France passes ‘sensory heritage’ law after plight of Maurice the noisy rooster

From crowing roosters to the whiff of barnyard animals, the “sensory heritage” of France’s countryside will now be protected by law from attempts to stifle the everyday aspects of rural life from newcomers looking for peace and quiet. 

French senators on Thursday gave final approval to a law proposed in the wake of several high-profile conflicts by village residents and vacationers, or recent arrivals derided as “neo-rurals”.

A rowdy rooster named Maurice, in particular, made headlines in 2019 after a court in western France rejected a bid to have him silenced by neighbours who had purchased a holiday home nearby.

“Living in the countryside implies accepting some nuisances,” Joël Giraud, the government’s minister in charge of rural life, told lawmakers.

Cow bells (and cow droppings), grasshopper chirps and noisy early-morning tractors are also now considered part of France’s natural heritage that will be codified in its environmental legislation.

“It sends a strong message,” said Pierre-Antoine Lévi, the senator who acted as rapporteur for the bill. “It can act as a useful tool for local officials as they carry out their educational and mediation duties.”

The law is emblematic of growing tensions in the countryside between longtime residents and outsiders whose bucolic expectations often clash with everyday realities.

Corinne Fesseau and her rooster Maurice became the image of the fight when she was brought to court by pensioners next door over the bird’s shrill wake-up calls.

Critics saw the lawsuit as part of a broader threat to France’s hallowed rural heritage by outsiders and city dwellers unable or unwilling to understand the realities of country life.

Thousands of people signed a “Save Maurice” petition, and a judge eventually upheld the cock-a-doodle-doos.

In another case from 2019, a woman in the duck-breeding heartland of the Landes region was brought to court by a newcomer neighbour fed up with the babbling of the ducks and geese in her back garden.

A court in south-west France also threw out that case.

Covid-19: Dorset NHS trust ‘on a knife-edge’ transfers patients to Devon

A fully-stretched NHS trust is starting to transfer patients with Covid-19 to one of the government’s emergency Nightingale Hospitals.

BBC News 

University Hospitals Dorset (UHD) NHS Trust said its hospitals in Bournemouth and Poole were “absolutely full” and “on a knife-edge”.

The number of patients has risen from “more than 350” to “about 380” in the past week, it said.

Up to 10 patients are due to be moved to the Nightingale Hospital in Exeter.

The move will allow the Dorset hospitals to continue accepting emergency admissions.

UHD medical director Tristan Richardson said: “If we can make that happen two or three times in the next fortnight, I think that will just about see us through but it’s still very much on a knife-edge.

“We are absolutely full of Covid patients on both sites.”

Senior nursing sister Ann Brown said: “We knew it was going to be much worse than previous winters, however I still wasn’t expecting it to be quite this bad.”

BBC South health correspondent Alastair Fee, who interviewed staff at the hospital on Wednesday evening, said he saw the pressure building as ambulances delivered more patients with Covid-19.

Exeter Nightingale Hospital

image captionNightingale Hospital Exeter can cater for up to 116 Covid patients

The NHS trust remains on a level four Operational Pressures (OPEL) alert, denoting potential for patient care to be compromised.

Dr Richardson said: “Speaking to families on the phone when you’ve said, ‘That family gathering you had at Christmas has ended up with your grandparent catching Covid and they are sadly going to die in the next 24 hours’, and that penny drops, is sad, so sad.”

Nightingale Hospital Exeter is a specialist facility for up to 116 patients with Covid-19 from the south west of England.

It received its first patients in November from the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust.

In a statement, UHD said: “This joined up regional support will help us to carry on accepting new emergency admissions and providing the best possible care for our remaining patients.”

Free fast broadband offered in UK to support home schooling

Thousands of families struggling with home learning are being offered free high-speed broadband following a partnership between internet provider Hyperoptic and dozens of local authorities across the UK.

Mark Sweney 

Families in 37 local authority areas, from Tower Hamlets in London to Newcastle and Leeds that are struggling with remote learning due to poor or no internet will be offered the chance to have a high speed connection installed with no usage charges until the end of the summer term. At that point there is no obligation to stick with the service. Telecoms regulator Ofcom has estimated that more than 880,000 children live in a household with internet access only via mobile phone.

