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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

Body Scanners

BBW writes to British Airline Pilots Association over “false assertions” on body-scanner safety

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 7 Comments

Balpa125 Further to the news yesterday that the largest association of pilots has announced a boycott of full body scanners at airports, BBW Director Alex Deane has written to the Chairman of the British Airline Pilots Association Capital Mark Serle calling on him to join his US colleagues in their boycott.

In his letter, Deane says:

"You no doubt know that your colleagues in the Allied Pilots Association have issued guidelines recommending that their members do not submit themselves to body scanners.

"I was dismayed to see your Association issue blithe assurances in the media yesterday that the scanners were safe.

"While our American friends are now discussing this issue openly, the British media remains unwilling to engage with this serious issue because of the false reassurance gained by the approach you have adopted"

Click here to download a PDF of Alex's letter.

More Stansted shenanigans: scanned 7 year old now afraid to fly

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 14 Comments

Stansted250 Hot on the heels of the story of a woman forced to go into a private room to expose scars from her hip-replacement surgery to Stansted Airport security officials, a BBW supporter has written with news of yet another case of intrusive scanning at the airport. 

Hi there,

As I write this I am still annoyed as to why, on Saturday 23rd October, when my husband and I checked in for the 8pm Flight Stanstead to ***** our 7 year old daughter was scanned.

She was crestfallen and thought she had done something wrong.  She did not set off the metal detector and was wearing skinny jeans with a t-shirt and cardigan.  As such, she was wearing no bulky clothing that could be hidden anything.

To date we have had no answer as to what the heck they were scanning her for.

The need for security at airports is vital.  I have removed by shoes on previous occasions without complaining – but a little primary school child?  It's just pathetic!

I can only conclude they did this as some kind of ludicrous PC exercise.  She's blonde haired and fair skinned, so they must have been searching her in order to appear "fair".

In scanning small children in the name of security we have made our country look frankly ridiculous.

The jobsworth middle-aged security officer who decided to do this has successfully soured our daughter's view of airports.  I think we'll just use the ferry and drive the car to Europe for our holiday next year.

Yours Mrs *****
***** , Essex

The e-mail speaks for itself.  Nice one, guys…

The lady in question has contacted Stansted Airport twice, asking for a full explanation.  She has not yet received a reply.  Perhaps Mark Davison would care to comment?

Please do send us examples of over-zealous scanning – either at Stansted or elsewhere.  Y'all know how to reach us…

If you came to this post looking for our rolling list of airports with body scanners, please click here.

By Daniel Hamilton

World’s largest association of pilots boycotts body scanners

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 12 Comments

Radiation_symbol_1 The world’s largest association of pilots has announced a boycott of full body scanners at airports, citing health risks.

The stance is taken following the suspension of an American pilot for refusing to be scanned, and the emergence of news that scanners may deliver 20 times more radiation than was announced by the authorities who introduced them.

The Allied Pilots Association recommends that members take a “pat down” search rather than expose themselves to the increased radiation from scanners.

Quite right too. As regular readers will know, Big Brother Watch has opposed body scanners since they were introduced, and pilots and cabin crews have been joining our campaign by the dozen ever since. Scanners are dangerous. There’s a reason that the nurse stands behind a screen when you get an x-ray at hospital. Radiation is potentially harmful, even in small doses, and the regularity with which frequent flyers are exposed to potentially cancer-causing radiation.

(All of this, of course, in quite apart from the significant privacy intrusion of body scanners, which have been abused by workers since they were introduced.)

If pilots aren’t going to be scanned, why should members of the public? This stance from a professional group, the world’s leading association of pilots, must shake the government out of its absurd position on scanners. In the UK alone you cannot opt for a pat-down search instead of a scan.

The Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety  (which includes the European Commission, International Atomic Energy Agency, Nuclear Energy Agency and the World Health Organization) has written a report that states that

1)    Air passengers should be made aware of the health risks of airport body screenings,
2)    governments must explain any decision to expose the public to higher levels of cancer-causing radiation
3)    Pregnant women and children should not be subject to scanning

By making scanning compulsory for all and by failing to publicise this guidance, the British Government is failing to do all of these things and is potentially jeopardising the health of vulnerable people as a result. The APA’s stance will hopefully wake our government to that fact.

By Alex Deane

Big Brother Watch maintains a rolling list of airports with scanners

Airports making money from terror checks

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 3 Comments

This week, this blog carried news of an unpleasant case of an elderly lady made to undress and expose scars from a recent hip replacement in order to pass through security at Stansted Airport. We also blogged about Lord Lawson's treatment at the hands of the check-in gestapo.

