News, Sports

Geoffrey Boycott ‘doesn’t give a toss’ about knighthood criticism

Geoffrey Boycott has said he “couldn’t give a toss” about criticism over Theresa May awarding him a knighthood in her resignation honours list. Domestic abuse charities and Labour said the honour should be removed from the ex-cricketer, who was convicted of beating his girlfriend in 1998. Boycott, who has always denied the assault, later questioned why the issue had been raised by the media.

Mrs May’s list of 57 names was made up of mostly political figures. Every departing prime minister can draw up a resignation honours list. Mrs May announced her resignation in June after failing to get support for the withdrawal agreement she had negotiated for the UK to leave the EU.

The former prime minister showed her love of cricket with knighthoods for Boycott and fellow former England captain Andrew Strauss. Boycott was fined £5,000 and given a three-month suspended sentence in 1998 after being convicted of beating his then-girlfriend Margaret Moore in a French Riviera hotel.

During the trial, the court heard Boycott pinned Miss Moore down and punched her 20 times in the face before checking out and leaving her to pay the bill. Boycott denied the allegations, saying Miss Moore had slipped after flying into a rage when he refused to marry her.

Mrs May, who introduced a landmark Domestic Abuse Bill to Parliament earlier this year, was accused of sending a “dangerous message” by Women’s Aid’s co-acting chief executive Adina Claire. She said the honour “should be taken away” from Boycott, adding that it sent “completely the wrong message” to survivors of domestic abuse.

Media captionWomen’s Aid co-leader Adina Claire says the knighthood sends ‘a terrible message’

Asked about the criticism from Women’s Aid by presenter Martha Kearney on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Boycott responded: “I don’t give a toss about her, love. It was 25 years ago so you can take your political nature and do whatever you want with it.”

The 78-year-old, who is part of the BBC’s cricket commentary team for the current Ashes series, added: “It’s very difficult to prove your innocence in another country, in another language. “I have to live with it – and I do. I’m clear in my mind, and I think most people in England are, that it’s not true.”

Media captionGeoffrey Boycott said his knighthood had been soured

In a subsequent interview, Boycott said that the day had been “soured” by Radio 4 “setting me up”, saying the station’s agenda had been to talk about domestic violence and “make publicity”. He told BBC’s Look North Yorkshire: “Is that what interviewing is about – is it always to ask difficult questions? Shouldn’t it be just a nice day for me?

“I said I don’t give a toss about her [Ms Claire from Woman’s Aid], not domestic violence. That’s not something anyone should feel good about.” A spokesperson for the Today programme said the question was “entirely appropriate… given the concerns raised about Geoffrey Boycott’s knighthood by Women’s Aid and others”.

Geoffrey Boycott
Image captionBoycott scored 8,114 runs in 108 Tests for England from 1964 to 1982

The shadow minister for women and equalities, Dawn Butler, joined the call for Boycott’s knighthood to be rescinded. “Honouring a perpetrator of domestic violence just because he is the former prime minister’s favourite sportsman shows how out of touch and nepotistic the honours list is,” she said, adding that the whole system needed “radically overhauling”. And former Spice Girl Melanie Brown tweeted that Boycott was “a disgrace to Yorkshire”, saying the “perpetrators of domestic abuse shouldn’t be held up as heroes EVER”.

The Woman’s Trust charity said it was “disappointed” to see Boycott included in the honour’s list because it either suggested that, despite his conviction, he was believed over the survivor, or his fame meant it did not matter.Skip Twitter post by @womanstrust

Boycott also had to apologise in 2017 after joking that he would have to “black up” to be given a knighthood, reportedly saying they were handed out to West Indian cricketers “like confetti”.

Mrs May once compared her determination to delivering Brexit with the fighting spirit in Boycott’s batting marathons. Telling journalists he was one of her sporting heroes, she said in November 2018: “Geoffrey Boycott stuck to it and he got the runs in the end.” Since his retirement from cricket, Boycott has gone on to become a successful broadcaster and is part of the BBC’s cricket commentary team.

