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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

Mastering the Internet and GCHQ

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Mastering the Internet, Surveillance, Technology, United States | 8 Comments

servers

The Guardian has just reported new claims about GCHQ’s internet surveillance operations.

The article claims:

“One key innovation has been GCHQ’s ability to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fibre-optic cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted and analysed. That operation, codenamed Tempora, has been running for some 18 months.

GCHQ and the NSA are consequently able to access and process vast quantities of communications between entirely innocent people, as well as targeted suspects.

This includes recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, entries on Facebook and the history of any internet user’s access to websites – all of which is deemed legal, even though the warrant system was supposed to limit interception to a specified range of targets.”

Of course, GCHQ’s job is to spy on people, to listen to phone calls and protect us. However, as was discussed in Parliament last week, this operates under a strict regime and any interception is subject to a ministerial warrant. As the Foreign Secretary said:

“To intercept the content of any individual’s communications in the UK requires a warrant signed personally by me, the Home Secretary, or by another Secretary of State.

This is no casual process. Every decision is based on extensive legal and policy advice. Warrants are legally required to be necessary, proportionate and carefully targeted, and we judge them on that basis.”

If then, as the Guardian story claims, that large volumes of data – including content – are being scraped from fibre optic cables then this would have to be authorised by a Secretary of State’s warrant for every individual affected.

As this report notes, interception can be defined under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act as “an interception as carried out in the course of its transmission when (i) it is stored so that the recipient can access and collect it later31 and (ii) when the contents of the transmission are stored by the interceptor so as to make them available after the transmission (‘subsequently’).”

However, the Guardian has summarised potential legal loopholes that may significantly handicap the existing safeguards. The main point is that if a communication is “external” to the UK it can be collected under a RIPA certificate, rather than requiring an individual warrant. If two British people were to have a Facebook chat, for example, that chat is routed via Facebook outside the UK. The argument would then seem to be that GCHQ is intercepting it as it enters and leaves the UK, and as such is an “external” communication. We would take major issue with this legal interpretation, as whichever way you look at it the content of a message between two UK citizens is being intercepted without an explicit warrant from a Secretary of State. This is applying a law for landline telephones to the internet in a way that deliberately expands the amount of data that can be collected far beyond what was considered by Parliament. 

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “This appears to be dangerously close to, if not exactly, the centralised database of all our internet communications, including some content, that successive Governments have ruled out and Parliament has never legislated for.

“Britain has a clear legal process in place to govern the interception of the content of communications and blanket interception is not a part of that system. If GCHQ have been intercepting huge numbers of innocent people’s communications as part of a massive sweeping exercise then I struggle to see how that squares with a process that requires a warrant for each individual intercept. This question must be urgently be addressed in Parliament.

“The fact GCHQ staff have been discussing how light the UK’s oversight regime is compared to the US highlights why we need a wholesale review of surveillance law, including the fact that there is absolutely no judicial process within the current system and the people making these decisions are able to hide in the shadows rather than face public scrutiny.”

 

Can you support Sgt Danny Nightingale?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties | 5 Comments

Only July 1, Sgt Danny Nightingale will appear at the military court to face a retrial. CNV00001

Since entering a plea of not guilty at his pre-trial hearing, Sgt Nightingale has been informed he will be medically discharged from the army on February 14, 2014. However, the Military prosecutors intend to continue their prosecution – despite basing their initial case on the fact he was still fit to serve.

Fundraising efforts have raised £10,000 for Sgt Nightingale’s defence but the re-trial will see costs far in excess of this. Danny’s family are facing immense financial pressures and if the funds cannot be raised then there is a real risk Sgt Nightingale will not be able to contest the charge.

I would urge you, if you are able, to support this important cause, to do so. You can donate to the legal appeal here and please do share the link with your friends and family. 

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Judge slams police force’s approach to CRB as “fundementally flawed”

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Civil Liberties, Data Protection, Databases, Information Commissioner, Police | 4 Comments

iStock_000016822421MediumA Judge has called South Yorkshire Police’s approach to CRB disclosure “fundamentally flawed” after the force decided to disclose the fact that a teacher had been involved in legal proceedings, despite the fact that the individual was not convicted of an offence.

The ‘old’ CRB system has seen lives ruined and this case is a very clear example of over reliance on a flawed system. After being found not guilty, it is abhorrent that South Yorkshire Police took the legal system into their own hands and used CRB disclosure as a means of issuing their own punishment. There must clearly be a system that ensures children and vulnerable adults are protected, however this must be balanced against unjust intrusion into people’s lives. If something cannot be proven in court then it is not right for the police to disclose details that imply guilt.

The case involves a former teacher, found not guilty of sexually molesting pupils, who has taken South Yorkshire Police to court as they continued to insist on listing the allegations on his enhanced criminal record certificate, which employers can see – effectively destroying his career in the classroom.

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You do have the right to record council meetings

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Civil Liberties, Councils, Home | 5 Comments

filesIn positive step towards transparency Eric Pickles MP, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, has published new guidance which explicitly states that Councils should allow the public to overly film and council meetings.

DCLG was forced to publish the guidance after a string of councils had prevented individuals from recording council meetings on health and safety and legal grounds. The guidance will only apply to English councils, but it certainly creates a serious precedent for councils in Wales.

