Important information for all HS2 petitioners on ‘security’ issues

This week, HS2 Ltd have been sending out emails to those who have submitted petitions against the HS2 Hybrid Bill. As you might expect from HS2 Ltd, it’s been a bit of a cock-up, a hit and miss affair which has seen people and agents with multiple petitions sent emails, without saying which petition they refer to, agents being contacted when petitioners should have been and all the sort of things you might expect them to get wrong.

There are other minor grumbles, such as the fact HS2 Ltd say “We are currently considering all the petitions received and will let you know if we decide to challenge your right to be heard before the Select Committee set up to consider petitions against the Bill.”, without saying that even if people are challenged, they still get to appear before the committee when that challenge is considered.

However, the sentence which is causing the most concern is this one:“Shortly in advance of your scheduled appearance we will send you a Petition Response Document (PRD) setting out our formal response to your petition. We intend to send you your PRD electronically, so you will need to set up an account with a secure email service that will allow you to download your PRD in due course.”

Besides the obvious fact this this is an extra imposition on petitioners who have all had to have their petitions delivered in quadruplicate by hand and pay £20 for the priviledge, the specifications of the system itself are exceptionally worrying. Switch Egress list these as some the benefits which HS2 Ltd will have by using their system:

  • Protect and control sensitive information – Control who can access information you have emailed and how it is used – no matter where it goes via sophisticated email encryption.
  • Real time revocation – Revoke access to shared information in real-time even after it has left your mailbox.
  • Full audit trail – Track any email you or your organisation send so you can report in detail on information access and are fully compliant with relevant regulations.”

These features seem just more than a little excessive, and just that little bit worrying, especially if HS2 Ltd retain the power to revoke responses, and even mitigation offers to petitioners. There is also the issue of how easy it will be for petitioners to share their responses, which is of significant concern where petitions have been submitted by action groups, council and other organisations where several people will need to access any response from HS2 Ltd.

With the Hybrid Bill Committee due to meet on Tuesday 10th June, the Stop HS2 campaign is calling on all those who have submitted petitions to request that the Committee order HS2 Ltd not to do this. Emails should be sent to prbohoc@parliament.uk and marked for consideration of the HS2 Hybrid Bill Committee.

The email sent from Stop HS2 is below:

FOR THE ATTENTION OF THE HIGH SPEED RAIL (LONDON-WEST MIDLANDS) BILL COMMITTEE

7th June 2014

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to express the sincere concern of many petitioners regarding the content of acknowledgement emails sent out by HS2 Ltd over the 5th & 6th of June 2014, with specific reference to the plan from HS2 Ltd concerning their proposed method of delivery for Petition Response Documents (PRDs).

These emails state:

“Shortly in advance of your scheduled appearance we will send you a Petition Response Document (PRD) setting out our formal response to your petition. We intend to send you your PRD electronically, so you will need to set up an account with a secure email service that will allow you to download your PRD in due course.  The instructions on how to do this are attached, and you will shortly receive a separate email inviting you to create your account.” 

The secure email system which HS2 Ltd are proposing to use is Switch Egress, which lists on its’ website these features which would be available to HS2 Ltd:

  • Protect and control sensitive information – Control who can access information you have emailed and how it is used – no matter where it goes via sophisticated email encryption.
  • Real time revocation – Revoke access to shared information in real-time even after it has left your mailbox.
  • Full audit trail – Track any email you or your organisation send so you can report in detail on information access and are fully compliant with relevant regulations.

This unanticipated move from HS2 Ltd has been met with dismay by your petitioners for two main reasons; the added imposition on petitioners, and the level of control HS2 Ltd wish to exert on PRDs, and the information they can gather regarding the forwarding of PRDs.

Given that the petitions were required to be delivered by hand in quadruplicate, and that petitions of individuals are online with many detailing highly personal information, it seems bizarre that HS2 Ltd require petitioners to sign up to an additional security service, simply for the convenience of HS2 Ltd. The concept of demanding that petitioners sign up for an encrypted email service is also unprecedented, as this was not required for the most recent set of PRDs, those concerning the Crossrail Bill.

HS2 Ltd have the addresses, and where supplied, the email addresses of all petitioners and agents, which are more than sufficient for all communications. As such, petitioners do not see the need for them to open a new account, without which they will not be able to see their PRDs.

With regard to the actual security features of the emails, it is unclear whether or not it will be possible for petitioners, agents, or of more concern the lead petitioner when a petition is on behalf of a group of people or organisation, to forward PRDs on. Also of concern is the fact that HS2 Ltd, even if it is possible for PRDs to be forwarded and opened, will retain ‘control’ of PRD and, be able to tell who PRDs have been forwarded to, and even be able to revoke documents after they have been sent.

Given that PRDs will in some circumstances will contain proposed mitigation solutions from HS2 Ltd, it is unbelievable that HS2 Ltd wish to retain the power to recall such documents.

The whole proposal smacks of a ‘Big Brother’ approach from HS2 Ltd, and it is generally thought that HS2 Ltd, as they typically do, have come up with a proposal which suits them, without the first consideration for the implications of their unilateral decision on those effected by HS2. If HS2 Ltd are concerned that they have proof of delivery of PRDs, this is easily achieved via both normal email systems and registered postal delivery.

Petitioners object to HS2 Ltd wishing to impose registration to a secure email system on principle, but even more so to the imposition of a system  which potentially both allows HS2 Ltd to both track the onward distribution of PRDs, and allows HS2 Ltd to recall PRDs as if they had never existed.

As such, I have been instructed to humbly request that your honourable committee rule that the proposed system is scrapped, and PRDs should be sent either as simple attachments to emails, or as hard copy via the post.

There have been other minor issues concerning the confirmation emails, such as: people named on multiple petitions being sent emails without any indication of which petition the receipt refers to; agents being contacted when petitioners marked the ‘contact me directly’ option on the cover sheet; and agents getting receipt emails for some, but not all petitions they are agent for. Additionally, petitioners are not content with the wording of the paragraph concerning potential locus standi challenges, which does not make it clear that it will be for your honourable committee to decide if petitioners have locus standi or not.

I hope your honourable committee will take steps to makes sure that all petitioners or agents have been contacted, and humbly request that HS2 Ltd can be instructed to contact all petitioners again, making it clear exactly what the process for any locus standi challenges would be.

Yours Sincerely,

Joe Rukin

Campaign Manager, Stop HS2.

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One comment on “Important information for all HS2 petitioners on ‘security’ issues
  1. Some people still rely on the post and some on traditional email. Government intimidation is part of what Lord Gus O’Donnell called nudging which he claimed was beneficial for whom one can assume the Government. If any discovers how to nudge HS2 DfT and the Cameron Clegg Alexander and Osborne quartet broadcast the method as a nudge will start the slide to realisation there are divides even in the methods or method people rely on.

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