A BBC spokesperson said: “He is a world renowned cricketer and employed for his knowledge and expertise of the sport.” The government checks all nominees are suitable for an honour, including whether they have paid their taxes. However, Mrs May’s resignation honours list would not have gone through the same review process as nominations for the New Year and Queen’s Birthday honours.

In those cases, a specific committee, for example one including figures from the world of sport, would consider the nominations before they go before the main honours committee. In contrast, people nominated for resignation honours only undergo propriety and probity checks by the Cabinet Office.

Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill
Image caption Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill were Mrs May’s closest advisers before the 2017 general election

The 37 men and 20 women on Mrs May’s list include members of Downing Street staff, political aides and lifelong supporters of the Conservative Party. It includes recipients from all four nations of the UK as well as non-political figures and members of civic society.

Labour said the honours rewarded “big Tory donors and No 10 cronies”. Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, Mrs May’s former chiefs of staff who left their jobs after the 2017 general election in which the Conservatives lost their majority in the Commons, become Commanders of the Order of the British Empire, or CBEs.

The former prime minister’s chief EU negotiator Olly Robbins receives a knighthood. The senior civil servant helped to create Mrs May’s Brexit deal before it was defeated in Parliament three times. It has been announced that Mr Robbins is to join investment bank Goldman Sachs.

There is also a knighthood for her former director of communications, Robbie Gibb. When her predecessor David Cameron awarded a knighthood to his own head of communications, Craig Oliver, Mrs May later joked that she “retched violently” at seeing his name on the list.

Gavin Barwell and Olly Robbins
Image caption Gavin Barwell, left, and Olly Robbins are honoured by former PM Theresa May

Gavin Barwell, the former Tory MP who Mrs May brought in as her chief of staff to replace Mr Timothy and Ms Hill, is one of eight new Conservative peers. Sir Kim Darroch – who was forced to resign as ambassador to the US after comments he made about President Trump were leaked – has been made a crossbench peer. Boris Johnson, who was then running in the Tory leadership contest prior to becoming prime minister, was criticised at the time for not showing enough support for Sir Kim.

Meanwhile, there is a damehood for Cressida Dick, whose police career started at the age of 23 after a brief spell working in a fish-and-chip shop. She is one of just a few non-political figures on Mrs May’s list. Sir Simon Woolley, the founder of operation Black Vote, and Ruth Hunt, the ex-chief executive of Stonewall, have been made crossbench life peers.

British Empire Medals, or BEMs, have been awarded to Graham Howarth and Debra Wheatley – Mrs May’s head chef at Chequers and housekeeper at Downing Street respectively. The list of peerages – which sees those appointed sit in the House of Lords – include several nominated by other parties to sit on their benches.

‘Policy of restraint’

Among them are former NUT general secretary Christine Blower, for Labour, and former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, who will become the party’s second peer in the House of Lords. The Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, said Mrs May’s list was “substantially smaller” than those drawn up by predecessors, helping to reduce the size of the House of Lords.

Several MPs have received honours:

  • Sir Patrick McLoughlin, Conservative MP for Derbyshire Dales (Companion of Honour)
  • George Hollingbery, Conservative MP for Meon Valley (Knighthood)
  • David Lidington, Conservative MP for Aylesbury (Knighthood)
  • Charles Walker, Conservative MP for Broxbourne (Knighthood)
  • Brandon Lewis, Conservative MP for Great Yarmouth (CBE)
  • Julian Smith, Conservative MP for Skipton and Ripon (CBE)
  • Seema Kennedy, Conservative MP for South Ribble (OBE)

John Mann, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw and an independent government adviser on anti-Semitism, received a non-affiliated peerage. Mr Mann is standing down as MP, citing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of the party’s anti-Semitism crisis.

