UK privacy watchdog ends WhatsApp probe after compliance pledge

File photo showing a facebook at a conference in Brussels, Belgium Jan 23, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 14 March 2018
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UK privacy watchdog ends WhatsApp probe after compliance pledge

LONDON: Britain’s privacy watchdog said it had dropped an investigation into WhatsApp after the messaging service signed an undertaking not to share the personal data of users with its owner Facebook.
The decision by Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham means WhatsApp, which has 1.5 billion monthly users, will not be fined and that any future sharing of user data would be governed by European privacy rules that enter into force in May.
“I am pleased to state that WhatsApp has now signed an ‘undertaking’ wherein they have given a public commitment not to share personal data with Facebook,” Denham said in a blog post on Wednesday.
The decision marks an important resolution for Facebook, the world’s biggest social network, which is under fire in the United States over the propagation of so-called ‘fake news’ during campaigning for the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook is also under scrutiny over its handling of user data to target online advertising — a business that it, together with Google, has come to dominate globally.

The UK privacy authority opened its probe in Aug. 2016 after WhatsApp, which Facebook bought for $19 billion in 2014, updated its privacy policies to say that it would share information with the Facebook ‘family’ of companies.
The reasons given were to help to improve services, fight spam and improve user experiences — including making product suggestions and showing relevant offers and advertisements.
At the time, data protection officials expressed concern that users of WhatsApp were not being fully informed about how their data was being used nor their consent sought.
Similar investigations are under way in Germany where the country’s main anti-trust office, the Federal Cartel Office, has found that Facebook abused its dominant position in its handling of user data — including from its online properties WhatsApp and Instagram.
France’s data privacy watchdog said in December that it might fine WhatsApp if it does not comply with an order to bring its sharing of user data with Facebook into line with French privacy law.
Denham said that she had been assured by WhatsApp that no data had been shared with Facebook other than as a data processor — in line with a pledge that was given after the UK probe was opened.
“WhatsApp cares deeply about the privacy of our users. We collect very little data and every message is end-to-end encrypted,” said a WhatsApp spokesperson in response to the UK decision.
“As we’ve repeatedly made clear for the last year we are not sharing data in the ways that the UK Information Commissioner has said she is concerned about anywhere in Europe.”


How new criminal laws threaten Nepal journalism

A Nepalese roadside vendor reads the news in Kathmandu, Nepal, Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. (AP)
Updated 24 September 2018
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How new criminal laws threaten Nepal journalism

  • The codes prohibit publishing private information, including of officials, ban recording without permission and require photographers to obtain permits in order to take pictures and sell and publish them

KATMANDU, Nepal: Journalists in Nepal are demanding changes to new criminal and civil codes they say undermine freedom of speech and expression.
The laws that took effect last month are general codes of conduct that apply to all citizens of Nepal, but press freedom groups say harsher sentences for libel and privacy violations are having a chilling effect on journalists in the small Himalayan country. Here are some details:
WHY THE NEW LAWS CAME ABOUT
Nepal’s new civil and criminal codes are the result of a new constitution adopted in 2015. Nepalese lawmakers had three years to design a set of laws that prescribe how the constitution should be interpreted. The codes cover everything from stipulating the legal age of marriage to enshrining property rights and describe how each civil violation or crime can be punished.
WHY THEY ARE CONTROVERSIAL
The constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression. But provisions of the new codes appear to limit these freedoms, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. “Nepal’s new criminal code marks a giant step backward for press freedom,” program coordinator Steven Butler said in a statement. For example, the codes make criticizing the president or members of Parliament criminal acts. The codes also prohibit publishing private information, including of officials, ban recording without permission and require photographers to obtain permits in order to take pictures and sell and publish them. The codes say that authorities can detain suspects for up to 40 days while investigating criminal charges. “Now journalists will be first detained and treated like murder suspects even before they are tried or given a chance to clarify,” said Ramesh Bistra, general secretary of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, which has vowed to fight for the codes to be amended. The codes also ban satire, which in Nepal has been a prominent feature in the press and a popular form of protest throughout the country’s changing forms of government — from monarchy to autocratic rule to constitutional monarchy to the republic established in 2007.
CHILLING EFFECT
Press freedom groups say the language of the laws is broad enough to be used as a tool to attack journalists and deter them from doing their work. The four sections on privacy and defamation decree sentences of up to three years in prison and $260 in fines. Previously, journalists could be fined up to $217 for libel. “These new laws have created an environment of fear for the journalists and more and more of them are now practicing self-censorship,” said Taranath Dahal, who heads the Freedom Forum, a Nepal-based media rights group.
GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE
In response to journalists’ protests, the Nepalese government has formed a committee to recommend changes to the codes’ language. This committee, with representatives from several media rights groups and unions, has been given 45 days to come up with recommendations. The government, however, is not obliged to follow them. Even if the government accepts the changes, lawmakers would have to draft amendments, which would then have to be debated in Parliament before changes could be made. This could take months if not years in Nepal. Until then, the controversial new codes remain in effect.