Archive for Legislation

Over Half of Businesses Don’t Respond To GDPR Requests On Time

The results of a survey by Talend show that 58% of businesses worldwide fail to address requests from individuals for a copy of their personal data within the one-month time limit as required by GDPR.

Bad, But Better Than Last Year

The survey, which involved 103 GDPR-relevant companies across the globe (84% of which were EU-based companies) revealed that more than 18 months after the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force, most companies are still not complying with the Regulation when it comes to data requests.

Even though a 58% failure to comply rate is not good, it is an improvement on 2018 when 70% of the companies surveyed reported they had failed to provide an individual’s data within one month.

Public Sector, Media & Telecoms Worst Offenders

The Talend survey revealed that only 29% of public sector organisations and only 32% of companies in the media and telecommunications industries were able to respond with the correct data within the one-month limit, putting them at the bottom of the compliance table for this issue.

Average Performers

The survey also showed that companies in the retail (46%), financial services, travel, transport and hospitality sectors barely achieved an average response rate within the one-month limit. This, however, was a small improvement on the previous year.

Why?

According to Talend, the lack of a consolidated view of data and clear internal ownership over pieces of data, and a lack of automation in processing requests are key reasons why companies are failing to respond to data requests within the legal time limit.

In some industry sectors too (e.g. financial services), retrieval of the information may be complicated by clients perhaps having many different contracts with the same company with their data being spread across different offices and systems.  This, coupled with the fact that processing data requests is often manual, time-consuming, and, therefore, costly (“spend, on average, more than $1,400 to answer a single SRR” – Gartner) goes some way to explaining the slow response. (SRR means subject rights request)

Also, there is a lack of proper ID checks by companies where data requests are concerned with only 20% asking for ID, and there have also been reports of companies struggling to find the right email address to send the data requested to.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With GDPR becoming law 18 months ago, the potential fines for non-compliance being large, and with companies and organisations having appointed specific people to be in charge of data management and security, these results do look a little disappointing on the surface, and many businesses would expect to do better.  However, GDPR has brought a much larger volume of data requests for some organisations and back in June it was even reported by law firm Squire Patton Boggs that one year on from the introduction of GDPR, companies were facing cost pressures from a large number of subject access requests (SARs) coming from their own employees.

Nevertheless, the shift in responsibility towards companies that GDPR has brought, and the widespread knowledge about GDPR is a reminder also, that companies really should have a system and clear policies and procedures in place that enables them to respond quickly and in a compliant way to data requests, whoever they are from.

The Tech That The Parties Are Promising

With the UK’s General Election due to take place on 12 December, many issues have been covered in the media.  One key area of interest for businesses is technology and for those of you who may not have time to plough through the manifestos of the main parties, here’s a quick look at some of the technology-related pledges and ideas featured in those manifestos.

CONSERVATIVES

With the Conservative government being in power since May 2010 (firstly in coalition with the Lib Dems) the tech vision, policies and direction of travel is, of course, a little clearer to all. The EU referendum under David Cameron heralded the need for UK data protection laws to be aligned with a the EU’s GDPR and an uncertainty and concerns that UK employers would be less likely to seek migrant tech employees, and that fewer overseas tech workers seek on to stay in their jobs in the UK, in an environment where the challenge posed by a tech skills gap was already evident.  Having said that, back in 2017, the Conservative government under Teresa May announced a boost to the UK’s digital and technology industries in the form of £700m of funding as part of the launch of its Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. Also, under the Conservatives, a National Cyber Security Centre was set up in London in February (to act as part of GCHQ in Cheltenham), which was intended to enable businesses to report serious data breaches to the NCSC in confidence.