Margaret Ritchie, who was leader of the SDLP in Northern Ireland between 2010 and 2011, also received a non-affiliated peerage. She said she would remain “SDLP to the core” even though she has had to quit the party to become a peer. The former South Down MP made history in 2010 when she became the first leader of a nationalist party to wear a remembrance poppy. A source close to Mrs May said the list “recognises the many different people who have made a significant contribution to public life” during her political career.

Criticising Mrs May’s choices, Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery said: “It comes as no surprise that big Tory donors and Number 10 cronies are being honoured yet again. “The Tories only care about looking after their own and will only stand up for the wealthy few who fund them.” The SNP’s Pete Wishart accused Mrs May of “handing out peerages like sweeties”, adding that it was the “worst kind of cronyism”.

News, Tech

Apple ‘sorry’ that workers listened to Siri voice recordings

Apple has apologised following revelations that it paid third-party workers to listen to voice recordings of Siri users. The practice known as “grading” has been used by several tech firms as a way of improving the quality of speech recognition.

However, Apple, Google and Microsoft all halted such work recently, following public outcry. Apple said it plans to resume grading – but only for Siri users who opt in. The firm added that in the future only its own employees will be able to access recordings, not third-party workers at contracted firms.

Earlier this month, the company said it had halted grading following reports that workers had heard recordings containing intimate remarks made by Siri users. Such recordings can be made accidentally, for example when the Siri app interprets another word or noise as the utterance “Hey Siri”, which is used to launch voice recognition.

Now, Apple says it has completed a review of such work. “As a result of our review, we realise we haven’t been fully living up to our high ideals, and for that we apologise,” the firm said in a statement.

Up until grading was halted, 0.2% of Siri audio recordings was reviewed by human workers, Apple added. The company said that three main changes would take place before human grading of Siri recordings was resumed. It said:

  • audio recordings would no longer be retained by default. Instead, Apple employees would rely on computer-generated transcripts of speech
  • Siri users would be able to opt in to share audio recordings – and would be able to opt out “at any time”
  • only Apple employees would have access to recordings, and any recordings that had been made “inadvertently” would be deleted

The turnaround was an unusual move from Apple, said Adam Wright, a tech analyst at market research firm IDC. “I think they’ve been caught off-guard a little bit,” he told the BBC. “I don’t think they’ve been completely forthcoming or transparent in their use of data.”

Part of the controversy over using humans to grade voice recordings was that Siri users may not always have been aware that their conversations could be listened to in this way. The Irish data protection authority, Apple’s lead data privacy regulator in Europe, had previously said it was looking into the matter of grading. A spokeswoman for the commission said it had noted Apple’s latest statement.

Games, News, Tech

Gaming faces is #MeToo moment

Game developers are highlighting sexual harassment in the industry after several people accused colleagues and peers of assault and abuse. Many women came forward and shared their experiences online, after a developer posted a blog alleging she was raped by a colleague.

The allegations cannot be detailed for legal reasons. But the wave of posts has been compared to the “me too” movement, which exposed harassment in the film industry.

“Video games are having a #metoo moment. The toxicity from fans has been well documented for years but the toxic, abusive, predatory behavior between developers has mostly been spoken in whispers between trusted friends,” said media critic and writer Anita Sarkeesian.

“I’m in awe of the bravery of those who have spoken up today.” The “me too” movement took off after a number of women accused film executive Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, abuse or rape. Mr Weinstein denies the charges.

#TimesUp

The current wave of allegations from within the games industry started on Monday after one developer posted a detailed account of rape and abusive behavior by a former colleague. It was followed by several accounts of sexual harassment from other developers.

Many women described being groped or grabbed at industry networking events. Others said men had tried to lure them to hotel rooms with the promise of work opportunities or collaborations. Some of the accounts detail long periods of emotional manipulation and abuse by senior colleagues.

Many of those posting said they felt “dehumanized” by the experiences, which had a lasting effect on their mental health. The allegations have been made shortly before the Pax West gaming conference, which will see thousands of indie game developers head to Seattle, Washington, on 30 August.