Broadband and mobile companies have answered calls to do more to support students struggling with connectivity during lockdown. The UK’s biggest telecoms companies including BT, which also owns mobile company EE, Vodafone, Sky, Virgin Media, Sky, O2 and Three have all launched initiatives offering free data and internet packages to help children access online learning tools.

Liam McAvoy, senior director of business development at Hyperoptic, said: “Every child deserves to be able to virtually learn and harness the opportunities that are enabled by connectivity. We hope others in the industry join us in providing free connectivity to families that need most.”

The company said that users of the package could expect a consistent service that does not fluctuate depending on what time of day it is or how many people or devices in the house are connected, and that it comes with unlimited data.

Hyperoptic said it hoped to connect at least 2,500 families with the offer in the next month alone.

Ministers could pay £500 to everyone with Covid in England

Ministers are considering paying £500 to everyone in England who tests positive for Covid-19, in a dramatic overhaul of the self-isolation support scheme, the Guardian can reveal.

Josh Halliday

The proposed change is thought necessary because government polling found only 17% of people with symptoms are coming forward to get a test, owing to fears that a positive result could stop people from working.

The universal payment is the “preferred position” of Matt Hancock’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and would cost up to £453m a week, 12 times the cost of the current system, according to an official policy paper seen by the Guardian.

The 16-page document, dated 19 January and marked “Official Sensitive”, also proposes that police should be given access to health data for the first time to crack down on quarantine breaches.

Another recommendation is ending the £500 one-off payments to close contacts of infected people and instead rolling out nationwide self-testing, so that those who test negative can return to work.

The revamped self-isolation support scheme was drawn up by Hancock’s team to be considered by the government’s coronavirus operations committee, chaired by Michael Gove, which is expected to meet on Friday.

The UK recorded another 1,290 deaths on Thursday and 37,892 new positive cases, and there is uncertainty about whether the current restrictions will do enough to bring the pandemic under control. Boris Johnson pointedly refused to be drawn on when lockdown measures could be lifted, raising fears that the regime may not ease for months.

Financial support for people who need to self-isolate is critical to the government’s coronavirus strategy because the disease will continue to spread unless infectious people and their close contacts go into quarantine for 10 days.

However, there have been concerns that the scheme unveiled by the prime minister four months ago is excluding many people who cannot afford to self-isolate, meaning they are torn between losing earnings or spreading the disease.

The overhaul has been prompted by Cabinet Office polling indicating that only 17% of people with symptoms are coming forward for testing, according to the policy paper. It said: “Wanting to avoid self-isolation is now the single biggest reported barrier to requesting a test.”

A separate survey carried out for the DHSC, discussed in the report, found that only one in four people reported compliance with self-isolation, with 15% going to work as normal.

At present only those on a low income who cannot work from home and receive one of seven means-tested benefits are eligible for the £500 test-and-trace support payment (TTSP), excluding many small business owners, sole traders, self-employed workers and parents whose children have been told to self-isolate. Councils are given an additional pot of “discretionary” funding, but figures released by Labour this week showed that three-quarters of applicants were being rejected.

An official review of the scheme has concluded that it excludes too many people, has created a “postcode lottery” around England, and that only one in four of those eligible have received financial support – about 50,000 people in total – because the application process is too complex.

It proposes four options to expand the programme. The most generous is paying £500 to anyone who tests positive. The report says: “Anyone who tested positive for Covid-19, irrespective of their age, employment status or ability to work from home, would be eligible for TTSP. This would be straightforward for local authorities to administer, though it would lead to significantly greater volumes of applications than under the current scheme.”

Describing the universal payment as “the preferred DHSC position,” officials estimate it would cost up to £453m a week if there were 60,000 cases a day – 12 times the current cost of £36.5m a week. It would cost £340m a week if there were 45,000 infections a day, as at present.

A second option is paying the lump sum to those who test positive and cannot work from home, costing up to £244m a week. The third option is paying those earning less than £26,495 a year or on means-tested benefits, at a cost of £122m a week. The fourth proposal is keeping the current system but “significantly” expanding the discretionary funding to councils.