Looking forward to this 2019 election then, the Conservative manifesto features some of the following technology ideas and pledges:

  • The setting up of a new, dedicated national cybercrime force and National Crime Laboratory, both of which are intended to help the police to safely get the benefits from the use of new technologies like biometrics and artificial intelligence, and to use DNA, all within a strict legal framework.
  • Providing gigabit broadband access for “every home and business” by 2025 to help businesses and remote workers, to be paid for under the ‘National Infrastructure Strategy’.
  • Investing £1bn in “completing a fast-charging network” for electric vehicles to make sure that “everyone is within 30 miles of a rapid electric vehicle charging station”.
  • With reference to R&D tax credits, increasing the tax credit rate to 13 per cent and reviewing the definition of R&D so that investments in innovation and productivity-boosting cloud computing and data are incentivised.
  • Creating a new £3 billion (over the next Parliament) National Skills Fund to provide matching funding for individuals and SMEs for high-quality education and training.
  • Creating 20 Institutes of Technology, to connect teaching in science, technology, engineering and maths to business and industry.
  • Investing in “world-class computing and health data systems” to help with research.

LABOUR

In the Labour Party’s 2019 manifesto, party leader and leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn says that he’s planning to “launch the largest-scale investment programme in modern times to fund the jobs and industries of the future so that no one is held back and no community left behind.”

Some of the key technology-related pledges and ideas that feature in the Labour Party’s manifesto for the coming 2019 General Election include:

  • A proposal which has attracted a lot of media attention (and criticism from the Conservatives) to re-nationalise part of BT and deliver free full-fibre broadband to all.
  • This will involve the creation of two new government entities: British Digital Infrastructure and British Broadband Service (BBS) to help roll out of full-fibre networks and coordinate the delivery of free broadband. Labour says this can all be paid for through the party’s planned Green Transformation Fund and a new tax regime for multinational companies, and there will be a jobs guarantee for all workers in existing broadband infrastructure and retail broadband work.
  • The appointing of a cabinet-level minister dedicated to cybersecurity to help ensure that the nation’s cybersecurity issues are tackled effectively and to offer regular reviews of cyber-readiness.
  • Giving officials working for National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which is the public-facing division of GCHQ, the power to audit public and private sector organisations’ cyber defences and issue warnings to organisations in order to reduce their cyber risk.
  • Ensuring that no services are offered on a “digital-only” basis in order to try and remove the so-called ‘digital barrier’ that may exclude vulnerable people, and also to offer telephone, face-to-face and outreach support.
  • Bringing in a legal right to collective consultation on the implementation of new technology in workplaces in order to ensure more rights and protections for workers whose jobs may be at risk of being lost or reduced as a result of technological advancement.

THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

The big news is that beyond the 12-key policies focused on by the media, the Jo Swinson-led Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) have their eyes set upon a “vision for an innovation-led economy”.  With stopping Brexit as their main focus, the party makes the point that retaining the Freedom of movement that EU membership has given could mean that British tech industries can “have access to the best and brightest talent from the EU” and thereby giving “businesses opportunities to grow and contribute to life and prosperity in the UK.”

Some of the other key technology areas that the Lib Dem’s say in their manifesto that their innovation-led vision will cover include:

  • Positioning the UK to become a world leader in new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI).
  • A belief that the EU should make solid new legislation about blockchain, AI and other new technologies.
  • Giving high priority to matters relating to cybersecurity, data protection and privacy matters.
  • Seeking to encourage competition from companies in the “digital space” and supporting the use of European and UK competition powers to stop “tech giants” from exploiting consumers and ensuring innovation through competition.
  • Increasing the national spend on R&D to 3% of GDP (2.4% by no later than 2027), doubling innovation spend and creating “catapult” innovation and technology centres.
  • Allowing companies to claim R&D tax credits against the cost of purchasing datasets and cloud computing, as well as simplifying regulations speeding up regulatory change.
  • Creating a “startup allowance” to support fast-growing businesses e.g. tech startups.

THE GREEN PARTY

Even though the Green Party’s leader (and Brighton MP) Caroline Lucas was the party’s only MP elected in the last general election, they now have 7 MEPs in the European Parliament. Obviously, Green Party pledges and ideas relate strongly to environmental issues, and some of the technology-related pledges and ideas in their 2019 General Election manifesto (which pledges zero carbon by 2020) include:

  • Delivering financial mechanisms and the transfer of new technologies to help the Global South adapt to climate change in a just way.
  • As part of the “Green New Deal”, including finance and technology to “help the majority world adapt to climate change”, support human well-being,  and to break “the carbon chains of fossil fuel dependence”, thereby bringing about a “green economic and social revolution”.
  • Setting new clean technology standards and investing in research.
  • Applying a Carbon Tax to help incentivise industry to switch to low and zero-carbon technology and equipment.
  • Making finance and technology available to support developing nations.
  • Introducing a Digital Bill of Rights (a new law) in order make the UK a leading voice on standards for the rule of law and democracy in digital spaces and to ensure independent regulation of social media providers. This law will also be designed to safeguard elections from foreign interference.

