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Time for surveillance transparency

Today the three heads of Britain's intelligence agencies appear infront of Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee in a televised hearing, the first time for such a hearing to be broadcast. Progress, yes, but let's not get ahead of ourselves - the head of the CIA first appeared on TV speaking to congress in 1975, so it's hardly a revolution in oversight. Today we have published new polling by

GCHQ faces legal action over mass surveillance

Today Big Brother Watch, working with the Open Rights Group, English PEN and German internet activist Constanze Kurz, has announced legal papers have been filed alleging that GCHQ has illegally intruded on the privacy of millions of British and European citizens. We allege that by collecting vast amounts of data leaving or entering the UK, including the content of emails and social media messages, the UK’s spy

Patients win choice of sharing medical records

Earlier this year, we led the concern that a new NHS data sharing plan would see every patient's medical records uploaded to a new information system without the right to opt-out. We warned at the time that patient records would be out of patient control. On Friday, the Secretary of State confirmed that this will not be the case. We have worked closely with MedConfidential and Privacy International to ensure

Boom in private investigators risks avoiding surveillance regulation

Our latest report highlights the growing use of private investigators by local and public authorities, particularly the number of times they are used without RIPA authorisation. The law in the UK, particularly the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, is broadly drawn to allow evidence to be introduced in court that in other jurisdictions would not be deemed admissible. Contrasted with the fruit of the poisonous

Report: Entry Allowed? The number of local authority staff with the power to enter your home or workplace

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home, Research and reports | Leave a comment

iStock_000017522162SmallKnock Knock.

Who’s there?

The flea inspector.

The flea inspector who?

The flea inspector who can enter your home — without a warrant.

Published today, Entry Allowed? (PDF)  highlights the full extent of the wildly out of control powers of entry available to local authorities throughout the UK, where a total of 19,375 local authority officials hold powers of entry – an average of 45 in each of our local authorities.

The worst offenders include Northumberland and Leeds local councils, both of which have more than 500 officials with powers of entry, whilst Hertfordshire, Chorley and Cornwall all have more than 300.

The research comes at a time of escalating concern over state encroachment onto personal freedoms, and will do nothing to ease the minds of a public who have borne the brunt of policy maker’s recent attempts to change the relationship between the state and the individual.

Despite the Conservative’s manifesto pledge to cut back “intrusive powers of entry”, there remain more than 1,400 powers that allow public officials to enter private property. We believe this is simply unacceptable. Unless life or property is in imminent danger, there is no justification for officials to be able to enter a property without a warrant. Additionally, as our research highlights, it is not only the number of powers that should be under review, but so should the number of staff who are able to use them. We therefore propose, as a result of this research, that:

  1. The number of individuals with powers of entry should be reviewed.
  2. A system of statutory protection must be implemented in order to defend the public from over-zealous or illegal use of powers of entry.
  3. An enforceable Code of Practice for powers of entry must be published as a matter of urgency.

The full report (PDF) includes detailed information on every local authority.

A Summary of the Snoopers’ Charter

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 4 Comments

Image3It was almost inevitable that the Communications Data Bill, aka the Snoopers’ Charter, would be called for once again in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris. Having regenerated a number of times since the powers were first mooted in 2007 under a Labour Government, the powers have proved to continuously be controversial due to their un-targeted nature.

This is a brief summary of the Snoopers’ Charter.


The Communications Data Bill would require ISP’s and mobile phone companies to maintain records of each users’ communications data, including internet browsing history, email’s, voice calls, social media interactions, online gaming and mobile phone messaging. The details of which would be stored for 12 months. The Bill proposed to give access of the data to the Police, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, the intelligence agencies and HM Revenue and Customs, with the potential to extend these powers to other bodies.

The retention of email and telephone communications data is already retained under the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act. The Counter Terrorism and Security Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, introduces the ability to match IP addresses to individuals.

