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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

Councils

Another Group backs the end of the Edited Register

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Councils, Data Protection, Databases, Marketing, Privacy | 3 Comments

mail_splashThe Edited Electoral Register (EER) has come under fire in the past few weeks, with a series of reports indicating that the Register is proving to be more trouble than it is worth.  To add fuel to the fire,  the Local Government Association (LGA) has called for the sale of the EER to be stopped and the register itself to be scrapped.

Councillor Peter Fleming, Chair of the LGA’s Improvement Board  has hit the nail on the head with what is wrong with the EER, arguing that  councils resent having to pass “the electoral roll onto direct marketing companies”, continuing that “it demeans our democracy for the voters’ details to be sold off to help direct marketing companies make money.”

Indeed, one of the main problems with the EER is that it is of benefit to no one but the very marketing companies that purchase the data. In fact it is especially troublesome for residents who find themselves being deluged with junk mail due to their councils being forced to sell it on.

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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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You do have the right to record council meetings

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Councils, Freedom of Expression | 1 Comment

keyboardIn a victory for transparency, the Government has announced that from today members of the public and journalists will be able to film and report on all public meetings held by local councils in England.

The Openness of Local Government Regulations 2014, signed into law by the Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Secretary Eric Pickles, will allow citizens to use 21st Century techniques such as tweeting and blogging to report on council meetings. It will also allow them to view material relating to some decisions made elsewhere by officers acting under a “general or specific delegated power”.

The move to update the law follows attempts by DCLG to use non-legislative methods, including the publication of guidance which explicitly confirmed that members of the public could overtly film council meetings. Sadly some councils chose to ignore this step.

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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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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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New legislation will defend your right to record council meetings

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Councils, Freedom of Information | 1 Comment

Image3The government has announced that it will be creating a new law that will allow residents, bloggers and journalists to report, blog, tweet and film council meetings in England.

This follows previous attempts by the Department for Communities and Local Government to force councils to be more transparent, after a string of councils have continued to prevent individuals from recording council meetings on health and safety and legal grounds.

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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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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Democratic value? The sale of the edited electoral register

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Councils, Data Protection, Databases, Research and reports | 9 Comments

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Today we have published our latest report, Democratic Value, looking at the scale of the commercial use of the edited electoral roll.

Councils have no say in selling the register – and it probably costs more to administer than they bring in through charges – but threats of legal action mean they can do little to assist residents and there is not widespread awareness of understanding of why there are two versions of the electoral roll.

This confusion exacerbates the fundamental privacy issue with councils being mandated to law to make available for purchase the names and addresses of those who do not opt-out. That is a law for Parliament to change, and it should do so at the soonest opportunity.

Between 2007 and 2012, more than 2,700 different organisations and individuals purchased the edited register, with some local authorities seeing far higher levels of use.

Four councils sold the edited register to more than 50 buyers (Westminster, Elmbridge, Kensington and Chelsea, Broadland) while 19 councils sold the edited register to between 25 and 49 buyers.

The sale of personal information by public authorities, particularly for marketing purposes, is something that should never be routine. It undermines trust and confidence in the wider public sector’s ability to protect people’s privacy and potentially deters people from engaging in a critical part of our democracy.

This doesn’t mean the electoral roll shouldn’t be accessible to the public, but the current situation is not one designed to bolster our democracy.

We wholly agree with the Electoral Commission, the Local Government Association and The Association of Electoral Administrators that the edited register should be abolished. We believe that the existence of the edited register impacts on election participation as people are concerned about their personal information being shared for marketing purposes and undermining trust in the electoral registration system.

 

We have produced a draft letter you can use to permanently opt-out of the edited register, which you can find in the Take Action section of the website here.

Bin snooping? We’ve been here before

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Bins, Councils, Data Protection, Information Commissioner, Privacy, Surveillance, Technology | 13 Comments

A guest post by former Big Brother Watch director, Alex Deane.iStock_000005457815Medium

Longstanding BBW supporters may remember that I was once Director of this parish. For the past two years, I’ve been a Common Councilman in the City of London, aka the Square Mile. These two things crossed over significantly this week, with the news (broken by Quartz) that a company named Renew, which had installed bins in the Square Mile, was using a data collection capacity installed in those bins to collect information about mobile telephone usage amongst passers-by.

Let’s lance one canard right now: I don’t care what they were using this data for, or intending to use it for. You’ve got no right to snatch data from the airwaves like this, no matter what your ostensible motive and no matter how innocent your alleged plans. This behaviour is wrong in and of itself and it is a good thing that this case has resulted in controversy for those carrying it out and attention for the issue; all the better as it has happened early in the development of this technology – or at least, this latest iteration of 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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