General Election – 12 December

Obviously, there are other political parties that make up and influence the UK political landscape, and which have technology-related pledges, but hopefully, this shorthand summary of some of the key tech pledges from the main players has provided some insight into where they say they stand on technology matters.

Clearly, elections are decided on a wide range of different issues and subjects and even though Brexit has been a dominant issue for some time now, it remains to be seen how the political and economic landscape will be changed after 12 December.  Technology, however, will continue to advance, and exciting new areas such as AI promise to create new opportunities for businesses going forward.

Google To Offer Bank Accounts

Tech giant Google is crossing over into the banking world by partnering with Citigroup to offer ‘smart checking’ accounts (bank current accounts) next year as part of its ‘Cache’ project.

Partnering, Not Self-Branding

Google is reported to be prepared to rely heavily on the knowledge of Citibank partner in the project and will not be self-branding the accounts. Google will, no doubt, be grateful for the guidance of its partner through the complicated regulatory aspects of banking.

Other Tech Companies Too

Google’s move into the finance world follows that of competitor tech giants, some of whom have experienced a bumpy ride in banking territory such as:

– Facebook developing its own cryptocurrency called Libra which has recently suffered the departure of big names from the association of organisations that was set up to run the currency – PayPal has dropped out with Mastercard, Visa, and digital payment platform and processor Strip soon to follow.

– Apple introducing its own credit card, the ‘Apple Card’ in the US in partnership with Goldman Sachs and with processing by Mastercard.  The card system operates through the Wallet app on iPhone (iPhone 6 and later), but Apple soon suffered criticism that the physical titanium card that accompanies each account would be vulnerable to damage by everyday material surfaces such as denim and leather, thereby rendering potentially impractical.

– Amazon offering credit card and business loans, with a view to boosting its own e-commerce business.

– Uber Money offering credit cards, debit accounts and money tracking tools to help the company with its own taxi operations.

Why?

Like other tech companies, Google’s massive customer base and widely recognised brand mean that it can leverage this power through brand extension.  Google knows that by simply supplying more of peoples’ needs online, often by strategic alliance, it can stay competitive, and find new users and new opportunities.

Privacy & Trust Worries

Some technology commentators have, however, have expressed worries that giving tech companies access to our financial information could mean that they know too much about us, and may be tempted to share data with (or sell that data to) their advertising arm or other organisations.

Although Google has said that it will not be selling or sharing its account holders’ financial data just as it doesn’t share data from its Google Pay service with advertisers, there has been a recent report that Google may be able to gain access to personal medical data of up to 50 million Americans through its partnership with the healthcare giant Ascendant.

Resea

Research has indicated that consumers are likely to trust Google with their financial affairs.  For example, a study by McKinsey & Company revealed that 58% of people (surveyed) said they would trust Google with financial products.

UK BoE Governor

Back in June UK BoE Governor, Mark Carney offered tech companies and all payment providers the chance to store funds overnight in interest-bearing accounts at the central bank and appeared to be adopting an “open mind but no open door” approach to Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It was more or less inevitable that the reach and brand power of tech giants, who are already trusted with many personal aspects of our lives would mean that they want (and would be able) to move into the world of our personal finances too.  The move may be a win/win for both the financial partners (who can learn how to upgrade the tech of their service) and the tech giants who can find out even more about us and can become even more essential partners to us in all parts of our digital life.

The damage to trust, however, caused by Facebook’s sharing of harvested user data with Cambridge Analytica has left some people with reservations about trusting tech companies with too much of our personal data.

