”, adds David Birch. “One could envisage, whether you think it is a good idea or not, a simple universal payment scheme that is linked to a single universal identity, a kind of galactic PayPal in which everyone participates.”

Michiel Willems (c) 2010 - Published earlier in E-Finance & Payments Law & Policy, July 2010 issue. London, UK