It was estimated that the cost of introducing the Snoopers’ Charter would be £1.8 billion. However, the Joint Committee on the draft Communications Data Bill warned that they believed that the Home Office’s cost estimates “are not robust” and that they were “prepared without consultation with the telecommunications industry on which they largely depend, and they project forward 10 years to a time where the communications landscape may be very different.”

There were a number of concerns regarding the proposed legislation, including from the technology companies.

There were also a number of alternatives that were mooted.

In a YouGov/Big Brother Watch survey, found almost three-quarters (71%) of Britons say they do not trust that the data about internet use will be kept secure and four in ten (41%) people said they would be less likely to use online services and websites if they knew their activity was being recorded.

In April 2013 Nick Clegg MP, the Deputy Prime Minister, stated that whilst the Liberal Democrats were in Government the Bill would not go through Parliament.

There have been repeated calls for a return of the Snoopers’ Charter, most notably in the aftermath of the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich and the attacks in Paris.

Further reading

Big Brother Watch comment on the Snoopers’ Charter


BBC – Snoopers Charter post Paris attack – Emma Carr from BigBrotherWatch on Vimeo.

JCHR Report into the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 2 Comments

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has today published a report providing legislative scrutiny of the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill. In November last year we provided a breakdown of what was going to be contained in the Bill and our initial analysis.

Key points from the JCHR report:

On scrutiny of the Bill

  • 1.8 We wrote to the Home Secretary on 10 September requesting a human rights memorandum on the measures announced by the Prime Minister in his Statement to the House of Commons of 1 September, but no ECHR Memorandum was provided to us until 25 November. We do not consider that the provision of an ECHR Memorandum at the time of the introduction of a fast-tracked Bill amounts to giving us a proper opportunity to scrutinise the legislation.
  • 1.10 … the compressed timetable has inevitably affected our ability to scrutinise the Bill fully. The long delay between our letter of 10 September and the provision of the ECHR Memorandum on 25 November represents a great deal of lost scrutiny time.

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Privacy Not Included

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 4 Comments

CurrentCost Envi Energy MeterChristmas is over for another year and the January sales are in full swing.  You might have been spoilt by a loved one or treated yourself to a new piece of shiny technology; a smart watch, smart TV, drone or a new mobile phone.   You might have spent the holidays installing a remote heating system.  Maybe your New Year’s resolution has been to get fit and lose weight with the help of a health monitor.  Regardless of what the product, you most likely have given the terms and conditions a cursory glance before ticking “agree” eager to get on with revolutionising your life.

Las Vegas is currently hosting the annual CES  fair and the Internet of Things is the talk of the town. Exhibitors from around the world are presenting the technology that you will be buying next Christmas.

In a speech at CES, Edith Ramirez the head of the US Federal Trade Commission highlighted concerns that connected devices and data sensors – the key parts of the Internet of Things – have the ability “to digitally monitor our otherwise private activities”.

Back in the 1980’s you had to worry about batteries not being included, in 2015 it’s your privacy that’s missing

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Merry Christmas from Big Brother Watch

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | Leave a comment

BBW announcement photo2014 has been an incredible year for Big Brother Watch, with the team being busier than ever before. The aftermath of the Snowden revelations, surveillance legislation being pushed through Parliament in mere days, and landmark EU rulings on data retention, are just a few of the issues we have encountered this year that have highlighted why the  work that Big Brother Watch does is more important than ever.

As we near our 5th anniversary it has been very exciting to see the team evolve and grow, with Emma Carr being promoted to the role of Director, Dan Nesbitt being promoted to Research Director and Renate Samson joining the team as Chief Executive.

2014 has also been a fantastic year for the organisation’s ever-expanding media profile, with the team appearing in the national press 285 times — including 8 front pages — and in regional press 837 times, as well as featuring on national TV and radio on a combined total of 67 occasions. Not bad for a small team of 3 people!