Scale of Police Computer Misuse Uncovered

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request made by think tank Parliament Street has revealed that 237 serving officers and members of staff have been disciplined for computer misuse in the last two financial years.

Sackings and Resignations

The FOI request, which was responded to by 23 forces also revealed that 6 employees resigned and 11 were sacked over failures in adhering to IT best practices e.g. for disclosing personal information.

Took Photos of Screen and Shared

In Hertfordshire, two incidents out of 16 disciplinary cases involved employees taking photographs of the screen of a (confidential) police computer system and sharing those photos via social media.

Most Cases

The most individual computer misuse incidents were recorded by Surrey Police with 50. Second in the misuse ranking was the Metropolitan police where 18 people were disciplined (4 were accused of misusing social media) and one staff member was sacked for misusing the Crime Reporting Information System.

Greater Manchester Police managed to take the third position in the incidents rankings with 17 for misuse of force systems.

Other Incidents

Other incidents uncovered by the FoI request included 3 officers getting sacked from Gwent Police (for researching the crime database for a named person, disclosing confidential information, and for unlawful access to information) and 3 getting sacked form Wiltshire Police force for using the police databases without lawful access to the information. Also, one member of Nottinghamshire Police was disciplined for using the police computer system to search for information about a civil dispute they were involved in.

Case In July

These incidents were reminiscent of the case from July this year whereby a serving Metropolitan police officer was given 150 hours of community service and ordered to pay £540 after pleading guilty to crimes under the UK’s Computer Misuse Act, which included using a police database to monitor a criminal investigation into his own conduct.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

We all must adhere to data protection laws (GDPR) and best practices to ensure that company computer systems are used responsibly and legally.  The irony of the information uncovered with the FoI request is that hundreds of those persons who are entrusted to uphold and enforce the law appear to be prepared to risk their jobs, break the law and betray public trust.  The fact that hundreds of police have been caught (there may be many more who haven’t) misusing police systems which contain large amounts of sensitive personal data raises serious questions about privacy and security.

This may indicate that police forces need to offer more education and training to employees about data protection and the correct (and legal) use of police computer systems as well as tightening up on monitoring, access control and validation/authorisation.

BBC Puts News On ‘Dark Web Browser’ To Avoid Censorship

The BBC has announced that it is making its International news website available via the ‘Tor’ browser (usually associated with the ‘dark web’), in order to get around censorship in other countries.

Blocking by Some Countries

The BBC is concerned that countries including China, Iran and Vietnam have tried to block access to its website or programmes in the past.

With this in mind, and with the BBC wanting to compete in the world broadcasting market and widen its audience, as well as wanting to maintain and extend the perception of its World Service as a trusted news source, the BBC has turned to the Tor browser as a way of stopping states from blocking/censoring its content.

Why Tor?

The ‘Tor’ browser, an acronym for ‘The Onion Router’ because of its many layers of encryption, is most well known as the browser that’s used to access the dark web. In these days of worries about privacy and the prying eyes of and rules imposed by states and their agencies, plus worries about cybercriminals and fraudsters, end-to-end encrypted communications channels have become more valuable and more widely available.

The Tor browser, which came out of a US Naval Research Laboratory (and which is partly funded by the US State Department) can hide a user’s location and identity due to its routing process through multiple node encryption points. Tor can, therefore, be used to browse the web (and dark web) anonymously, and to host hidden websites (with a .onion suffix).

International Edition On Tor

The BBC plans, therefore, to host a version of its international news website within Tor thereby evading restrictions imposed by others states and protecting the identity and quite possibly the safety of any viewers of that news who reside within a state where the BBC news online faces restrictions.

This version of the BBC’s international news website will not feature the BBC iPlayer service but will include foreign language services e.g. BBC Arabic, Persian and Russian.

Soft Power

The BBC’s World Service has been described by many as being part of the UK’s ‘soft power’ i.e. part of the UK’s ability to portray a certain image of itself overseas and to influence the thinking and action of others using the power of attraction as opposed to the power of coercion and threats.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

In western democracies and capitalist countries where certain freedoms of consumption are seen as good and necessary to maintain the market-based system, there is an interest in wishing to promote these values and beliefs around the world. This can lead to the widening of markets for goods, services and lifestyles as people in less open countries see them online or television, and this can be good news for businesses who are able to export.  Stable, open countries, with good diplomatic and trading relationships and freedom for communications, are good news for businesses who want to export or set up operations in those countries to gain access to bigger markets.