The “Times Up” campaign group, which fights sexual harassment, called the actions described in the posts as “disturbing” and “unconscionable”. “This should be a moment of reckoning for the industry. This culture of sexual harassment, gas-lighting and retaliation cannot go on any longer,” the group said.

News

Trump Turnberry: US Congress launches investigation into Prestwick Airport deals

A US Congressional committee is investigating President Donald Trump in connection with a potential conflict of interest over military spending at a Scottish airport near his golf resort. The House Oversight and Reform Committee says expenditure at Prestwick airport has “increased substantially” since Mr Trump came into office.

The debt-ridden airport has been fighting off closure. It is said to be integral to the Trump business, which is also loss-making. The committee’s accusations are detailed in a letter to the Pentagon – which is dated to June but was only revealed on the Politico website on Friday.

The letter requests access to all communications between the US Department of Defense and Trump Turnberry, as well as any related financial records. According to various reports in the US media, the department has not yet complied with the demands. It has also not commented directly, and neither has the Trump Organisation.

What does the letter say?

The letter – signed by the Democratic committee chairman Elijah Cummings – was addressed to then-acting Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan.

Media captionDonald Trump on the Turnberry golf course in 2014

Citing Defence Logistics Agency (DLA) records, it said the US military had made 629 fuel purchase orders at the airport, totalling $11m (£9m), since October 2017. It also alleges that certain military personnel have been offered “cut-price rooms” and free rounds of golf at the Trump Turnberry resort.

It continued: “Given the president’s continued financial stake in his Scotland golf courses, these reports raise questions about the president’s potential receipt of US or foreign government emoluments in violation of the US Constitution and raise other serious conflict of interest concerns.”

Who owns the airport?

Prestwick airport, outside Glasgow, is approximately 20 miles (30km) north of Trump Turnberry.

Map showing Turnberry and Prestwick in Scotland

The Scottish government bought it for £1 in 2013, when it was facing closure. In June, it was put up for sale. No buyer has been announced.

Air Force One seen at Prestwick Airport during the president's 2018 visit
Image captionAir Force One seen at Prestwick Airport during the president’s 2018 visit

Amid rising debts, the airport has reportedly slashed its charges to try to retain business. The Scottish government faced a backlash in 2017 after the Turnberry resort received a tax rebate. Later that year, the rules changed and it no longer qualified. Responding to the latest allegations, the Scottish government said Prestwick Airport operates on a commercial basis and at arm’s length from ministers.

News

Iran tanker row: Released ship wanted by US ‘seen off Syria

The Iranian oil tanker at the center of an international incident has been sailing just off the Syrian coast, satellite images appear to show. The Adrian Darya-1 was seized by Gibraltar in July with the aid of British forces over fears it was bound for Syria, violating EU sanctions. It was eventually released after assurances were given that it would not head for the war-ravaged country.

But images released on Saturday seemed to show it two nautical miles offshore. The images, from US company Maxar Technologies, appeared to place the tanker very close to the Syrian port of Tartus on 6 September. US National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted that anyone who believed the ship was no longer headed for Syria was “in denial”.

“Tehran thinks it’s more important to fund the murderous Assad regime than provide for its own people,” he said, alongside another satellite picture. “We can talk, but #Iran’s not getting any sanctions relief until it stops lying and spreading terror!” There is however no confirmation that the ship is unloading its cargo of 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil.

Neither Iran nor Syria have commented. In a statement, the UK’s Foreign Office called the reports “deeply troubling”. A spokesperson said that if Iran had broken its assurances, it would be “a violation of international norms and a morally bankrupt course of action”.

Satellite images from Maxar technologies are composited to show the location of the vessel in the same satellite image as the port city of Tartus, Syria

The ship, originally known as Grace 1 when it was detained off the British territory in July, has caused a major diplomatic spat between Washington and Tehran. British marines had helped Gibraltar authorities detain the vessel, partly drawing the UK into the row. The United States made an official request to seize the ship in August, but the courts in Gibraltar denied it.