20140624-131829-47909456.jpgOur research has also been far-reaching, resonating with both the public and private sectors and prompting a great deal of coverage, not only in the press but also in Parliament. The misuse of power at a police level was investigated in our report “Off the Record: How the police use surveillance powers”, which exposed the true frequency with which controversial RIPA-enabled powers are used. “Traffic Spies: A 300m surveillance industry” detailed the expansion of local councils mobile CCTV programs which have raised some £312 million nationwide. This revealing work led the Department for Communities and Local Government to ban the use of CCTV ‘spy cars’ in issuing fines.

We also published our Biometrics in Schools report which revealed that more than one million pupils were fingerprinted in 2012-13, whilst NHS Data Breaches” demonstrated the inability of current Data Protection law to protect the most personal information that authorities hold.  Far from improving since our similar report covering 2008-2011, the number of breaches suggests that the situation has worsened considerably.

2014 also saw more policy briefings being produced than ever before, with topics including RIPA, DRIPA, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, the ‘capability gap’, communications data, the e-call system, body worn cameras and surveillance transparency.

Big Brother Watch has also been called to give evidence to Parliament on 5 occasions this year — with contributions being given to the Home Affairs Select Committee, Health Select Committee, Science and Technology Committee (x2) and the Intelligence and Security Committee. 2014 has also seen the team speak at a number of universities and events, photoincluding debating at the Cambridge Union, giving evidence to the Google advisory council, and speaking in the literary tent at Latitude festival on the topic of secrets, truth and freedom. We were also well represented at the political party conferences this year, with us speaking at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference on a digital bill of rights and organising panels at the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Autumn Conferences on the topic of civil liberties in a digital age.

As we approach the end of the year, we are looking to 2015, which already looks to be the busiest and most exciting yet. With the new team in place, we are looking forward to celebrating the organisation’s 5th anniversary. We will also be continuing to publish unique and innovative research, with reports focusing on data breaches, CCTV, the Cloud and social media prosecutions.

Have a very Merry Christmas, a very happy New Year and thank you for your continued support of Big Brother Watch.

HASC concludes that surveillance legislation is “not fit for purpose”.

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 2 Comments

The Home Affairs Select Committee has published a report today into the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, concluding that the legislation “is not fit for purpose” and “needs a complete overhaul”.

Big Brother Watch has published a briefing on RIPA, which can be accessed here (PDF).

Our director, Emma Carr, talked to BBC News about the report.

BBC News Emma Carr HASC RIPA Report from BigBrotherWatch on Vimeo.

Key conclusions:

S94 Telecommunications Act

  • There is no public disclosure of how this is used, and none of our witnesses has been aware of anyone who considers it their role to scrutinse it or have any oversight powers. We believe this should be reviewed, and one of the Commissioners specifically tasked with oversight of this power, for them to be given the information and access needed to fulfill this role.
  • We recommend that the Government published the number of times this power is used on an annual basis.
  • We further suggest that the Intelligence and Security Committee conduct an inquiry into the use of this power.

Transparency and record keeping

  • “The Committee acknowledges the operational need for secrecy both during investigations and afterwards. However, there has to be proper oversight and scrutiny. The Committee recommends that the Home Office use the current review of the RIPA Code to ensure that law enforcement agencies use their RIPA powers properly.”
  • RIPA is not fit for purpose, with law enforcement agecnies failing to routinely record the professions of individuals who have had their communications data accessed under RIPA. The recording of this information is totally insufficient, and the whole process appears secretive and disorganised with information being destroyed afterwards.

Effective oversight

  • All police forces must communicate openly and effectively with the IOCCO regarding the information they give him about their work.
  • The IOCCO should be given further resources to carry out its job

Updated code of practice

  • The communications data code of practice contains no advice on dealing with the professions that handle privileged information, nor on the use of confidential helplines.
  • There is “vital” that there is better statistical requirements in the code of practice.
  • The Government had stated that there would be a revised code in draft “in autumn” which would be open to public consultation. With only 26 days until the new year, the Home Office has failed to meet its own timetable.