With many people finding flying an increasingly arduous experience, British airports appear to have found a way to cash-in on the long queues caused by excessive security checks.

According to the Daily Mail, eight British airports have introduced 'queue-jump' services where passengers can pay a fee in order to vault to the front of the queue. While it's difficult to argue against airports having the right to offer a 'VIP service' of this kind, what is unacceptable is the allegation that there is a "deliberate policy" at Luton Airport "to let the queues grow to encourage people to pay for the express lane".

Simon Evans of the Air Transport Users Council was right when he said that "going through security is not a service, not a perk, it is something that people have to do".  While security scans are, of course, needed, slowing down the speed of security scans on some passengers in order to profit from others is unacceptable.

By Daniel Hamilton

Passenger: they made me strip. Stansted Airport: yeah, that’s what we do.

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 8 Comments

Stansted You can see my write-up of an incident at Stansted involving a BBW supporter here. She has had both her hips replaced and when going through airport security she was taken off to a room and made to undress to show her operation scars to prove that she had had the surgery claimed.

I challenged the airport about it. Here's the airport's response. You'll see that they try to have their cake and eat it – on the one hand saying that they don't require pasengers to strip to show scars and, on the other, in saying you have to go to a private room for a further seach, they basically say, yes, we do that.

From: [email protected] [mailto:[email protected]] On Behalf Of [email protected]
Sent: 04 November 2010 17:41
To: Alex Deane
Subject: Re: Press enquiry

Hi Alex,

At Stansted, all security processes and procedures are implemented in line with the DfT's guidance.

For obvious reasons, I cannot go into all the specifics around security but I can clarify the current process if a passenger activates the security arch. Firstly, the passenger would be subject to a body search. A hand held metal detector would also be used to help resolve the activation. The security officer would also be engaged in conversation with the passenger to help understand what may have caused the activation. If the two previous searches have not identified the issue, the passenger would be invited to a private area, away from other travellers and under the supervision of a manager, for a further search to resolve the activation. This does not involve undressing to show any operational scars or the removal of all outer clothing.

While some passengers may unfortunately feel inconvenienced by some airport security procedures, our overriding priority has to be providing a safe and secure security operation for all airport users.

If you are able to supply any details of the date, time and the passenger's name, I could see if I can get any more specific details regarding the passenger's  experience at Stansted.


Mark Davison
Head of Media Relations
London Stansted Airport

Nice to see the old "For obvious reasons, I cannot go into all the specifics around security" trope… because, of course, that masks all sins. It's for your own good, all this indignity and intrusion, don't ask too many questions, there's a good chap… of course I don't have to justify myself, this is security we're talking about!

By Alex Deane

Body scanner “humiliation”

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 18 Comments

Stansted Following Dan's post about Lord Lawson, Big Brother Watch has head from a supporter who wishes to remain anonymous but is, in her words, a lady "old enough to have her bus pass".

She tells us that she was subjected to a humiliating experience at Stansted. She has had both her hips replaced and when going security she was taken off to a room and made to undress to show her operation scars to prove that she had had the surgery claimed. 

She said the whole experience was utterly humiliating.  She questioned the need to put her through this and was just told that it was the law.

Big Brother Watch will be contacting the airport to ask them if that is in accordance with their policy and would love to hear from you if you have heard or seen anything similar, at Stansted or elsewhere.

By Alex Deane

Check-in security and common sense

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 6 Comments

Lawson Over the last few years, we've all watched with exasperation as airline check-in procedures have become increasingly time-consuming and invasive.

The Evening Standard carries a concerning story about the 78 year old peer Lord Nigel Lawson's treatment at the hands of airport security busybodies at London Gatwick Airport.

Faced with demands to take off his shoes, the former Chancellor explained that as a result of surgery he has had to his legs, he is unable to bend down and therefore needs to sit on a chair to remove his footwear.  After much grumbling, a chair was provided with what Lord Lawson's son Dominic describes as "spectacular gracelessness".

Following, this a more senior security officer demanded Lawson hand over his passport.  He refused.  Following this, the officer 'phoned ahead to the airline's passenger gate and ordered EasyJet to deny the peer access to the fight for "not having passed through security".

No elderly – or indeed any – traveller should expect to be insulted by security staff for their medical condition or have to contend with Stasi-style demands to view their documentation.

Should there not be an element of common sense when it comes to check-in security procedures?  Did Lord Lawson really pose a "threat" that had to be dealt with in such a heavy-handed manner?

By Daniel Hamilton

Why Theresa May should stand firm tomorrow

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners, CCTV, Control Orders, Privacy | 4 Comments

An interesting reaction both here and on Facebook to my post about tomorrow's speech by Theresa May. Tomorrow – a day, and as the West Wing knew too well, a word that stands for the future. It's an argument I've had before, but I thought that I would take a moment to set out my thinking here.

