This week’s Techlaw News Round-Up

March 20, 2020

NCSC issues guidance on homeworking

The National Cyber Security Centre has issued guidance on homeworking in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. It states that as part of managing the coronavirus situation, many organisations will be encouraging more of their staff to work from home. This presents new cyber security challenges that must be managed.  In addition, cyber criminals are preying on fears of the coronavirus and sending ‘phishing’ emails that try and trick users into clicking on a link to a bad website (which could download malware onto their computer or steal passwords). The guidance recommends steps to take if an organisation is introducing (or scaling up the amount of) home working; and provides some tips on how individuals can spot the typical signs of phishing emails.

EDPB Chair issues statement about the processing of personal data in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak

The European Data Protection Board Chair has issued a statement about processing personal data in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak. Governments, public and private organisations throughout Europe are taking measures to contain and mitigate COVID-19. This can involve the processing of different types of personal data. Data protection rules do not hinder measures taken in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. However, the statement points out that even in these exceptional times, the data controller must ensure the protection of the personal data of the data subjects. Therefore, a number of considerations should be taken into account to guarantee the lawful processing of personal data. The GDPR provides for the legal grounds to enable the employers and public health authorities to process personal data in the context of epidemics, without needing the data subject’s consent. This applies for instance when the processing of personal data is necessary for the employers for public interest reasons in the area of public health or to protect vital interests (Articles 6 and 9 of the GDPR) or to comply with another legal obligation. To process electronic communication data, such as mobile location data, additional rules apply. The national laws implementing the ePrivacy Directive provide for the principle that the location data can only be used by the operator when they are made anonymous, or with the consent of the individuals. Public authorities should first aim to process location data anonymously. If this is not possible, Art. 15 of the ePrivacy Directive enables member states to introduce legislative measures pursuing national security and public security. This emergency legislation is possible under the condition that it constitutes a necessary, appropriate and proportionate measure within a democratic society. If such measures are introduced, a member state is obliged to put in place adequate safeguards, such as granting individuals the right to judicial remedy.

Environmental Audit Committee relaunches inquiry into Electronic Waste and the Circular Economy

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Select Committee has re-launched an inquiry into Electronic Waste and the Circular Economy. It will explore how the UK could reduce its environmental impact, create economic opportunities and maintain access to critical materials by better managing and minimising its e-waste. Evidence submitted to the inquiry in the previous Parliament will be carried forward, but the Committee welcomes any additional written evidence in relation to implementing a circular economy for electronic goods and the UK’s electronic waste sector. The inquiry is open until 30 April 2020.

Law Commissions issue proposals on electoral law

The Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission have issued joint proposals on electoral law. Electoral law in the UK has become increasingly complex and fragmented, and difficult to use. The reforms, if enacted, aim to reduce the confusion around the electoral process and introduce a range of improvements to ensure that elections are fit for purpose. The Law Commissions are making a series of recommendations to improve the effectiveness of electoral law including rationalising existing law into a single, consistent legislative framework, introducing reforms to online campaign material and updating the conditions required for suspending a poll. A key proposal is the introduction of digital imprints for online campaign material, including for social media advertisements. This would include who has paid for the advert, as is the case for leaflets and traditional advertisements. The Law Commissions have given the report and recommendations to the Cabinet Office and the Scottish Ministers, who will provide an interim response in due course. 

Ofcom finalises rules for mobile airwaves auction

Ofcom has confirmed its plans to release airwaves to help improve mobile broadband and support the rollout of 5G through an auction. This aims to increase the total amount of airwaves available for mobile in the UK by 18%. The auction will involve companies bidding for spectrum in two different frequency bands, the 700 MHz band and the 3.6-3.8 GHz band. Ofcom is releasing 120 MHz of spectrum in 3.6-3.8 GHz band. The auction will involve two stages: principal stage where companies first bid for airwaves in separate ‘lots’ to determine how much spectrum each company wins; and assignment stage. There is then a round of bidding to determine the specific frequencies that winning bidders will be allocated. Alongside Ofcom’s decisions on how the auction will work, Ofcom has finalised the auction regulations. Once the regulations have been made and come into force, Ofcom will invite applications from potential bidders for the auction. It will assess all applications, before publishing details of who has qualified to take part and when the principal stage will begin.

Ofcom consults further on protecting participants in TV and radio programmes

In 2019, Ofcom published an initial consultation which proposed two new rules for Section Two of the Broadcasting Code to require broadcasters to ensure they take ‘due care’ of people participating in television and radio programmes. Ofcom’s work in this area recognises the growing concern in society about mental health and wellbeing, and the increase in complaints made to Ofcom about the welfare of people who take part in programmes. Ofcom is now seeking feedback on some revisions to its approach. The majority of respondents expressed strong support for the introduction of protections for participants in programmes. Respondents also highlighted various concerns, in particular around the definition of a ‘participant’ and the range of programmes to which the new proposals would apply.  The revised consultation ends on 14 April 2020.

Ofcom publishes information on measuring compliance with the Shared Rural Network mobile coverage commitments

Ofcom has published details of how it will assess mobile companies’ compliance with the coverage commitments in the Shared Rural Network agreement between the UK government and the mobile network operators. On 9 March, the government announced it had reached agreement with the mobile network operators to develop the Shared Rural Network. This will involve each of the operators delivering good 4G coverage to 88% of the landmass by 2024, and 90% of the UK’s landmass by 2026. Ofcom has also varied the spectrum licences held by the four mobile network operators in the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands to give effect to the coverage commitments.

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