Sates that are seen to perhaps be more oppressive and authoritarian and which use censorship to maintain a certain power balance and message/perception of the outside world are likely to fear news reports and views which conflict with their own.  The BBC has found itself to be a global market media player as well as a national broadcaster with UK state interests and this, coupled with wider use of encrypted message and  web services have turned a browser that once had a dubious reputation (by association with the dark web) into a handy tool for accessing for expanding the corporation’s, the UK’s, and the democratised West’s reach into untapped market areas.  The hope would be that this would benefit the interests of all, including those citizens of censored states that are able to access a ‘trusted’ external news source for the first time in years.

Businesses Not Prepared For IR35 Tax Reforms

A poll by recruitment firm Hays appears to show a lack of awareness about preparedness for next year’s new IR35 tax reforms for medium-to-larger private sector organisations.

What Is IR35?

The IR35 tax reform legislation, set to be introduced in April 2020 is designed to stop tax avoidance from ‘disguised employment’, which occurs when self-employed contractors set up their own limited company to pay themselves through dividends (which are not subject to National Insurance).  IR35 will essentially mean that, from April 2020, medium-to-larger private sector organisations could become responsible for determining the tax status of any non-permanent contractors and freelancers their organisation hires. Also, the tax liability will transfer from the contractor to the fee-paying party i.e. the recruiter or the company that directly engages the contractor.

The idea for the introduction of the legislation dates back to 1999 with Chancellor Gordon Brown and Chancellor Philip Hammond introduced IR35 for public bodies using contractors from April 2017.

Not Ready

The Poll by Hays, involving the views of 31,598 UK-based individual employees and employers showed that only 43% of respondents in organisations to which the new legislation would apply said they have begun preparations, and one fifth said they have not.

A study by the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) in the summer also showed that only 39% of agencies polled believed that most of their business clients were even aware of the incoming changes and that only 12% thought that their clients are actively preparing for IR35.

Concerns

The main worries expressed about the introduction of IR35 by the 24% who were aware of its imminent introduction are that it could bring more costs and responsibility (68%) and could mean that they lose key talent from their organisation because of its introduction (56%).

Many organisations also fear the complexity and potential administrative burden of IR35.

Man Wins £240,000 In IR35 Appeal

IR35 was first introduced in the public sector, and there was news this week that a former Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) worker (from 2010 to 2015), Richard Alcock, won a £240,000 appeal against HMRC after an IR35 tribunal.  It had been alleged by HMRC that Mr Alcock, who had used his limited company RALC Consulting Ltd to engage in contracts with the DWP, owed more than £200,000 in unpaid taxes because he was working on an equivalent basis to full-time staff, and should pay the same rates of tax and national insurance (under IR35). Mr Alcock was, however, able to show that because (in his case) there had been no minimum obligation to provide work and no ability to charge for just making himself available for work, he couldn’t be an employee.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

There does appear to be some complexity in IR35, and businesses may be right to fear that this could lead to more costs and admin and could cause complications in an organisation’s relationship with trusted contractors who may work very effectively within that organisation.

Many business owners may also feel that not enough has been done by the government to raise awareness of the changes and to educate businesses and contractors about the implications and responsibilities of IR35.

Nevertheless, the clock is ticking on the introduction of IR35 for medium-to-larger private sector organisations, and these organisations now need to make sure that they progress as quickly as possible with IR35 preparations.

ICO Warns Police on Facial Recognition

In a recent blog post, Elizabeth Denham, the UK’s Information Commissioner, has said that the police need to slow down and justify their use of live facial recognition technology (LFR) in order to maintain the right balance in reducing our privacy in order to keep us safe.

Serious Concerns Raised

The ICO cited how the results of an investigation into trials of live facial recognition (LFR) by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and South Wales Police (SWP) led to the raising of serious concerns about the use of a technology that relies on a large amount of sensitive personal information.

