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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

Civil Liberties

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.

Lib Dems set out their (draft) 2015 general election Civil Liberties Pledges

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Civil Liberties, Data Protection, Surveillance | 2 Comments

http://www.libdems.org.uk/The Lib Dems have well and truly kicked off the next election cycle with the publication of their pre-manifesto (PDF); essentially a draft of what will become their manifesto in 2015.

The document contains a number of pledges on civil liberties, including:

  • The introduction of a new Freedoms Bill to protect the public from state intrusion and extend access to information.
  • Passing a Digital Bill of Rights, to protect people from “unacceptable intrusion” by organisations and give them more control of their data.
  • Identifying alternatives to secret courts.
  • Supporting net neutrality and the freedom of the internet.
  • Ensuring the proper oversight of our security services.
  • Safeguards for stop and search will also be improved, this will include tighter guidance and mandatory body-worn cameras for officers deployed with Section 60 stop and search powers.

The idea of a new Freedoms Bill is encouraging; the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 introduced some real improvements. It is necessary that any new Bill continues on these lines and extends safeguards to protect members of the public from unwarranted and excessive state surveillance. Key to this is the expansion of judicial authorisation for surveillance warrants, for more details on how this can be achieved please read our paper on the subject: Enhancing surveillance transparency: A UK policy framework (PDF).

The idea of a Digital Bill of Rights is something that Big Brother Watch has supported for some time. It is vital that the personal data of members of the public is given greater protection, something that a Bill of this kind has the potential to do. It is also clear that the free and neutral nature of the internet is under threat by both government institutions and private companies. If this continues, other countries around the world have threatened policies that would lead to the “Balkanisation” of the Internet, wherein countries no longer trust each other and set about carving the web into separate national internets. Any proposals should aim to reflect Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s call to safeguard the principle that the internet should be an “open, neutral” system.

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New guidance only shows the problems of surveillance oversight. Where are the solutions?

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Civil Liberties, Data Protection, Information Commissioner, RIPA, Surveillance | Leave a comment

iStock_000016822421MediumFinally clarifying what was already widely accepted, a publication by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has confirmed that surveillance legislation is “complex”. “Surveillance Road Map” (PDF) seeks to set out the responsibilities of each body tasked with overseeing the laws that govern surveillance as well as highlighting some of their overlapping functions.

One of the aims of the guidance is to show members of the public “the avenues available to challenge or complain about any alleged breach of surveillance legislation”. Whilst this is a laudable aim it misses the real problem: that in too many cases roles are unnecessarily duplicated.

One prime example is of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner (SCC) and the ICO. The guidance states that the two bodies’ CCTV Codes of Practice “dovetail”; in fact they repeat each other. There is no reason for both bodies to be responsible for CCTV oversight. As the document points out the SCC has no “complaints handling or enforcement function”. Action should be taken to rectify this, as a result the SCC could be made responsible for a single, enforceable Code of Practice and the ICO would be able to focus more attention on its other functions.

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Two tier citizenship is not British – and nor is rendering people stateless

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Extradition, International, Terrorism Legislation, United States | 1 Comment

5946829399_e633991652_oToday the Commons votes on Lords amendments to the Immigration bill which would allow the Home Secretary to revoke the British passport of a foreign-born person if they are satisfied that deprivation of citizenship is ‘conducive to the public good because the person, while having that citizenship status, has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom.’ 

At present these powers cannot be used if it would leave the person stateless. This was reaffirmed in the Supreme Court’s ruling in Al-Jedda last year, which found against the Home Secretary and led to the current proposal. As the court noted, the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights addresses the “evil of statelesness” in Article 15(2), saying “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” The court highlights the link between this and the Reich Citizenship Law dated 15 September 1935 which provided that all Jewish people should be stripped of their citizenship of the German Reich.

