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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

Audio recording

Southampton Council in the dock

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Audio recording, CCTV, Councils, Information Commissioner, Legal Action | 2 Comments

taxi-2Southampton Council’s attempt to justify it’s policy of requiring taxis to record audio and video of every journey took another blow yesterday when the ‘First Tier Tribunal’ ruled against it.

The case stems from a complaint made by Big Brother Watch and others to the ICO, and led to Oxford council abandoning it’s policy and Southampton being given an ‘enforcement notice’ – essentially a prosecution for breaching the Data Protection Act.

As reported by the barrister’s chambers 11KBW, who acted for the Information Commissioner’s Office in the case, “what the Council disputed was (1) the conclusion that the policy involved the processing of “sensitive personal data” as well as personal data; and (2) the ICO’s finding that the recording and retention of audio data was a disproportionate interference with passengers’ privacy rights under Article 8 of the European Convention.”

On both points, the tribunal ruled against the council, saying the policy was disproportionate and accepting the risk of “function creep”.

With lawyers highlighting that this case sets an important precedent for surveillance and data protection law, we hope that in future councils will not be so quick to implement policies that so blatantly trample on the privacy of people without any kind of justification.

The only decision Southampton Council can now make is to abandon this ludicrous policy and we will be writing to them to demand they do so immediately.


Southampton fights to record your conversations

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Audio recording, CCTV, Civil Liberties, Councils, Data Protection, Information Commissioner, Surveillance, Technology | 2 Comments

Following our complaint to the Information Commissioner, last month Southampton Council was handed an enforcement notice for it’s policy of requiring taxis to record both audio and video of every taxi journey.

The council has now announced it will appeal the ICO’s action, despite the policy being branded invasive and disproportionate by a judge and the Information Commissioner saying it goes too far. For Southampton Council to fight in the courts for the right to record the conversation of every taxi passenger is madness.

Yet more public resources will be tied up defending a policy that has no grounding in rational thought or civil society. It’s another example of a council trying to steamroller surveillance through without paying attention to public opinion, privacy or in this case, the law.

Doncaster joins the audio-CCTV club

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Audio recording, CCTV, Civil Liberties, Privacy, Surveillance, Technology | 1 Comment

After successfully challenging audio-CCTV in Oxford and Southampton, it has come to our attention that Doncaster is also pursuing audio recording in taxis.

Always-on audio recording means recording every minute of every conversation of every passenger. It is a disproportionate and intrusive policy that goes against data protection law and does little to address to the underlying threats to driver safety.

Needless to say we’ll be contacting Doncaster Council and the Information Commissioner about the scheme.

Taxi drivers should not be forced to install surveillance equipment in their cabs. Voluntary schemes and panic button systems would offer a solution to those drivers who feel their safety is at risk without forcing every cab to record passengers.

The ICO has published a CCTV Code of Practice to help local authorities and other organisations using CCTV to stay within the law. Sadly it seems an increasing number of local authorities are happy to disregard this as they pursue over-zealous surveillance policies.

Now Southampton Council faces action for audio taxi recording

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Audio recording, CCTV, Councils, Privacy, Surveillance, Technology | 2 Comments

After our successful campaign against Oxford council’s plans to force local taxi drivers to record the conversations of their passengers, the focus has now turned to Southampton.

We had urged the Information Commissioner to investigate the use of audio recording and today the Information Commissioner ordered Southampton Council to stop it’s own version of the same policy, issuing an enforcement notice and giving the council until 1 November to comply.

As we have consistently argued, recording every minute of every passenger’s conversations in taxis is an unjustified and intrusive measure, and we’re pleased the Information Commissioner is now taking action against to stop Southampton council forcing taxi drivers to spy on their customers.

As the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said:

“By requiring taxi operators to record all conversations and images while the vehicles are in use, Southampton City Council have gone too far.