Media captionGrace 1: Inside the seized supertanker

The US last year withdrew from the international 2015 deal to limit Iran’s nuclear programme, and reinstated sanctions. In response, Iran stopped abiding by some commitments in the deal.

The EU has sought to salvage the accord but the Iranian tanker was seized because it was suspected of heading to Syria, which would breach EU sanctions on that country. The Gibraltar authorities freed the vessel on 15 August after receiving assurances from Iran that it would not discharge its cargo in Syria.

The US has been seeking to seize the tanker since it was released by Gibraltar. It issued a warrant and blacklisted the vessel, threatening sanctions on any country which offered it aid. The ship has since been sailing east across the Mediterranean.

Earlier this week it was revealed that a US official had even offered the captain of the ship millions of dollars to change course and sail the tanker to somewhere the US might be able to seize it. A British-flagged tanker was seized by Iran in July, in what was widely seen as retaliation for Britain’s role in helping to seize the Iranian vessel – a link Tehran denies. The Stena Impero was passing through the Strait of Hormuz when it was seized. It remains in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

News

Hurricane Dorian: Rescue efforts stepped up as storm survivors flee

Rescue efforts have been stepped up in parts of the Bahamas worst hit by Hurricane Dorian, as hundreds scramble to flee the destruction. Cruise liners, private planes and helicopters are all being used to help those still trapped in the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama.

The death toll stands at 43 but is expected to increase further. Meanwhile, Dorian has gained strength off the US east coast and is heading to the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. US forecasters said on Saturday that the storm had sustained winds of 100mph (155 km/h) and had increased from a category one to a category two hurricane.

Dorian was at category five when it made landfall in the Bahamas last Sunday with winds reaching 185mph. Officials believe hundreds of bodies are yet to be found in areas flattened by the winds or smashed by storm surges.

Dr Caroline Burnett-Garraway, medical chief of staff at Princess Margaret Hospital in the capital Nassau, said two refrigerated trucks were being sent to the area, adding: “We’ve ordered lots of body bags.”

What’s the latest?

Thousands of survivors have been lining up in Freeport, Grand Bahama, hoping to board cruise ships offering free passage to Florida. There were similar scenes in Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco, where people queued for private boats to take them to safety.

Hurricane Dorian survivors wait to evacuated in private boats at the Marsh Harbour port on Grand Abaco Island
Image captionHurricane survivors waited to be evacuated in private boats at Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco

Evacuees from Great Abaco have been arriving in Nassau, bringing with them stories of worsening conditions in the storm-ravaged islands.

At the main Abaco airport on Saturday, Chamika Durosier was hoping to find a plane to safety. “The home that we were in fell on us. We had to crawl – got out crawling,” she said. “It’s been almost a week and people are still here. People have no food. People have no water. Dead bodies are still around and it’s not sanitary.”

How is the relief effort going?

UN officials said about 70,000 people in Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands were in need of assistance.

Media captionOn board a UK ship offering aid and rescue to the Bahamas

The World Food Programme (WFP) said about 90% of homes, buildings and infrastructure in Marsh Harbour were damaged and that thousands of residents were sheltering in a government building, a medical centre and an Anglican church with meagre supplies.

“The needs remain enormous,” said WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel. “Evacuations are slowly taking place by ferry, as hundreds of residents reportedly flee daily.”

The Royal Navy said it was deploying 18 extra medical staff to join the ship RFA Mounts Bay that has been delivering aid since the storm passed. Another UK ship, HMS Protector, is taking on supplies in Bermuda and will sail to the Bahamas on Monday.

Media captionSurvivors of the hurricane say there is utter devastation

The US Coast Guard said it had sent nine cutters to the islands and that six of its helicopters had rescued 290 people so far.

Where is the hurricane now?

