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Saturday, Apr 17, 2021

Concerns raised about UK's CoI website

Concerns raised about UK's CoI website

A new Commission of Inquiry (CoI) website has been set up for the [British] Virgin Islands (VI) in over 60 global languages on a UK registered domain, bvi.public-inquiry.uk with the CoI address listed as RB 1.11 22 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2EG.

It is unclear when the website went live, as a search on both the ICANN and WHOIS domain lookup service returned no information.

However, the privacy statement of the new website last modified on January 21, 2021, noted that the data management system is being hosted on the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) platform and more analysis revealed that it is running the Drupal Content Management System (CMS).


It is unclear when the website went live, as a search on both the ICANN and WHOIS domain lookup service returned no information, however, the privacy statement last modified on January 21, 2021, noted that the data management system is being hosted on the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) platform.

Premier’s voice exiled from CoI website


Further, while the website details the statements and accusations of the Ex-Governor, Augustus J.U. Jaspert and information on its Commissioner the Right Honourable Judge Gary R. Hickinbottom; press statements from the democratically elected Premier of the VI, Hon Andrew A. Fahie in response to the inquiry was completely missing.

On visiting the webpage, it says “This independent inquiry was established in January 2021 by the Governor of the British Virgin Islands. Its purpose is to review the Territory’s governance and make recommendations for improvement.”

Detailed in the introduction is how to get involved in the CoI with an assurance that the information submitted through this website will be “treated as confidential and will not be disclosed outside the Inquiry team without your prior consent.”

The website then lists the BVI constitution, the Ex-Governor’s statement when he announced the CoI, the VI Commissions of Inquiry Act, the CoI Instrument of Appointment, including Terms of Reference in addition to the Commissioner's Press Conference Statement.


Further, while the website details the statements and accusations of the Ex-Governor, Augustus J.U. Jaspert and information on its Commissioner, the Right Honourable Judge Gary R. Hickinbottom; press statements from the democratically elected Premier of the VI, Hon Andrew A. Fahie (R1) in response to the inquiry was completely missing.

‘Free for all’ submitting of data to CoI


One significant feature of the website, which can be accessed globally, is the ability for persons to submit claims and data to the CoI through a built-in form.

While the form collects personal identification information like names and email addresses with the ability to upload a file, there appears to be no vetting process as to who could submit information to the CoI and who could not.

This essentially means that just about anyone from anywhere on the open web from Africa, to Asia and Europe can submit information that can be used in the CoI.

On submitting information, however, a person must then select one of three options:

(1.) “I consent to my personal details (my name) and any other information I submit, if pertinent, being used in the BVI Commission of Inquiry’s report. ”

(2.) “I would like my personal details (my name) to remain confidential, but am happy for the information I submit, if pertinent, to be used anonymously in the BVI Commission of Inquiry’s report.”

(3) “I would like my personal details (my name) and information submitted to remain completely confidential and not be used in the BVI Commission of Inquiry’s report," the website noted.


VINO reached out to Premier Andrew A. Fahie for comments on whether his government had any input in the creation of the website, however, no response was received up to publication time.

Website opened to malicious submissions


One Information Technology (IT) expert speaking on condition of anonymity to Virgin Islands News Online (VINO), said the website also does not appear to have Internet Protocol (IP) restrictions that is usually implemented in basic survey and data collection forms of that nature.

Therefore, a malicious individual or groups can submit multiple sets of information to the CoI, or spam the system with or without a Virtual Private Network (VPN) as there appears to be no built-in feature to restrict data collection should there be malicious intent or submission abuse.

The IT expert further related that for an inquiry of that magnitude, the data collection system ought to have more robust security in place, instead of its basic data collection design.

They said it brings into question the quality of the data the CoI intends to collect through the form. It should be noted that the Inquiry is attempting to prove or discredit serious accusations against a sitting government.

Seemingly conflicting positions on data privacy


Further, as previously stated, while the website’s introduction says information submitted will be treated as confidential and will not be disclosed outside the inquiry team without prior consent, the privacy policy adds an additional layer of complexity, by announcing that personnel from third party companies will have access to the data.

“The Commission will use the data to draw conclusions about the subject of the Inquiry, and it will help the Commission to form recommendations.

"It will only be used by the Commission and others who are required to see it as part of the legal process of the Inquiry, like third-party data processors providing IT infrastructure for the Inquiry,” the CoI website privacy notice stated under the category ‘what happens to data,’ the privacy statement declared.

VINO reached out to Premier Fahie for comments on whether his government had any input in the creation of the website or was informed of it by the persons or entity behind it; however, no response was received up to publication time.

Our news centre will bring more analysis on how the CoI intends to gather and use data it collects to draw conclusions on the subject of the inquiry.

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