“We recognise the Council’s desire to ensure the safety of passengers and drivers but this has to be balanced against the degree of privacy that most people would reasonably expect in the back of a taxi cab. It is only right that the privacy of drivers and passengers is respected. This is particularly important as many drivers will use their vehicles outside work. While CCTV can be used in taxis, local authorities must be sensible about the extent to which they mandate its use, particularly when audio recording is involved.”

What is deeply concerning is that two councils have made huge errors of judgement in pursuing audio recording in taxis and that is an issue the Commissioner needs to urgently address. Across a whole range of issues councils time and time again fail to respect people’s privacy and this attitude must be tackled.

Let us know if your council is thinking about pursuing an audio-recording policy.

Oxford drops always-on audio taxi recording

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Audio recording, CCTV, Civil Liberties, Councils, Information Commissioner, Privacy, Surveillance | 1 Comment

Back in November last year, we launched a campaign to stop Oxford Council recording the conversations of taxi passengers in the city. It received international attention, while local MPs and MEPs joined in our condemnation of the idea.

We can now confirm the Council has dropped the scheme, with the Council’s licensing boss telling the Oxford Times “The continuous audio recording is not something we will be pursuing.”

This is excellent news and a long overdue announcement.

The idea of the council requiring – as a condition of a taxi license – that microphones should always be active until half an hour after the engine has stopped  was absurd, but it has taken several months of campaigning to see off this intrusive policy.

We would like to thank Nigel Farage MEP and Nicola Blackwood MP, who both called publicly for the scheme to be abandoned, along with everyone who signed the local petitions, emailed their support or attended the demonstration we held in Oxford. The local taxi drivers themselves played a huge role, without whom the campaign could not have succeeded. The Information Commissioner’s Office also played a central role in ensuring a flagrant breach of their CCTV code of conduct did not go unchallenged.

The regulation of CCTV will continue to be a huge issue as the technology becomes cheaper, smaller and more powerful. Our sights now turn to ensuring anyone using audio CCTV is held to account and these schemes are not allowed to become another part of Britain’s surveillance culture.


UPDATE: The ICO has now also taken action against Southampton Council for the same policy.

Will Oxford Council back down on audio CCTV in taxis?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Audio recording, CCTV, Councils, Home, Information Commissioner, Privacy | 1 Comment

Amid the furore over Government plans for massively expanded internet surveillance, we didn’t announce an important piece of news from Oxford.

Following our campaign against plans to force taxis in the town to record audio and video of every journey, Oxford Council has announced it is suspending the policy. Our campaign was joined by Nicola Blackwood MP and Nigel Farage MEP, who both wrote to the Council about the plans.

The rules will now not come into force until until the ICO has reported on whether the policy is lawful – exactly what we called for Oxford Council to do when Big Brother Watch Director Nick Pickles was refused entry to a meeting organised with local taxi drivers.

Speaking to the Oxford Times, executive member for city development Colin Cook said: “I’m in favour of this scheme but we are waiting for a response from the Information Commissioner’s Office.”

Council spokesman Louisa Dean added: “We have had an inquiry from the Information Commissioner who wishes to better understand the scheme. We are happy to assist in those enquiries.”

Quite why the Council had to wait until days before the policy to come into effect before suspending it, when the ICO’s investigation began last year, is unclear.

This is an important step forward but it is not victory – it is one step closer, but until Oxford Council has completely abandoned this intrusive, unwarranted and unwanted policy to record the conversations of anyone using a taxi in Oxford.


Taking the battle for privacy to Oxford Town Hall

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Audio recording, CCTV, Civil Liberties, Information Commissioner, Surveillance | 4 Comments

Yesterday I headed to meeting in Oxford to discuss the proposed audio/video CCTV in taxis. More than 250 drivers have now signed a petition against the scheme – totally undermining the council’s claim that this is a policy the drivers want.

Sadly the Council weren’t too keen on having me there so I was asked to leave – but before I did I made clear that this is a policy that is clearly in breach of the ICO’s CCTV Code of Practice, and that was open to legal challenge.

