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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

CCTV

Traffic Spies – a £300m surveillance industry

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, CCTV cars, Research and reports, RIPA, Surveillance | 5 Comments

Image20Today we have published our latest report, Traffic Spies, highlighting how hundreds of councils have turned to static CCTV cameras and spy cars to raise £312m in revenue.

Many councils are continuing to use CCTV to hand out fines, despite the government publishing a Surveillance Camera Code of Practice highlighting the need to use CCTV for traffic offences “sparingly”, this research highlights that the number of CCTV cars in operation in the UK has increased by 87% since 2009.

The question must therefore be asked, if CCTV cameras are about public safety, why are local authorities able to use them to raise revenue? Furthermore, why are local authorities publishing no meaningful information about their use of CCTV for parking enforcement? Read more

LGA opposition to CCTV parking fine ban is about money, not public safety

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV, Civil Liberties, Community Safety Accreditation Scheme, Councils, Surveillance | 5 Comments

camerasAt the end of 2013, we wrote about the Government’s plans to ban CCTV parking cameras, meaning that only traffic wardens and police would be able to film vehicles breaking the law.

The Department for Transport and the Department for Communities and Local Government launched a consultation asking whether CCTV parking cameras should be banned, in reaction to many councils who, rather than focusing on specific parking infringements, have taken the brazen approach of using CCTV cars to indiscriminately spy on drivers.

This of course has not gone down well with the Local Government Association (LGA), who have announced that they oppose the Governments plans, saying that the ban will do little to reduce the number of tickets given to drivers breaking the law but would put schoolchildren at risk and worsen road safety. What is clear is that the LGA has stood back and said nothing whilst councils have stung motorists for more than £300 million in fines, highlighting that this is about money rather than safety.

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Has GCHQ taken a photo from your webcam?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, GCHQ, Online privacy | 10 Comments

GCHQIf you use Yahoo! chat then the answer may well be yes.

Today’s remarkable revelation that GCHQ has been capturing images (a “surprising” number of which were of people who may not have been fully clothed)

As the Guardian reports:

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

Secretly intercepting and taking photographs from millions of people’s webcam chats is as creepy as it gets. We have CCTV on our streets and now we have GCHQ in our homes.

It is right that the security services can target people and tap their communications but they should not be doing it to millions of people. This is an indiscriminate and intimate intrusion on people’s privacy.

It is becoming increasingly obvious how badly the law has failed to keep pace with technology and how urgently we need a comprehensive review of surveillance law and oversight structures. As more people buy technology with built-in cameras, from Xbox Kinect to laptops and smart TVs, we need to be sure that the law does not allow for them to be routinely accessed when there is no suspicion of any wrongdoing.

Orwell’s 1984 was supposed to be a warning, not an instruction manual.

Is this the end of CCTV cars?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV, CCTV cars, Councils | 2 Comments

Image20The Government has announced plans to possibly ban CCTV parking cameras, meaning that only traffic wardens will be able to film vehicles breaking the rules.

The Department for Transport is absolutely right to launch a consultation as to whether CCTV parking cameras should be banned. Rather than focusing on specific parking infringements councils have taken the brazen approach of using CCTV cars to indiscriminately spy on drivers.

Back in 2010 we reported on the rise of Drive By Spies, with 31 councils operating CCTV cars at the time. That number has now risen to more than 100.

This goes to the heart of what Big Brother Watch has been campaigning on – the public are never told that this is part of the deal when they accept greater CCTV surveillance. The rhetoric is always about violent crime, anti-social behaviour and catching criminals. Would the public be as accepting if they had the full facts about how cameras are used?

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Shop door surveillance : this is only the start

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Biometrics, CCTV, Marketing, Privacy, Technology | 10 Comments

Tesco’s new scanner sounds harmless enough – a camera that just works out whether you’re male or female, and roughly how old you are.

The advertisements shown on the screen change, and I’m sure quickly you’ll see cases of men with long hair being mistaken for women, to much hilarity from their friends.

There are two fundamental problems here; not least the fact that the only way you can ensure your face is not scanned is to not go into the shop.

Firstly, should we really be increasing the amount of surveillance we’re under so some companies can sell more advertising?

Secondly, the technology isn’t going to stay the same and be used in the same way.

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CQC asks whether CCTV should be used in care homes

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV, Privacy, Surveillance | 9 Comments

camerasThe Care Quality Commission (CQC) has announced plans to install hidden cameras and ‘mystery shoppers’ in care homes in a bid to increase the regulations of social care. Care homes and social care premises are home for some of society’s most vulnerable people. To subject them to covert surveillance where there is not reasonable cause for suspicion would be both an attack on their privacy and dignity.