Public access to meetings is a key part of holding local councils and public bodies to account and it’s wholly wrong for people not being able to film or tweet in public meetings for spurious legal reasons.

Whether through Freedom of Information law, filming council meetings or publishing data, transparency is a critical check on those in power and an essential part of defending our liberties.

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PRISM, the NSA and internet privacy: questions for the UK

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Google, Information Commissioner, International, Online privacy, Social Networking, Surveillance, Technology, United States | 8 Comments

serversRecent days have seen a deluge of revelations about the US’ National Security Agency and a spy programme known as Prism, after 29 year old whistleblower Edward Snowden decided he had seen enough to justify going public with his concerns the scale of the surveillance apparatus being built by America.

There are clearly several issues of serious concern here. Clearly, the legalility of what the NSA Has been doing and whether Britain has been either complicit or unwittingly accessing material illegally obtained is at the fore.

The leaked Verizon order involved the collection of details about millions of American’s phone calls under the PATRIOT Act. Yet one of the Act’s authors, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., who was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks and wrote the Patriot Act, has questioned the NSA’s interpretation of their powers. He has written to US Attorney General Eric Holder saying “I do not believe the released [secret court] order is consistent with the requirements of the Patriot Act. How could the phone records of so many innocent Americans be relevant to an authorized investigation as required by the act?”

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Who decides what we can see online?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom | 8 Comments

commons dayToday, along with the Open Rights Group, English PEN and Index on Censorship, we have signed a letter to Culture Secretary Maria Miller highlighting our concerns about the current debate around ‘blocking’ internet content.

It is absolutely right to pursue the removal of illegal content from the internet, but moving to a system where legal content is blocked poses a clear and significant risk to freedom of speech. The triviality of circumventing blocks aside, such a policy risks blocking legitimate websites and setting a dangerous international precedent. After all, who gets to decide what legal content is deemed to be unfit for the British public?

If content is illegal, pursue it, remove it and prosecute those who are responsible. If content is legal, then having a political, non-judicial process to decide what should be blocked is not the right way forward.

The letter is reproduced below.

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When the facts don’t fit your argument for snooping, just make them up

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Protection of Freedoms Bill, Surveillance | 21 Comments

commons dayIn today’s Times, Nick Herbert MP has written an article calling for the return of the Communications Data Bill. Although it’s not clear he has read it.

As copyright law prohibits us from reproducing the entire article, we have had to pick and choose which errors to reproduce here. Which has proved tricky, as most of the article is wrong or misleading in some way.

“Clever use of surveillance technology doesn’t recruit terrorists; it puts them in jail

To claim that letting the security agencies find out who terrorist suspects have been talking to is as evil as hacking down an unarmed soldier is a sign of missing judgment.”

Under Part 2 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, the Security Services and Police already have the power to find out who a suspected terrorist is talking to. How they do this, from covert human intelligence sources, covert surveillance, directed surveillance or intercept is up to them.

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Yet more Communications Data Bill confusion

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Privacy, Surveillance, Technology | 2 Comments

phone_exchangeDuring the debate about the Communications Data Bill, one of the points we repeatedly made was that while this bill was not about reading the contents of messages, but that the details of who you communicate with were still incredibly private information.

In the aftermath of the atrocity in Woolwich, The Prime Minister was absolutely right to warn against knee-jerk reactions. Sadly, various voices have called for the legislation to be revived, despite widespread criticism from two Parliamentary committees and two polls over finding the public still opposed it’s introduction.

If, as has been reported, these individuals were already of concern to the security services then it is of course right they were subjects of surveillance activity. It is not yet clear if these individuals could have been put under closer surveillance.  That is an important question to be asked.

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Woolwich and Communications Data

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Online privacy, Privacy, Surveillance | 2 Comments

commons day

Deputy Director Emma Carr has contributed this piece to Index on Censorship’s website.

John Reid and others’ attempt to make a political argument about “essential” legislation just hours after the brutal murder in Woolwich this week was remarkable, given how little was known at the time and the fact the victim’s family had not even been informed of his death.

Yes, it is right to examine how our security services could have been aided to prevent the horrific scenes we saw in Woolwich this week, but to jump to conclusions and use the politics of fear to promote an agenda before the any detail is available is simply wrong.

Indeed, as the facts have begun to emerge, it seems the answer may look very different to the draft Communications Data bill.

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Now is not the time for politics, Lord Reid

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Databases, Surveillance, Terrorism Legislation | 10 Comments

5946829399_e633991652_oToday, the country begins the process of coming to terms with the horrific attack in Woolwich yesterday.

We know little about those who have committed this brutal terror attack. Videos and photographs have brought the chilling savagery of the perpetrators into our homes.

As the Prime Minister said:

“The terrorists will never win because they can never beat the values we hold dear, the belief in freedom, in democracy, in free speech, in our British values, western values. They are never going to defeat those.

“That is how we will stand up to these people, whoever they are, however many there are of them, and that is how we will win.”

Sadly, Lords Reid and Carlise did not restrain themselves from attacking the Government even hours after the attack. It is wholly wrong for them tobe arguing for a change of policy before the details of what has happened in Woolwich are clear and before even the family of the victim had been notified. At this time our thoughts should be with the victim’s family and not on scoring political headlines.

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