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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

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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Could the AP scandal happen in Britain?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Data Protection, Databases, Freedom of Expression, International, Police, Privacy | 1 Comment

police-3In a word, yes.

When news broke of the US Government’s wholesale request for data on Associated Press journalists,

The New Yorker quickly highlighted how US law allowed the Department of Justice to go straight to the phone companies, without notifying AP (although it’s own guidelines said this should not normally happen.) Because of this, there was no opportunity to test the justification for such a massive intrusion on the freedom of the press.

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What’s in an IP address?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Online privacy, Privacy, Surveillance, Technology | 7 Comments

943716_10153007365440107_483278094_nWhile the Communications Data Bill has scrapped, the one issue that remains live is the ‘resolution of IP addresses’ – particularly where mobile phone operators may have millions of customers using just a few hundred IP addresses. Deputy Director Emma Carr appeared on the Daily Politics yesterday to discuss the issue.

An IP address is (put simply) the address you access the internet through (although ways of masking this are nothing new nor particularly technically challenging). We think it reasonable that the issue is investigated so that where the police have an IP address from a service provider, they are able to trace that back to the person using the service. It may be possible to address this through small, technical changes to existing legislation, rather than a new Bill. Indeed, the draft Communications Data Bill went far, far beyond being a focused attempt to solve this problem.

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Is anonymous whistleblowing a thing of the past?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Civil Liberties, Privacy, RIPA, Surveillance | 1 Comment

filesWe have warned on multiple occasions about the abuse of surveillance powers by public authorities and the subsequent importance of having judicial approval for officials who want to snoop on us, whether it is in the ‘real’ world or online.

Last year we highlighted that more than three million authorisations under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000) were issued, leading to questions about how and why the powers are being used.  We also published research that shows that HMRC made 41,351 snooping requests for details of phone calls and mobile texts between 2009 and 2011. The only police forces to make more requests in the same period were the Metropolitan police and Merseyside police.

It has since come to light that HMRC has used surveillance legislation to identify a whistleblower who uncovered a ‘sweetheart’ deal with Goldman Sachs. Osita Mba had used the Public Interest Disclosure Act to write to the National Audit Office and two parliamentary committees in 2011 saying that the head of tax, Dave Hartnett, had “let off” Goldman Sachs from paying at least £10m in interest. The identity of Mba was then revealed to HMRC by the clerk of the public accounts committee, who sought clarification that he was a genuine revenue employee.

Following the story appearing in the Guardian in October 2011, Mba was put under internal investigation by the revenue, useing RIPA to access the emails, internet search records and telephone calls of a revenue solicitor, and his wife, Claudia.

Perhaps shockingly for many, RIPA allows HMRC the ability to view highly personal information of taxpayers, including the websites accessed, the mobile calls made or received, the date and time of emails, texts and phone calls. Despite the revenue claiming that RIPA powers “can only be used when investigating serious crime”, it is very clear from the use of the powers in this case, that this isn’t always so.

We have seen how new surveillance powers that are created, intended only for the most serious of crimes, very quickly becomes available to everyone from councils to the Health and Safety Executive. It is unacceptable for public authorities to keep secret details of why they are spying on the public and their own employees and to do so without seeking a court’s approval. Judicial approval for spying on us should be the norm, not the exception and the public have a right to know why and how these powers are being used.

The taxman wants to HMRC who you’ve been calling

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Internet freedom, Surveillance, Technology | 3 Comments

photo-590x400Under the (brilliant) headline ‘We’re Under Atax’ the Sun exclusively reveals today reveals the extent of the taxman’s snooping.

As our Freedom of Information request shows, Between 2009 and 2011, HRMC made 41,351 snooping requests for details of phone calls and mobile texts. The only police forces to make more requests in the same period were the Metropolitan police and Merseyside police.

Given how often these powers are being used by HMRC, it’s strange that nobody has mentioned the Government’s Snoopers’ charter will give the taxman access to who you email or chat online with and what websites you visit.

Indeed, this is before the Communications Data Bill comes in, the taxman is making more than 1,000 snooping requests every month – and clearly if it does ever become law, that number will explode.

The taxman doesn’t need to know if you’ve been reading the Sun online, nor does any other part of Government. But if the data is collected it’ll be a stampede for people to have a look, from the Health and Safety Executive to parking wardens.

Experts say drop web snooping plans

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Internet freedom, Online privacy | 10 Comments

Today’s Times newspaper leads with an important development on the Communications Data Bill.

A group of ten leading academics and computer science experts have added their voices to the growing chorus of objection over the bill, far beyond the scope of merely tinkering with the drafted legislation.

This follows the news that the Home Office faces legal action as it tries to keep secret a key part of the snooping plan, the so-called ‘request filter’ – or as we call it, the search engine for our web activity.

The full text of the damning letter is below in full.


Dear Prime Minister,
One year ago, we learned that the Home Secretary intended to resurrect plans to monitor
every British person’s Internet activity. One year on, the plans remain as naïve and
technically dangerous as when they were floated by the last Government.
Parliament does not have a good track record in legislating for the Internet. The most recent
foray, the Digital Economy Act, has proven both unworkable and unhelpful, while more
feasible alternatives were ignored and taxpayers’ money was poured into a technically inept
political totem.

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Form an orderly queue for snooping data

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Councils, Data Protection | 31 Comments

ITteamToday’s Daily Telegraph reports on the ‘rush’ from public bodies to gain access to the data collected under the Home Office’s Communications Data Bill.

According to information uncovered by Big Brother Watch, “Council staff, health and safety inspectors and even Royal Mail want to harness the Government’s proposed “Snoopers’ Charter” to monitor private emails, telephone records and internet use.”

As soon as the details of what websites we look at and who we communicate with online is stored, it’s a honey pot of information that every bureaucrat, hacker and rogue government is going to try and gain access to.

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Can the Lords salvage something from the Justice and Security Bill?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Ministry of Justice | 2 Comments

5946829399_e633991652_oToday Andrew Tyrie MP and Anthony Peto QC have published their follow-up paper on the Justice and Security Bill for the Centre for Policy Studies. It makes for harrowing reading.

The Bill now heads back to the Lords today, where it started. The House of Lords voted for major amendments, introducing more discretion for judges and making the use of CMPs a last resort. The Government removed most of these amendments during Committee stage, in most cases by a single vote, despite repeated warnings that the Bill’s proposals constitute a radical departure from fundamental constitutional principles.

As Andrew Tyrie MP says: “The Lords did good repair work on the Bill, but the Government has undone much of it. The Lords now have a final chance to restore their original sensible amendments and further improve the Bill.  I very much hope that they will do take it.”

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