In a signposting document which has been published today ahead of a full public consultation, Andrea Sutcliffe, Britain’s first Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care, said: “We would like to have an open conversation with people about the use of mystery shoppers and hidden cameras, and whether they would contribute to promoting a culture of safety and quality, while respecting people’s rights to privacy and dignity.”

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NCA lacks oversight and transparency

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV, Civil Liberties, Freedom of Information, Police, Privacy, RIPA, Surveillance, Technology | Leave a comment

police-3The National Crime Agency (NCA) has been launched today by the Home Office with announcements that it will have access to some of the most high tech surveillance tools available but will also promote an environment of transparency and openness. Yet, with an exemption from the Freedom of Act and being regulated by outdated legislation, how accountable will the Agency be?

The NCA has billed itself as being more open and transparent than its predecessors, yet it won’t be subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) on the basis that this would “jeopardise its operational effectiveness and ultimately result in lower levels of protection for the public.” Considering the Agency will have highly intrusive surveillance techniques at its disposal, it is remarkable that it is allowed to be able to use them behind a cloak of secrecy. FOI would not prevent intelligence sharing, protecting sources of information or expose police tactics and technology. Indeed, every police force in the country and the Association of Chief Police Officers all manage to operate with FOI applying to them.

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Government signals end to CCTV use for parking fines

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, CCTV cars, Councils, Privacy | 6 Comments

Image20If CCTV cameras are about public protection, why are they bringing in £300m in revenue from parking enforcement?

Firstly – and this goes to the heart of what Big Brother Watch has been campaigning on – the public are never, ever told that this is part of the deal when they accept greater CCTV surveillance. The rhetoric is always about violent crime, anti-social behavior and catching criminals. Would the public be as willing to accept yet more cameras if they had the full facts about how cameras are used?

If anyone can find us an example of a council justifying it’s need for greater CCTV on parking problems we’d love to hear about it.

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New CCTV Code of Practice comes into force

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, Civil Liberties, Councils, Data Protection, Information Commissioner, Police, Privacy, Surveillance | 7 Comments

banksy-3Today a new Code of Practice on the use of CCTV comes into force, to sit alongside the new position of Surveillance Camera Commissioner.

The code is a step in the right direction towards bringing proper oversight to the millions of cameras that capture our movements every day. However, with only a small fraction of cameras covered and without any penalties for breaking the code, we hope that this is only the beginning of the process and that further steps will be taken in the future to protect people’s privacy from unjustified or excessive surveillance.

Given that the responsibility for legally enforcing the Data Protection Act with regard to CCTV (apart from private cameras, which remain exempt) will remain with the Information Commissioner, we are concerned that public confidence will not be helped if the process of making a complaint and action being taken is not straightforward. Equally, the situation of private cameras not being subject to regulation, with the only power available to the police to prosecute for harassment, is unsustainable as the number of people using them increases.

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Government announces plans to regulate private investigators

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, Data Protection, Information Commissioner, Leveson, Privacy, Surveillance | 3 Comments

iStock_000017522162SmallThe Home Secretary yesterday confirmed plans to regulate private investigators, including a new penalty for working as an unlicensed private investigator or supplying unlicensed investigators of a fine of up to £5,000 and up to six months in prison.

In our report earlier this year, we warned that private investigators were potentially being used to circumvent surveillance law by public authorities, and also identified their work as being a major threat to privacy where the information could be used in court if it had been obtained by improper means. We are pleased the Home Office has agreed with our recommendation to regulate private investigators.

We also highlighted in our evidence to the Leveson inquiry how journalists were not the only people using private investigators and that the wider issue was essential to address. As recent revelations about SOCA show, this is a very real problem and potentially involves a much greater scale of illegal activity than seen in the media.

While the Data Protection Act does offer legal protections, at present you cannot be sent to prison for breaching Section 55. We believe that this change will improve privacy protections, particularly as it broadens out the range of activities that might have been difficult to prosecute under the DPA. It is also important that those hiring a PI will be held liable if they are not properly licensed.

There is much more work to be done to ensure that people’s privacy and confidential information is protected from untoward surveillance and intrusion, including more rigorous enforcement of the Data Protection Act and custodial sentences. Regulating private investigators is an important part of this process.

Going forward, we hope that the consideration of whether evidence is admitted in court takes into account whether the regulatory framework has been complied with, particularly where those involved are aware that they are acting without a license.

 

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