Examples

In December last year, Elizabeth Denham launched the formal investigation into how police forces used FRT after high failure rates, misidentifications and worries about legality, bias, and privacy.  For example, the trial of ‘real-time’ facial recognition technology on Champions League final day June 2017 in Cardiff, by South Wales and Gwent Police forces was criticised for costing £177,000 and yet only resulting in one arrest of a local man whose arrest was unconnected.

Also, after trials of FRT at the 2016 and 2017 Notting Hill Carnivals, the Police faced criticism that FRT was ineffective, racially discriminatory, and confused men with women.

MPs Also Called To Stop Police Facial Recognition

Back in July this year, following criticism of the Police usage of facial recognition technology in terms of privacy, accuracy, bias, and management of the image database, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee called for a temporary halt in the use of the facial recognition system.

Stop and Take a Breath

In her blog post, Elizabeth Denham urged police not to move too quickly with FRT but to work within the model of policing by consent. She makes the point that “technology moves quickly” and that “it is right that our police forces should explore how new techniques can help keep us safe. But from a regulator’s perspective, I must ensure that everyone working in this developing area stops to take a breath and works to satisfy the full rigour of UK data protection law.”

Commissioners Opinion Document Published

The ICO’s investigations have now led her to produce and publish an Opinion document on the subject, as is allowed by The Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018), s116 (2) in conjunction with Schedule 13 (2)(d).  The opinion document has been prepared primarily for police forces or other law enforcement agencies that are using live facial recognition technology (LFR) in public spaces and offers guidance on how to comply with the provisions of the DPA 2018.

The key conclusions of the Opinion Document (which you can find here: https://ico.org.uk/media/about-the-ico/documents/2616184/live-frt-law-enforcement-opinion-20191031.pdf) are that the police need to recognise the strict necessity threshold for LFR use, there needs to be more learning within the policing sector about the technology, public debate about LFR needs to be encouraged, and that a statutory binding code of practice needs to be introduced by government at the earliest possibility.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses, individuals and the government are all aware of the positive contribution that camera-based monitoring technologies and equipment can make in terms of deterring criminal activity, locating and catching perpetrators (in what should be a faster and more cost-effective way with live FRT), and in providing evidence for arrests and trials.  The UK’s Home Office has also noted that there is general public support for live FRT in order to (for example) identify potential terrorists and people wanted for serious violent crimes.  However, the ICO’s apparently reasonable point is that moving too quickly in using FRT without enough knowledge or a Code of Practice and not respecting the fact that there should be a strict necessity threshold for the use of FRT could reduce public trust in the police and in FRT technology.  Greater public debate about the subject, which the ICO seeks to encourage, could also help in raising awareness about FRT, how a balanced approach to its use can be achieved and could help clarify matters relating to the extent to which FRT could impact upon our privacy and data protection rights.

Tough Questions About Libra Cryptocurrency

Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg faced a grilling from the US Congress last week over his company’s ‘Libra’ cryptocurrency plans.

Libra

‘Libra’ is Facebook’s new cryptocurrency and global payment system that’s due to be launched in 2020.  Unlike other cryptocurrencies, Libra is backed by a reserve of cash and other liquid assets.  The idea of Libra is that spending the new currency could be as easy and fast as texting as payments can be made by a special phone app and by messaging services such as WhatsApp.  Also, Libra is intended to be of particular value to the one billion+ people around the world (including 14 million in the US) with no access to a bank account, but who could use a mobile phone-based payment system.

Management of the currency, units of which can be purchased via Libra’s platforms and stored it in a digital wallet called “Calibra” will be the responsibility of an independent group of 21 companies and non-profit organisations called the Libra Association, of which Facebook’s subsidiary ‘Calibra’ is a member.