Emma Carr, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “When a senior Parliamentary Committee says that the current legislation is not fit for purpose, then this simply cannot be ignored. It is now abundantly clear that the law is out of date, the oversight is weak and the recording of how the powers  are used is patchy at best. The public is right to expect better.

“The conclusion of the Committee that the level of secrecy surrounding the use of these powers is permitting investigations that are deemed ”unacceptable in a democracy”, should make the defenders of these powers sit up and take notice. At present, the inadequacy and inconsistency of the records being kept by public authorities regarding the use of these powers is woefully inadequate. New laws would not be required to correct this.

“Whilst this report concentrates on targeting journalists, it is important to remember  that thousands of members of the public have been also been snooped on, with little opportunity for redress.  If the police fail to use the existing powers correctly then it is completely irresponsible for the Home Office to be planning on increasing those powers.

“Failure by the Government to address these serious points means we can already know that there will be many more innocent members of the public who will be wrongly spied on and accused. This is intolerable.”

Briefing Note: Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Research and reports, RIPA | 2 Comments

We have produced a briefing document on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), the main surveillance legislation that is used by public authorities, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies. The briefing can be accessed here.


RIPA governs the use of covert surveillance powers. In 2012 the Protection of Freedoms Act was introduced, partly to solve some of the issues created by the legislation, such as the use of intrusive surveillance for minor issues. Many problems still remain and the need to enact serious reform is now more pressing than ever.


  1. RIPA was drafted for a pre-social media age, it is now woefully outdated.
  2. More transparency is needed around how RIPA powers are used, including the way that authorisations to use the powers are approved.
  3. RIPA’s oversight mechanisms are in need of reform.
  4. Members of the public should be able to seek redress if they have been subject to surveillance.

Big Brother Watch supports campaign to limit pre-charge bail to 28 days

Posted on by Renate Samson Posted in Civil Liberties, Home | 1 Comment

5946829399_e633991652_oBig Brother Watch has added its support to a campaign calling for pre-charge bail to be limited to 28 days.

The law was introduced as part of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and was strengthened to include conditions in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.   It was designed to ensure that people suspected of a crime didn’t linger in prison cells whilst the police conducted their enquiries.  With no statutory time limit in place, people can be held on bail for months, and in some cases even years.

Research indicates that an estimated 70,000 people are currently living under pre-charge bail conditions, 5,000 of which have been subject to the control for over six months.

Whilst it is necessary for the police to have the required time to investigate crime and determine whether an individual should be charged or not, the current situation is not acceptable to the police or to the individual.  Establishing a clear time frame of 28 days will give clarification to all parties.  Should there be a need for further investigation any extension should be fully transparent and subject to judicial review.

Living in limbo with no indication as to when a charge may or may not be brought is a form of punishment in itself.  The impact on a person’s day to day life, health and mental wellbeing is profound. Your life is simply put on hold with no right to appeal.

Big Brother Watch Advent Calendar

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | Leave a comment

Every day in December we will be opening the BBW advent calendar, which includes practical tips to keep your devices and profiles safe online.

December 10 Read more

No Halt to the Sharing of Medical Records

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Data Protection, Databases, NHS | 4 Comments

iStock_000016822421MediumDespite uncovering thousands of cases of patient information being wrongly disclosed to third parties a recent review into the sharing of medical records with private sector companies endorses the practice.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the review, conducted by Sir Nick Partridge found that “tens of thousands of records were wrongly passed to third parties”. However Sir Nick argued that the proper checks and balances were now in place.

This is not the first time questions have been raised about the NHS’ ability to keep patient data secure. Earlier this month Big Brother Watch published NHS Data Breaches, a report into the subject (PDF). It found that data security is an ongoing problem, over the last four years patient confidentiality had been breached at least 7,255 times.

The major issue to be resolved is the level of deterrent the Data Protection Act 1998 poses to individuals who are intent on breaking its provisions. Currently the courts can only hand down a fine to those guilty of maliciously breaching the terms of the Act.

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