Current Affairs Minister’s web monitoring tool off to rocky start
The Human Rights Minister, Michael Kocáb, has just unveiled a tool for internet users to report illegal material on the internet. In the four days it has been in operation though, the Red Button, as it’s called, may itself have come afoul of the law, reporting also its users’ personal data.
The Human Rights Minister’s Red Button is not apparently lacking in popularity; it has been downloaded 5,000 times since it was released for a public trial period on Tuesday. The idea is, you come across something worrisome on the internet – child pornography or extremism for example - you anonymously push the button on your browser, and the police are notified and check it out. What happened in practice though was that the button was sending not only the site in question but your recent browsing history as well, it was going not to the police but to a private company which checked it for the police, and it was not entirely anonymous, as Hana Štěpánková of the Office for the Protection of Personal Data told me earlier today:
“The office has received complaints suspecting a violation of the Act on the Protection of Personal Data, and it also received a request from the provider for consultation. We will deal will all of these and make an inspection if there is a serious breach of the law. We cannot make any conclusions before that. What we can say outright is the provider is wrong in claiming that an Internet Protocol, or IP, address, is not personal data. Under certain circumstances an IP address does indeed constitute personal data.”
The National Safer Internet Project, the group running the project for the Minister of Human Rights and Minorities, was quick in its efforts to rectify the situation. The history sending was removed and apologised for. The IP addresses will have to be looked at more, as they can allow the reporting computer to be looked up and its user identified. However, as the project’s Zdeněk Záliš told me, there is no intention to do that, nor is there really a way around it.
“All communication on the internet is of course carried out using internet protocols. The Red Button application communicates with our servers, and at that moment the IP address is available. The question has been whether the IP address is in someway recorded or could be used - or is being used - to identify the person making the report. But we haven’t done that, and we don’t work with the IP addresses.”
It’s likely that the question marks over the Red Button would go more unnoticed if it were not for the involvement of Human Rights Minister Michael Kocáb, who has a conspicuous ratio of controversies to good deeds. Efforts to relocate squatters and opine on a dispute between a hard-nosed mayor and the local Romany community have for example ended in small-scale PR disasters. Mr Záliš says that where the Red Button is concerned though the hiccups are part of a learning process in a safety tool that is already proving it’s worth.
“There has been a huge discussion about this on the Czech internet; I think that discussion has contributed very well to explaining what data privacy is, what private data is, etc. And of course we are learning and we are studying all of those responses, and we will work on improvements. But the main idea was to make it more efficient for users to report illegal content. And we will follow up on and improve this basic idea. A few days after Red Button was introduced we got a lot of reports, we analysed the reports, and we now have more than ten that have been deemed serious and will be passed on to the police.”