Problems and Criticism

Facebook has, however, found itself coming in for some tough criticism over its involvement with Libra. This includes:

  • Worries about whether Facebook can be trusted with peoples’ financial details in the light of its part in the personal data-sharing scandal with Cambridge Analytica.
  • Concerns from ‘Group of Seven’ democracies finance chiefs about whether Libra could address “serious regulatory and systemic concerns”.
  • President Trump Tweeting that he’s not a fan of Libra, and bank chiefs like Mark Carney also expressing concerns about Libra.
  • Worries that Libra could be used as a means to bypass rules relating to money laundering and tax evasion (which is believed to have led to PayPal leaving the Libra Association recently).
  • Warnings that Libra could be blocked in Europe (especially in France) unless concerns over risks to consumers and to the monetary systems of countries can be addressed.

Congress Grilling

The grilling of Mark Zuckerberg at the US Congress last week at the top of the House Financial Service Committee’s hearing focused on many of the key concerns.  For example:

  • Republican Nydia Velázquez asked Mark Zuckerberg why Facebook should be trusted after the recent privacy scandals and data breaches/data sharing relating to the Cambridge Analytica affair.
  • Republican Joyce Beatty criticised Mark Zuckerberg over an apparent lack of knowledge of diversity and housing advertisement issues and alleged that Zuckerberg hadn’t read her reports.
  • Republican Patrick McHenry criticised the technology industry and highlighted the current anger towards it.

Prepared Statement Covered Many Concerns

Mark Zuckerberg’s prepared statement for the hearing appears have anticipated and answered the main concerns.  For example, as well as stressing how Facebook is committed to strong consumer protections for the financial information they receive, Mark Zuckerberg addressed three main concerns, saying that:

  1. Where people are concerned that Facebook is moving too fast on the Libra project, Facebook is committed to taking the time to get this right.
  2. Where it has been suggested that Facebook could circumvent regulators and regulations with Libra, Facebook won’t actually be a part of launching the Libra payments system anywhere in the world unless all US regulators approve it.
  3. Libra is not an attempt to create a sovereign currency but, like existing online payment systems, it’s simply intended to be a way for people to transfer money.

So What?

Despite the grilling, many commentators have pointed out that the House Financial Service Committee and Congress don’t actually have the power to do much about the introduction of Libra.  Some commentators have also suggested that the hearing was as much about political grandstanding as it was about Libra and that politicians are finding it hard to stay up to speed with information about cryptocurrencies.

No Regulatory Approval = Facebook Leaves the Association

Mr Zuckerberg stressed just how much he intends to play by the rules with Libra by saying that if the Libra Association moved forward without regulatory approval, Facebook “would be forced to leave the Association.”

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Banks and governments are unlikely to adopt a favourable attitude to a new type of currency that could potentially unbalance monetary systems, and could potentially get around regulations, scrutiny and control, and could even be used for money laundering and tax evasion. That said, the blockchain-anchored Libra is unlikely to suffer many of the huge fluctuations and problems that other cryptocurrencies like bitcoin have because Libra is backed by real assets.  Also, many of the big financial players are part of the Libra Association e.g. Mastercard and Visa, although it’s clear that Facebook needs to make sure that Libra can meet all regulatory requirements and is squeaky clean if the Association wants to keep these important members.

If, as Mr Zuckerberg says, Libra is simply and innocently another way of paying for things that could lead to a more inclusive society e.g. by helping those without bank accounts, this could benefit not just society but whole economies too.  It looks as though Facebook still has some way to go, however, to convince governments, finance chiefs and other critics that it is the right company to be trusted with a new currency and the financial data of those who use it.

Digital ‘Pressure’ For Accountants

A report by IT company Prism Solutions has highlighted how traditional accountancy firms are having to change rapidly to meet challenges such as Cloud computing, GDPR and HMRC pressing quickly ahead with ‘Making Tax Digital’ (MTD).

MTD

According to the report, the whole accountancy profession is now on the verge of an evolutionary change and accountancy firms will need to develop into digital practices in order to compete and survive.

One of the key change drivers and challenges for accountancy firms is HMRC’s ongoing ‘Making Tax Digital’(MTD) initiative which has been designed to eradicate paper from the tax filing process and to make the UK tax system more effective, efficient and easier for taxpayers to use.