Dorian is churning northwards along the Atlantic coast of North America, and has been battering eastern US states as it heads towards Canada. At 14:00 local time on Saturday (18:00 GMT) the storm was about 180 miles (290 km) south-east of Eastport, Maine, and heading for the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. The Canadian Hurricane Centre predicted landfall near Halifax, Nova Scotia, later on Saturday and issued hurricane warnings for parts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Canadian broadcaster CBC said thousands of residents in Nova Scotia had lost power on Saturday morning as high winds and heavy rain swept in. The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned of storm surges in the Gulf of St Lawrence, the south-west Coast of Newfoundland and eastern Nova Scotia. On Friday, hundreds who refused to evacuate Ocracoke Island in North Carolina were stranded when the hurricane made landfall there.

News

Ukraine and Russia exchange prisoners in landmark deal

Russia and Ukraine have completed a long-awaited exchange of prisoners. Those freed include 24 Ukrainian sailors and – controversially – a “person of interest” over the downing of flight MH17 which killed 298 people. The swap is hoped to ease tensions between the two neighbors.

Greeting the Ukrainians at the airport, President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “We have to do all the steps to finish this horrible war.” Russia said it was glad its citizens had returned home.

Relations between the two countries deteriorated dramatically in 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and Russian-backed rebels began an insurgency in two regions of eastern Ukraine.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In April, Ukrainians elected a new president. Mr Zelensky said his top priority was to end the conflict.

Russian officials have said progress towards a prisoner release is vital for improving the “atmosphere surrounding a settlement of the Ukrainian crisis”. Negotiations on the extremely sensitive issue were held in complete secrecy, with both Ukrainian and Russian officials stressing that any leaks could derail the swap.

Who was part of the prisoner exchange?

Russia has not yet confirmed the names of the prisoners who have been released by Ukraine. It arranged a low-profile arrival at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, with initial reunions kept behind closed doors.

In Ukraine, the scene was very different. The prisoners freed by Russia reunited with their relatives on the tarmac at Kiev’s Boryspil airport, surrounded by the press. The Ukrainian government has since published a list of the 35 prisoners released by Russia.

It includes 24 Ukrainian sailors whom Russia detained off Crimea in November last year. They were captured along with three naval ships as they attempted to pass through the Kerch Strait, the only route to access to Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov. Shots were fired by the Russian navy during the operation, injuring several Ukrainians.

Media captionFootage of the Russia-Ukraine sea clash

In May an international tribunal ordered Russia to release the sailors and vessels. Ukrainian film-maker Oleg Sentsov, jailed for 20 years in 2015 for plotting terrorist acts in Crimea in a trial condemned as political by the US and EU, has also arrived home. He was considered Ukraine’s number-one political prisoner in Russia.

Roman Sushchenko, a Ukrainian journalist detained in Moscow in 2016 for what Russia described as “conducting espionage activities”, was among those freed. Also on the list are two far-right Ukrainian activists, Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykh, both arrested in Russia in 2014. They were accused of fighting on the side of Chechen rebels in the first Chechen war in the 1990s and were later jailed.

Russia has not officially confirmed the names of its freed citizens. But the most significant and controversial person Ukraine sent to Russia is Volodymyr Tsemakh, reportedly a commander of air defences for Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Mr Tsemakh, 58, is a “person of interest” in the Dutch-led investigation into the 2014 shooting down over Ukraine of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, which led to the deaths of all 298 people on board.

Volodymyr Tsemakh
Image captionVolodymyr Tsemakh was seized from a separatist-held part of Ukraine earlier this year

Also included is Yevgeny Mefedov, jailed over deadly clashes between pro-Russian groups and Ukrainian nationalists in the Black Sea port of Odessa in 2014. Russian-Ukrainian journalist Kyrylo Vyshynsky, accused of treason by Ukraine, was also heading home.

Two former Ukrainian army soldiers who Ukraine says defected to Russia during the annexation of Crimea, Maksim Odintsov and Aleksandr Baranov, are also on the list.