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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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Support grows for surveillance transparency

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, GCHQ, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, Police, Research and reports, Surveillance, Technology | 10 Comments

commons dayLast November we launched our ‘Time for Transparency’ campaign, revealing new polling that showed 66% of people want more information about how surveillance powers are used, with 70% wanting companies like BT and EE to publish their own reports about the requests they receive, as companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft now regularly release.

Today we are publishing a paper detailing further proposals to improve transparency, following wide ranging discussions with companies, regulators and political figures, as well as discussions with people in the United States. The paper outlines how the Interception of Communications Commissioner should publish a breakdown of how individual agencies use powers to access communications information – currently just one total figure is published – as well as calling for clarification about whether British companies are handing over data ‘in bulk’ on thousands or millions of customers.

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Is BT handing over data on Brits in bulk?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, GCHQ, Home, Mobile Phones, Privacy, Surveillance, United States | 8 Comments

phone_exchangeLast year, the Guardian published an order under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act made to Verizon, which made clear that the NSA was collecting details of phone calls made by American citizens not on a targeted basis, but in bulk.

We have a simple question – is the same happening here?

Appearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday, our Director raised this issue and revealed that BT had refused to deny that it hands over data in bulk:

“Late last night I received a letter from British Telecom refusing to deny that they are handing over information in bulk on thousands or millions of British citizens and that mirrors a refusal to deny the same situation in a parliamentary answer received by Mr Davis.”

“My concerns is that there is the activity going on under the Telecommunications Act that is unsupervised and that is why BT cannot publicly refuse that they are handing over information in bulk.”

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Tony Benn: 1925 – 2014

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties | 1 Comment

“Of course we need good government. Of course we need it to have policies that deliver greater social justice and equality. But the more influential government becomes the more it is essential that it respects our liberties. Its obligation must be to serve the people, not rule over them. We have to insist on this principle. It is not a matter of left or right, Tory or Labour.”

Anthony Neil Wedgwood “Tony” Benn, 3 April 1925 – 14 March 2014.

Tony Benn spoke at the launch of Big Brother Watch and we are proud to count him as a friend. His contribution to public life and to the defence of liberty will echo far beyond these times. Our thoughts are with his family.


Paper on security and privacy for the ISC

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Databases, GCHQ, Information Commissioner, Legal Action, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, Technology, Terrorism Legislation, United States | Leave a comment

Big Brother Watch was invited to submit a paper to the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, relating to it’s inquiry into the balance between security and privacy.BNUARLICcAAiyCZ.jpg large

You can now read our submission below.


In a Democratic society, some secrecy is tolerated, as are some intrusions upon liberty and privacy, provided the legal framework is transparency, the oversight mechanisms robust and the overall sacrifices of liberty made with an appropriate level of understanding.

Recent revelations have made clear the scale of intrusion on our privacy in the name of security, enabled by an explosion in digital communications and the computing resources available to the state.

Ministers have assured the public no central database of internet communications would be created. We now know it existed already. Parliament and the public were not informed by Ministers, the Intelligence and Security Committee or the Commissioners.

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Update on the Reform Clause 1 Campaign

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in ASBO, Civil Liberties | Leave a comment

reform clause 1Last year we warned that everyone from Christian street preachers to peaceful protesters will be subject to new draconian powers proposed by the Home Office which mean that individuals that are considered annoying can be driven from the streets. That is why we are supporting the Reform Clause 1 campaign.

The campaign is in full swing and tomorrow (Wednesday 8th) is a vital stage as the House of Lords will vote on an amendment to replace the “nuisance or annoyance” test in Clause 1 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill. This is an opportunity to defeat the Government’s plans and force them to think again.

At present Antisocial Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) can only be issued if a court is fully satisfied that someone has caused or threatened to cause “harassment, alarm or distress” to someone else and the order is therefore “necessary” to protect the victim. Under the new Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNA system), the courts will be able to impose sweeping curbs on people’s freedoms if they believe an individual is “capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”.

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