The policy paper says “a more radical approach” would be paying people their usual earnings instead of a £500 lump sump, but it would be difficult to assess the earnings of those on zero-hours contracts, agency workers and the self-employed and therefore that option is not recommended.

The proposal to end £500 payments to the close contacts of infected people and instead introduce regular nationwide at-home lateral flow testing would save the government £79m a week if cases were at 60,000 a day, according to the report. However, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has cautioned against using self-tests as a “green light” to avoid self-isolation. Any nationwide scheme would need to be clinically approved.

Another proposed change likely to be controversial is to give individuals’ health data to the police to prove that someone has tested positive for Covid-19, making it easier for them to be prosecuted.

In October it emerged that police could request information about whether someone was supposed to be self-isolating, but “no testing data or health data”. The official paper says the current enforcement approach is “difficult to implement” and that police should be given health data to distinguish between people who have tested positive and those required to self-isolate because they are a contact.

It adds: “Contrary to previous assurances given to the public, this will mean sharing health data (ie an indication of who has tested positive for Covid-19) with the police if someone is reported to have breached their legal duty, but this is considered a necessary and proportionate measure – and data-sharing agreements will provide that the information is not used for any other purposes.”

A DHSC spokesperson said they would not comment on leaks, but said: “We are in one of the toughest moments of this pandemic and it is incumbent on all of us to help protect the NHS by staying at home and following the rules.

“All local authorities costs for administering the test-and-trace support payment scheme are covered by the government, and each authority is empowered to make discretionary payments outside of the scheme. Fifty million pounds was invested when the scheme launched, and we are providing a further £20m to help support people on low incomes who need to self-isolate.

“We also recognise the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health and wellbeing which is why mental health services have remained open throughout the pandemic.”

Password data breach ‘a wake-up call’ and example of ‘poor practice’

A significant password data breach within East Devon District Council has been slammed as a ‘wake-up call’ and an example of ‘poor practice’.

Daniel Clark 

Passwords used by some of the 60 strong East Devon District Council were made available to other councillors as a result of the data breach that was uncovered at the start of November 2020.

Swift action was taken to rectify the breach, with councillors having their passwords reset, and passwords were not visible to the public at any stage.

The password information pertained to Office 365 users and also the Airwatch software the council uses, and it is understood that Strata, East Devon District Council’s IT provider, at some stage had taken the decision to add the both Airwatch and Outlook 365 passwords to the individual councillor profiles, and as such, the data breach meant passwords were available to other members.

Details confirming East Devon’s use of both the Airwatch and Office 365 platforms were publicly available in documents in the council’s website prior to the data breach occurring.

East Devon District Council’s cabinet, when they met on Wednesday night to consider the breach, heard that because some Members were able to see passwords, it represented a technical data protection breach and that it was clearly poor practice not to protect sensitive information from those not entitled to see it.

Strata had also confirmed categorically that there was no public visibility to the password information and that the likelihood of councillor passwords and emails being compromised by other councillors appears very low.

But councillors said the issue was a ‘wake-up call’ and that the inability for councillors to set their own passwords had been raised back in May 2019 but had not been actioned, with them uncomfortable that all passwords had been stored on a spreadsheet, albeit one that had only very limited access and that the council’s monitoring officer, Henry Gordon Lennox, when compiling the report found he was unable to access.

Cllr Paul Millar, who discovered the breach, said that it was a very sad situation and that he was not being a ‘captain hindsight’ about his concerns.

He said: “As soon as I became a councillor and I received the councillor iPad I made representations to Strata that I was uncomfortable that I wasn’t able to set or amend or change the password at the time, and I was uncomfortable that others had my password, and my fears were justified.

“There was a spreadsheet in Blackdown House with the passwords of all members on it. I discovered the breach, I am disappointed that despite members raising the concerns and being able to set your own password is standard practice, I was disappointed that my and others concerns were not acted on before the breach occurred.”

Asked to explain how he discovered the data breach, Cllr Millar said that he was on his android phone on Office 365 in his emails and he discovered another councillor’s password was visible on their profile.

He said that he checked his own profile and his password was visible, and thought that it could be the same for others, and immediately reported the issue to Strata.