Why is Mr Tsemakh’s inclusion on the list controversial?

He is believed to have been a commander of air defences at Snizhne in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, one of the Russian-backed rebel areas in eastern Ukraine.Snizhne is close to where investigators say the missile which shot down the Malaysian Airlines plane in 2014 was fired.

A team of international criminal investigators said in 2016 that the missile had been brought from Russia and fired from a field controlled by Russian-backed separatists. In a daring operation in June, Ukrainian special forces reportedly smuggled Mr Tsemakh out of rebel-held territory, and he had been due to stand trial in October.

Although he is not a suspect, international prosecutors have said they would like him to remain in Ukraine so they can ask him further questions. Last week, they urged the authorities in Ukraine not to allow him to travel to Russia. However, in a court decision on Wednesday he was released from custody. The Dutch government said it was disappointed with the Ukrainian decision to send him to Russia.

News, Tech

Facial recognition: School ID checks lead to GDPR fine

A watchdog has penalised a local authority for trialling facial recognition on high-school students in Sweden to keep track of attendance. The Swedish Data Protection Authority (DPA) fined the Skelleftea municipality200,000 Swedish Krona (£16,800, $20,700) for flouting a privacy law.

The trial involved tracking 22 students over three weeks and detecting when each pupil entered a classroom. This is the first time that Sweden has ever issued a fine under GDPR.

The General Data Protection Regulation, which came into force last year, classes facial images and other biometric information as being a special category of data, with added restrictions on its use.

The DPA indicated that the fine would have been bigger had the trial been longer. According to technology magazine ComputerSweden, Swedish authorities decided to investigate after reading media reports of Anderstorp’s High School’s trial.

The local authority told Swedish state broadcaster SVT Nyheter in February that teachers had been spending 17,000 hours a year reporting attendance, and the authority had decided to see whether facial-recognition technology could speed up the process.

‘Fairly safe’

The trial, which took place in autumn 2018, had been so successful that the local authority was considering extending it. Jorgen Malm, who oversees Anderstorp’s High School and Naturbruk’s High School for the municipality, told SVT that the technology was “fairly safe”.

According to the DPA ruling, although the school secured parents’ consent to monitor the students, the regulator did not feel that it was a legally adequate reason to collect such sensitive personal data.

The regulator noted that although some parts of the school could be deemed to be “public”, students had a certain expectation of privacy when they entered a classroom. It said there were less intrusive ways that their attendance could have been detected without involving camera surveillance.

As a result, the DPA found that Skelleftea’s local authority had unlawfully processed sensitive biometric data, as well as failing to complete an adequate impact assessment, which would have included consulting the regulator and gaining prior approval before starting the trial.

News, Tech

Want full fibre? Head to the Hebrides

Grimsay in the Outer Hebrides, a three mile-long rocky outcrop linked to Benbecula by a causeway, has just a hundred households – and the best fibre broadband connections in the UK. Grimsay and Great Bernera, a hundred miles to the north, have both been given full fibre broadband, meaning every home in these tiny remote communities can now get fibre piped right to the door.

This makes them unusual – just 7% of UK homes have access to full fibre, which means we lag far behind many of our European neighbours.

Grimsay

In his campaign for the Tory leadership the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson made great play of a pledge to bring fibre into every home by 2025.

But the operation to wire up Grimsay and Great Bernera shows how expensive that could be. It is part of the Digital Scotland project which has seen £442m spent – the lion’s share coming from the Scottish government – to make sure rural areas do not miss out on the fibre broadband revolution.

People like Robin and Michelle Spratt, who run a candle-making business from their Grimsay home and take in bed and breakfast guests, say the fibre is already proving transformative.

‘Embarrassing’

Expensive satellite broadband used to be the only option here and when guests asked for the wifi password they had to say no because they would quickly burn up the monthly data allowance.

