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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 Enforcement: Over-Zealous and Heavy-Handed

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in ANPR, CCTV, CCTV cars, Councils, Data Protection, Databases | 3 Comments

Image20A single case has managed to combine all that is worrying about the way in which local councils carry out traffic enforcement. The story, reported in the Daily Mail, showed that after being caught on CCTV a driver was subsequently tracked down by bailiffs using a combination of mobile Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) and their access to the DVLA database.

The use of CCTV for handing out traffic fines is something that has raised concerns from a number of sources, for example Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who accused councils of “bending the law as a means of filling their coffers with taxpayers’ cash.”  The Surveillance Camera Commissioner (SCC) also published guidance on this practice, stating that cameras should only be used “when other means of enforcement are not practical”.

Research by Big Brother Watch (PDF) has highlighted that the use of static CCTV to tackle parking and traffic violations has proved lucrative for local councils, bringing in over £179m in 5 years. This reinforces Eric Pickles’ concerns that CCTV cameras are in fact being used to raise revenues, rather than actually improve traffic conditions.

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Loss of Royston’s “ring of steel” hasn’t caused crime wave

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in ANPR, CCTV, Surveillance | 3 Comments

camerasYou may remember the now infamous “ring of steel” system of ANPR cameras that was placed around Royston, which was ruled to be unlawful by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). A year on from that ruling, figures have been published which show that since Hertfordshire Police was forced to dismantle the system there hasn’t been a sudden and uncontrollable outbreak of lawlessness and crime.

Crime statistics, recently released by Hertfordshire Police, show that between April and June 2013, when the ANPR system was still in place,172 crimes were committed. When comparing this to the same period in 2014 it turns out that 171 crimes were recorded, a drop of 1.

The scheme originally involved the position of ANPR cameras in such a way that it was impossible for motorists to drive in or out of the town without being filmed. In July 2013, the ICO ruled that the Police had failed to carry out “any effective impact assessments” whilst commenting  that “it is difficult to see why a small rural town … requires cameras monitoring all traffic in and out of the town, 24 hours a day”.

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School CCTV footage can be accessed by smartphones and tablets

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV | 2 Comments

camerasCCTV in schools could be about to take an even creepier turn, with some systems allowing the footage to be remotely accessed from any number of smartphones, tablets and desktop computers by individuals outside of the school.

We have long warned about the continued growth of the use of CCTV cameras, whether that be in Care Homes or in schools. Our Class of 1984 report, highlighted that here are more than 100,000 CCTV cameras in secondary schools and academies across England, Wales and Scotland. Some schools reported a ratio of one camera for every five pupils, and more than two hundred schools reported using CCTV in bathrooms and changing rooms, whilst others reported more cameras inside school buildings as outside.

The Telegraph has reported that the Government has given the go ahead for schools to install state of the art surveillance equipment which will allow parents to be able to watch live feeds across dozens of cameras set up in classrooms, corridors and playgrounds. The move is a result of a crackdown on drug dealing and the consumption of drugs in schools. Two schools in Herefordshire, a school in Liverpool and one in Waltham Forest have taken up a trial of the technology.

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Hidden Cameras in Care Homes – Have Your Say

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV | 19 Comments

camerasOn Monday our acting director, Emma Carr, took part in a workshop organised by the Care Quality Commission on the topic of covert surveillance in care homes. The session was organised by Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care at the CQC, and she has shared her thoughts on the session which you can read here.

The workshop was part of a much wider consultation process that is currently taking place. If you would like to share your views, you can find more inforamtion on how to do so here.

There have undoubtedly been many shocking incidents in recent times of vile and inhuman abuse being inflicted on some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The abuse was able to take place due to underhand and deceitful tactics by the perpetrators, which is exactly why we at Big Brother Watch do not believe that installing CCTV on wards and in care homes is the answer. We also believe that to use covert surveillance where there is no reasonable cause for suspicion would be both an attack on residents’ privacy and dignity. It is, of course, right to investigate specific complaints, but this should not entail routine, undisclosed surveillance of the elderly and vulnerable.

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ICO launches consultation to update the CCTV Code of Practice

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV | 6 Comments

banksy-1Yesterday the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced that it has launched a consultation to  update the CCTV code of practice. The world that we now live in has changed immensely since the code was first published in 2000 and so it is absolutely right that we have a new code that will include guidance on everything from automatic recognition of car number plates to body worn cameras to flying drones.

When updated guidance was published last summer, alongside the new position of Surveillance Camera Commissioner (SCC), we saw this as 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 (around 5%) and without any penalties for breaking the code, we hope that this new consultation will be the beginning of the process which ensures that further steps are taken to protect people’s privacy from unjustified or excessive surveillance.

We also remain concerned that, 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 ICO rather than the SCC, 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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Teachers hit back at “permanent surveillance” in the classroom

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV | 6 Comments

banksy-3A survey conducted by the NASUWT teaching union, has highlighted that teachers are being subjected to “permanent surveillance” through the use of CCTV cameras in the classroom.

What is clear is that the surveillance experiment of the past twenty years has failed to reduce crime or improve public safety. Yet, schoolchildren and teachers across the country are now expected to accept surveillance for the formative years of their education and in the workplace.

Our report, The Class of 1984, shred light for the first time on the extent of surveillance within schools, highlighting that there are more than 100,000 CCTV cameras in secondary schools and academies across England, Wales and Scotland. Our report also showed that there is a ratio of one CCTV camera for every five pupils, more than two hundred schools are using CCTV in bathrooms and changing rooms and there are more cameras inside school buildings than outside.

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Traffic Spies – a £300m surveillance industry

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, CCTV cars, Research and reports, RIPA, Surveillance | 13 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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