The fact that an estimated 1.2 million businesses are subject to the MTD VAT rules (for VAT periods starting on or after 1 April 2019 or 1 October 2019 for organisations which are more complex), must now keep VAT records in a digital format and submit their VAT returns to HMRC using MTD compatible software (yet can’t do so using HMRC’s website) means that they are turning to accountancy firms to submit the returns on their behalf.  This leaves accountancy firms with new challenges such as having to adapt quickly to a different type of interaction with their clients who are looking for accountants to be experts on the digital process and to provide instant service and issue resolution. Accountancy firms are also facing possible problems if HMRC doesn’t do enough to communicate MTD to relevant businesses.

Always On

The Prism Solutions report highlights how accountancy clients now expect technology to be ‘always on’ 24/7 and that the ability of an accountancy firms’ productivity to be able to connect with their clients in real-time, and offer access to real-time data that’s always on is an important way in which they can deliver an exceptional client experience.

Other Challenges

The Prism report also notes that, just as Cloud computing, GDPR, and MTD are already having an impact on accountancy, other emerging challenges to the profession include the development of AI technologies, blockchain and crypto-currencies.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Having to digitise accounts is providing challenges to both businesses and accountancy firms and looks set to change aspects of the relationship between the two.  Accountancy firms are realising that embracing all forms of ‘digital’ is a key enabler to enhancing productivity, and that becoming part of the digital revolution with their clients will enable them to not just offer a better service, but also to grow as they take advantage of new revenue-generating opportunities and position themselves as the go-to adviser for their clients.

As well as expecting ‘always-on’ service and digital expertise from accountancy firms, business customers will still want to use their accountants as a source of business advice for business planning, strategy, and market development (for example), and getting better at using digitisation to do this could be another way in which accountants could keep delivering value to businesses.

Email Signature Legally Binding For Lawyer

A recent ruling by the High Court that an email containing an automated signature is legally binding proved costly to the lawyer who sent such an email on behalf of his client that included the wrong price for a land sale.

£25,000 Below

The unfortunate lawyer, Daniel Tear, who sent an email to another lawyer setting out the terms for an owner’s land/property sale (but with the sale price listed as £25,000 lower than the asking price) the ruling about his email signature at the County Court in Manchester proved to be very costly.

In the case, which related to a dispute over the sale of land near Lake Windermere listed as a “jetty/boat landing plot/mooring”, it has been reported that the land should have been offered for sale at the asking price of £200,000 but (according to published court documents) but Mr Tear’s email to the lawyer of those wishing to purchase the land specified a price of “ £175,000 (one hundred and seventy-five thousand pounds”.

The lawyer acting for the buyer accepted the deal, and despite Mr Tear later emailing all the parties to say the deal had not been finalised by email, the court ruling went against him and his client.

Why?

According to the published court documents which refer to matters related to certain sections of the Law of Property Act of 1989, Mr Tear’s auto-signature (using Microsoft Outlook) which appeared at the bottom of his email, accompanied by the words “Many Thanks” (which link the email’s contents to the signature) were enough to make the contents of the email’s agreement binding.

In a hearing which considered the many difficulties around an email footer possibly being treated as a sufficient act of signing the judge stated that he was “satisfied that Mr Tear signed the relevant email on behalf of the Defendant” and that “the Claimants are entitled to the order for specific performance that is sought”.

Mr Tear’s argument that the case fell under Section 2 (1) of the Law of Property Act of 1989 i.e. “The document incorporating the terms or, where contracts are exchanged, one of the documents incorporating them (but not necessarily the same one) must be signed by or on behalf of each party to the contract” was, therefore, not accepted by the court.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As with most legal matters, if you read the court documents (here: https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2019/2462.html) there were many different considerations based around the case. One thing that businesses can take away from this case, however, is that if you create and add an email signature section to the footer of your Outlook emails, even though it is automatically added to each of your emails, it may still prove to be enough to legally bind you to the contents of the email, even though you may have made a mistake. It goes without saying, therefore, that businesses need to be very careful to check that prices and quotes emails to clients (where an email signature is included) are correct and that any terms are clearly stated.  This ruling could now and in future have implications for many businesses in disputes relating to the contents of business emails.