Robin Spratt
Image caption Robin Spratt could not let guests use his satellite broadband

“It was embarrassing,” says Robin. “But since the fibre came all that’s changed.” John MacDonald, who runs his haulage business from Grimsay, points to another reason why fast fibre is now becoming a vital resource for any company that wants to stay competitive.

He takes part in online auctions to buy new equipment and explains that using slow satellite broadband he would often be several bids behind the action: “Now I can keep up with the bids.”

Up the road at the Uist Wool Mill, Hazel Smith points to the rusty satellite dish on the roof and looks forward to its replacement by a fibre connection later this month. This community enterprise has found that its vital marketing efforts have been hampered by the lack of reliable connectivity.

But Hazel says the wider community will benefit, with people less likely to leave the island communities: “Being able to work online and at a distance is hugely important – it means you can live where you want to live, but still do a city style job.”

Fibre campaigners have long argued that this kind of connectivity is more vital in remote rural areas than the cities, and have called for them to be first rather than last in the queue for the latest technology.

But this comes at a cost – BT reckons the price of connecting the most rural 10% of the population comes in at £4,000 per household as compared to £400 for people in cities.

Openreach
Image caption Full fibre will reach around half of UK households by 2025

Right now, BT Openreach is on target to deliver full fibre to around 15 million homes by 2025. But that is around 50% of UK households, while Boris Johnson says everyone should have top quality broadband by then.

When I spoke to Kevin Murphy, who as head of Openreach’s fibre rollout is the key man in making the Prime Minister’s vision come true, he was diplomatic about the challenge: “The Prime Minister is highly ambitious as are we and we applaud that ambition,” he said.

But he went on to point out that hitting the target would mean building fibre connections at a pace faster than any country had achieved.

Fibre case is clear

BT and the other telecoms firms are demanding more tax breaks and a lighter regulatory burden if they are to have any chance of delivering on Mr Johnson’s hugely ambitious plans.

For communities in the Outer Hebrides, however, the case for fibre is clear. Even getting to Glasgow can take eight hours from here and for years the threat of depopulation has been growing.

So being able to connect instantly to friends, family and clients around the world makes living in this beautiful spot more attractive to those who might be tempted to leave.

News, Tech

US still to grant any Huawei trade licences

US officials have not granted any licences to trade with blacklisted Chinese firm Huawei, despite receiving more than 130 requests, Reuters says. The US restricted companies from selling to the electronics giant in May, citing national security concerns, which have been dismissed by Huawei.

President Donald Trump said last month that some exemptions would be allowed. A spokesman for the commerce department insisted that requests concerning Huawei were “ongoing”. One industry source suggested to the BBC that a lack of clear guidelines from the Trump administration is to blame for the current standstill.

The US is locked in a trade war with China
Image caption The US is locked in a trade tariff battle with China

William Reinsch, a former US commerce department official, claims that officials are “afraid” to make a decision. “Nobody in the executive branch knows what Trump wants and they’re all afraid to make a decision without knowing that,” he told Reuters.

A spokesman for the commerce department insisted that requests concerning Huawei were “ongoing”. The US recently added a further 45 businesses associated with Huawei to an export blacklist.

It is the latest in a string of mixed signals from the president, who said this week that crucial trade talks with China would resume “very shortly”. His surprise announcement came after the the US revealed that it would be adding trade tariffs to $550bn (£449bn) worth of Chinese imports.

Huawei is the world’s second-largest smartphone marker behind Samsung Electronics, but it has so far failed to make a dent in the US, where it currently holds less than a 1% market share. The company has laid off more than 600 of its US staff since it was blacklisted by the US.

The US Department of Justice has claimed that its close ties with the Chinese government open it up to the the risk of its equipment being used to spy on other countries. Huawei’s future in the UK is also up for debate, with an announcement revealing whether it should be excluded from the roll out of 5G mobile networks by the end of the year. Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan told the BBC that she hoped the government “could do something by the autumn”.