Cllr Millar added: “My worry remains that as councillors we have extremely sensitive data in the email accounts and as much as it was only other councillors who could see the information, we are going through nasty political times in the council, and had another councillor seen the password, they may have hacked into their emails.

“Lessons have been learnt and we need to implement the changes needed to ensure this never happens again and have that multi-faceted verification.”

Cllr Fabian King said that the line in the report that ‘the risk appeared very low’ was ‘a fairly gentle remark’ but was ‘a wake-up call’.

He added: “The report concentrates on fixing the breach which is commendable and Strata provides a very good service all round, but this is a wake-up call. Any invitation to have a ‘look over the wall’ could be very tempting and given the opportunity, people may be tempted to see what is going on.

“We need to acknowledge that over a length of time, internal measures of this sort are rather incestuous, and I do believe that we need to give room for an independent audit.”

Laurence Whitlock, Strata IT Director, in his report to the meeting, said: “Such incidents are treated seriously by Strata. It is clear that once notified of the disclosure, Strata reacted very quickly and professionally in mitigating the risk and identifying the root cause.

“The key critical point is that it can be confirmed that external visibility of the password information by individuals residing outside of the Strata provisioned Office365 environment would not have been possible, primarily because of the secure way in which the Strata Office365 environment has been designed, built and deployed.

“Hence, Strata can confirm categorically that there was no public visibility to the password information. In addition, the likelihood of Councillor passwords and emails being compromised by other Councillors appears very low and any misuse of the password information would have been in contravention of the Computer Misuse Act 1990.”

He added: “There is no evidence to suggest that there has been any unauthorised or malicious use of passwords during the log period of August 11, 2020 until November 13, 2020. In all likelihood, had there been any unauthorised activity prior to the log period, this would have continued during the log period itself.

“Based on Strata’s investigation coupled with Strata’s determination of the likely timeframe when the passwords actually became visible, it is Strata’s professional judgement that in reality the likelihood of the passwords having been compromised by other Councillors at any time is very low.

“Strata reported the incident to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), who have reviewed the case and due to the speed of the Strata response and the controls in place, the ICO have concluded no further action is necessary and the case has been closed.

“The root cause of the incident was rapidly identified by Strata and corrective measures put in to place immediately and there was no wider risk of threat to the Council’s IT systems.”

Key lessons learned and recommendations that have been identified as result of this incident, the cabinet heard, was that councillors need to be provided with the ability to manage their own passwords, irrespective of how complex the delivery of such functionality is.

The report said: “Whilst this may make the support of councillor devices and applications more difficult, a solution to this issue needs to be identified, procured and implemented.”

Other lessons included that Strata security practices need to be reviewed regularly to ensure that there are no weaknesses in access controls, the security of data and in particular passwords is all staff’s responsibility and any evidence of poor practice should be reported immediately, but that the issue of others being able to see passwords in a list and the use of similar passwords is clearly poor practice and steps, such as appropriate training and reminders to staff, will be undertaken to seek to avoid a repeat event.

The meeting that it would not be until around April before the processes were changed so that councillors would have the ability to set and reset their own passwords.

Cllr John Loudoun, in recommending that the cabinet note the report, also called for the Devon Audit Partnership to carry out an audit of Strata’s process, and for the South West Audit Partnership to take a look at East Devon’s data processes.

He said: “That would go some way to reassure and to answer the question of whether or not we want further independent reassurance.”

The Information Commissioners Office, having been asked to consider the breach, decided that no further action was necessary on this occasion.

They said: “It appears that the information was exposed to a limited number of people, and technical logs have shown that there has been no incorrect access to the data. This could reduce the risk to the data subjects.

“The personal data breach is not likely to result in a high risk to the data subjects and it appears you have the appropriate technical security measures in place to protect the personal data you process.

“After discovering the incident, steps have been taken to remove the information and to synchronise the system to contain the breach, and additional steps have been taken to change passwords to prevent any unauthorised access.

“The root cause of the incident was process based and you have changed your process for recording information to prevent another incident of this nature and it is noted that all sensitive data has been removed, which could reduce the risk of this information being disclosed.”