Government pushes for data deletion system

Image caption,
The mediation service could see disputed data removed from the web

Britons keen to remove inaccurate information held about them online could soon turn to a mediation service set up to deal with data disputes.

The idea for the service was floated by business minister Ed Vaizey during a debate on the net and privacy.

He said the service would be an easy way for citizens to change data that is wrong or invades their privacy.

The UK's ISPs were wary about the idea, the burden it could place on them and how effective it would actually be.

Disputed data

In a Commons debate at the end of October, Mr Vaizey mentioned the case of a women's refuge that was pictured on Google's Street View. Pleas to get the information removed proved futile, said Mr Vaizey, and those running the refuge were frustrated by their inability to make their concerns heard.

Mr Vaizey said: "the fact that no meeting or dialogue could take place worries me greatly".

As a solution he cited the example of the UK's net registry Nominet which runs an informal mediation service to resolve disputes about ownership of .uk domains. Such a system might work, he suggested, for disputed web content.

"We are keen to explore ideas for how we can work together with industry to improve the customer experience around complaints and problems with service as well as other on-line issues, including a mediation service," said a spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

"Ed Vaizey will write to Internet Service Providers and other key players to set up a meeting to explore various options," said the spokesman.

The UK's Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) was wary about the proposal saying that there were already many routes available to people wanting to complain about data online.

In particular, said a spokesman, UK ISPs have a system of "notice and takedown" in operation which means that when net firms are informed about illegal content they act quickly to remove it.

Also, said the spokesman, many ISPs operate acceptable use policies that place limits on what people can put online and what they can say. Those breaching these policies or other terms of use could see the data they post online removed.

"ISPA is concerned about the potential for any additional burden on ISPs and questions, for example, how a mediation service would work with content hosted outside the UK," said the spokesman.

"ISPA will be talking to Government about the work that ISPs already do in this area and commenting in more detail when further information is announced."

Jim Killock, chair of the Open Rights Group which campaigns on digital liberties issues, said the idea needed a re-think.

"What we need to hear is that the government is committed to strong data protection rules, rather than suggesting off the cuff ideas," said Mr Killock.

"The UK is still being taken to court by the EU for lack of proper privacy protections," he said. "We will be asking Ed Vaizey if he will take action to bring the UK up to the data protection standards we deserve."

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