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Minister proposes privacy mediation service and good-privacy kitemark

A UK Government minister has proposed the creation of a mediation service for people who think their right to privacy has been violated on the internet. The mediation could result in the removal of material, Ed Vaizey said.

Vaizey is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, and told a House of Commons debate that there should be a mediation service for content to match the Nominet-run service run to resolve domain name disputes.

"Nominet, the charity that is responsible for internet domain names, runs an extremely effective mediation service, so that people who are disputing the ownership of an internet domain name may be involved in a low-cost process to discuss how to resolve that dispute," he said.

"It is certainly worth the Government brokering a conversation with the internet industry about setting up a mediation service for consumers who have legitimate concerns that their privacy has been breached or that online information about them is inaccurate or constitutes a gross invasion of their privacy to discuss whether there is any way to remove access to that information," said Vaizey.

"I am sure that many internet companies will say that that is almost impossible, but when one hears stories such as that told by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North, one wants at least to attempt to give consumers some opportunity to have a dialogue with internet companies, as they would be able to do if a newspaper had inadvertently published that information," he said.

The MP for Milton Keynes North, Mark Lancaster, had told the debate that a women's refuge whose location had previously been kept secret has had that location revealed on Google's Street View service.

"Imagine [users'] great concern when, on entering the name of the organisation in Google, they see a picture of the building the refuge uses and its address appears on the search engine," said Lancaster. "Having requested that Google take down the image and the address, the refuge received no response. It is staggering that the privacy of an organisation whose purpose it is to protect others is allowed be invaded in that way."

"I was struck by the comment from my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North about the women's refuge centre," said Vaizey. "That organisation had not deliberately put the information online; it was simply the vehicle on which the information was available. There may be all sorts of reasons why it was difficult to take that information down. It may be that having taken it down, the address simply popped up again elsewhere, but the fact that no meeting or dialogue could take place worries me greatly. I suspect that most hon. Members in the Chamber have had conversations with constituents who have seen information about them online and have simply not known where to turn."

Nominet operates a mediation service that helps many parties disputing the ownership of a domain name to settle cases. There is no fee for the mediation service but the mediator cannot order the transfer of a domain name. If agreement is not reached at mediation, a complainant can pay a fee of £750 plus VAT to refer the case to an expert for a decision, which can result in a name being transferred.  More complex cases may still go to court.

Nominet's mediations rely on facts being provided by the companies involved. It is unclear whether disputes about privacy invasion or the accuracy of statements posted online would be capable of resolution in such a way.

The debate did not take place in a main Parliamentary session. It was an 'adjournment debate', a new kind of Parliamentary debate designed to allow MPs to discuss the kind of local issues or those of personal interest which are often not given time in main Parliamentary business.

Vaizey made another proposal in the debate, which was related to the Personal Information Online Code of Practice (23-page / 435KB PDF) produced by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

He said that the code should be more widely used and more widely adopted, and that companies should display a mark to indicate that they abide by it.

"I want to ... see businesses signing up openly to the ICO's code of practice to demonstrate to their users that their services adhere to the highest standards," said Vaizey. "If an internet company signs up to the code of practice and adheres to it, I think that that information should be clearly displayed on their home page for the reassurance of consumers. Indeed, a link to that code of practice might be provided – not necessarily 36 pages of dense text, but an easy-to-read summary that aids the consumer in understanding privacy implications."

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