Under the policy, from April 1st every new taxi license issued will require the taxi to have both audio and video CCTV. Time is running out for the council to recognise this is a policy that is bad for privacy, bad for Oxford and quite possibly illegal.

I’ve now written to both local MPs asking them to join Big Brother Watch in calling for the policy to be abandoned, arguing it would be entirely wrong to implement the policy until the ICO’s investigation has concluded.

This policy is not only a huge intrusion on privacy, but sends a terrible message to the wider country and indeed the world about Oxford as a city. Do the council expect senior businessmen or visiting academics, let alone tourists and local people, to put up with their conversations in taxis being recorded?

The fight goes on – all the way to court, if we need to.

Court says audio recording in taxis is “invasive” and “disproportionate”

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Audio recording, CCTV, Civil Liberties, Councils, Privacy | 1 Comment

A ruling by Southampton Crown Court has sent a clear message to local authorities across the country – a policy of mandatory audio recording in taxis is unlawful, being both disproportionate and a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case – Southampton City Council v Kevin May, is the first challenge against mandatory audio recording and comes weeks after Oxford council said it planned to introduce the policy.

The judgement said: “It was not reasonably necessary to install audio cameras on a permanent basis in all taxis in Southampton to pursue the council aims of preventing crime and disorder and improving safety.”

The case evaluated the arguments put forward in favour of a system and comprehensively found Southampton Council was acting in breach of the law to enforce the policy.

At paragraph 71 of the ruling, the court reaffirms this point, saying: “The condition does not correspond to a pressing social need, is not proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued and is not necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

However, the court ruled that it did not have the power to overturn the policy, and that it would require a judicial review to force the council to abandon it. This technicality in no way alters the fact that the court has ruled the policy is unlawful, and it would be an absurdity if Southamton City Council were to continue with the policy.

Big Brother Watch is calling for Southampton, Oxford and any other local authority considering this issue to abandon a policy which has now been established as “disproportionate and a violation of Article 8″ by a Court.

We have written to Oxford City Council calling for them to abandon their policy without delay on the basis of this decision.

Keeping the pressure on Oxford Council

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Audio recording, CCTV, Civil Liberties, Councils, Privacy, Surveillance | 3 Comments

This week, Big Brother Watch has campaigned against Oxford Council’s plans for compulsory recording of video and sound in taxis. From our first blog post, the story has been featured in local, national and international media and Big Brother Watch has led the campaign against this gross invasion of privacy.

The fight goes on to stop this happening and to hold Oxford Council to account for its disregard for civil liberties. We have already complained to the Information Commissioner and are calling for the Government, MPs, businesses, campaigners and residents of Oxford to call for the policy to be scrapped. If  you live or work in the city, or have friends and family there, why not let them know what is going on and ask them to support our campaign?

Writing in the Oxford Mail, I outline Big Brother Watch’s objections to the scheme – saying:

“This is a staggering invasion of privacy, being done with no evidence, no consultation and a total disregard for civil liberties. Big Brother now has big ears, and they are eavesdropping on your conversations with absolutely no justification.

“This sort of policy would not have been out of place in East Germany. It is absolutely not a policy that should be operating in Oxford.”

Policies like this are the first salvos in a battle for Big Brother to see and hear everything we do. We will continue to campaign to protect our privacy and defend civil liberties -  can you support us?

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Big Brother is watching – and listening – in Oxford

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Audio recording, CCTV, Civil Liberties, Home, Information Commissioner, Privacy, Surveillance | 32 Comments

Be careful what you say if you decide to take a taxi or the bus in Oxford – every word will be recorded.

Despite being in clear breach of the guidance issued by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) and a gross invasion of privacy, Oxford Council has decided to make it a condition for all licensed black cabs in the city to record both audio and video.

The audio will be available to council officers and the police, and will cover any time the taxi’s engine is running and the 30 minutes after the engine has been switched off.

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