The Yemeni bomb plot could not have come at a worse time. Just as the Government – already showing deeply worrying signs of bureaucratic capture and authoritarian reactions to headlines – comes to decide on the next steps to be taken in counter-terrorism, a plot like this is discovered.

In reaction to it, serious commentators like Matthew D'Ancona effectively advocate the abandonment of the Government's commitment to a freedom agenda, saying – and I quote – that "this campaign for civil liberties is a gift for Al Qaeda." They would have us resume business as usual, as things were in the Blair/Brown years.

But to do so would be to lose all sense of proportion. It seems almost forgotten by the scareocrats that the attack was actually foiled, that it was relatively uncommon, that nobody was injured; moreover, much more importantly, it is entirely overlooked by the authoritarian lobby that our forebears withstood appalling actual harm without caving into such pressures. Members of Margaret Thatcher's cabinet were pulled from the rubble of the Grand Hotel, in an attack in which five people died, but her Brighton conference went on and liberties were not curtailed. Likewise, in the course of the "Troubles", the IRA killed thousands. And yet, faced in the present-day by this small band of ineffectual thugs, D'Ancona and co would have our Home Secretary abandon the path of freedom upon which she and her party pledged to embark when offering themselves as candidates at the ballot box a mere few months ago.

Let's be plain about what's at stake. Detention without trial for a month. Random stop and search, under which the police can demand your papers, bullying the law-abiding and demonstrating who's in charge, interfering with your basic freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom of speech. Control orders, anathema to any democratic society, under which the freedom of the individual can be curtailed – in principle, in perpetuity – without him knowing the details or even nature of the charge against him. When you cannot know the nature of the accusation or the name of your accuser, it is of course impossible to rebut the allegation concerned. Certainly, it doesn't affect you at present – after all, first they came for the 45 people who have been subject to such orders to date. But who's next? And when the charge never has to be justified to any objective standard, don't be fooled – it could happen to anyone. It could happen to you. Let us not hope that, then, others would not turn away from you as D'Ancona and co turn away from those whose liberty is thus curtailed now. Finally of course, the ridiculous end of privacy and freedom and dignity that is the circus at modern airports. All these things matter enormously. May must not shirk on any of them.

Values held only in good times are without worth. Indeed, they can be positively harmful, providing a false sense of freedom in a society in fact all too willing to resort to knee-jerk curtailment of rights at the first sign of trouble. As our American cousins, at the polls toda,y remind us, "Freedom is not Free." It will cost more to defend, it will be difficult, yes, it will involve more risk – but our values are worth defending and freedom is a cause worth fighting for. It is the lot of democracies to fight with one hand tied behind our backs, to put aside some tools even though they might help – it is a very slippery slope when you start abrogating freedoms, and the retention of them – even when the going gets tough – is what makes us different from the terrorists we face.

Stick to your guns, Ms May.

By Alex Deane

Airport security – some common sense at last

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners, Privacy | 5 Comments

BA plane Good for British Airways – now our favourite airline (for these purposes, at least). Martin Broughton, their chairman, has criticised some of the security checks at airports:

The chairman of British Airways has said some "completely redundant" airport security checks should be scrapped and the UK should stop "kowtowing" to US security demands.

Spot on. Of course we need security at airports, but the current arrangements are a farce – an expensive and intrusive farce to boot, and one that empowers some deeply irritating jobsworths with powers they luuurve to wield.

And here's some more music to any sensible person's ears. Speaking at the UK Airport Operators' Association annual conference, Broughton went on to say:

Practices such as forcing passengers to take off their shoes should be abandoned, Martin Broughton said. And he questioned why laptop computers needed to be screened separately.

Of course, the demands from the USA are pretty hypocritical:

Mr Broughton also criticised the US for imposing increased checks on US-bound flights but not on its own domestic services.

The US stepped up security in January in the wake of the so-called Christmas Bomber, introducing tougher screening rules, including body pat-down searches and carry-on baggage checks, for passengers arriving from 14 nations which the authorities deem to be a security risk. Passengers from any foreign country may also be checked at random.

Mr Broughton added the UK should only agree to security checks that the US requires for passengers on domestic flights. "America does not do internally a lot of the things they demand that we do," he said. "We shouldn't stand for that. We should say, 'we'll only do things which we consider to be essential and that you Americans also consider essential'."

Martin Broughton – good stuff.

by Alex Deane

Essay on Body Scanners

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 4 Comments

I have a piece on body scanners over at Critical Reaction today.

By Alex Deane