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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

Databases

Yet another Government Database Mooted

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Data Protection, Databases, Information Commissioner | 1 Comment

Even plans made with the best of intentions can go awry. In a speech made last week, Mark Hoban, a former Minister of serversState for Work and Pensions, floated the idea of combining previously separate personal financial information into a single database.

Mr Hoban argued that “It would be great if we could use the Retirement Saver Service to store data on their savings, pensions – state and private – and housing”. The idea is that it would give individuals a clearer idea of their current savings situation as well as helping to signpost any necessary action they would need to take in the future.

At the moment the regulatory framework simply isn’t good enough to ensure that another new database would be secure. The sanctions that are available for punishing those who misuse personal information and break the Data Protection Act 1998 are almost non-existent. At present the most any breach will receive is a fine, there is no option for a court to hand down a custodial sentence. When compared to the financial gains that can be made through selling the information on, a, usually small, fine cannot be considered to be an effective deterrent.

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What could possibly go wrong with an EU-wide DNA database?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Databases, DNA database, Europe, European Arrest Warrant, Extradition | 1 Comment

dna-3Over the weekend you may have read about the Government’s plans for more policing powers to be transferred over to the EU, including the prospect of the UK joining a Europe-wide DNA database. Considering a debate is planned for Thursday on the current set of Justice and Home Affairs opt-outs, these plans seem absurdly premature.

You can read our briefing note on the reported plans and our concerns about the problems with the current system here.

There are some fundamental problems with the UK’s DNA database (DNAD) that need urgently addressing before the Government even thinks about allowing EU Member States to have direct access to the data. These problems are outlined in our 2012 report (pdf), which was published following the reforms made by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.

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Care.data delay is not the end of the issue

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases, Information Commissioner, NHS | 7 Comments

Times_caredataIn a campaign victory for Big Brother Watch, medconfidential and others, the care.data scheme has been delayed for six months.

This is not the end of the issue. We have significant ongoing concerns regarding the care.data scheme, both in terms of how patients have been told about what is happening and the long term privacy implications of creating a new database and releasing data that could be used to re-identify patients.

We welcome the fact that NHS England has recognised its efforts to communicate the scheme have been inadequate, something we have repeatedly warned about, not least the use of a junk mail leaflet to households that did not mention any of the risks involved.

Simply, however, NHS England had one job – to ensure patients and GPs were properly aware of the scheme and could make an informed choice about participation. Despite more than a year to achieve this, they have totally failed to do so. NHS England has serious questions to ask about its strategy that has tried to railroad through a significant change in how our medical records are used.

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Care.data – rhetoric is easy but the reality is not so simple

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases, Information Commissioner, Medical Records, NHS | 2 Comments

3797160719_337b4742e7_bToday two articles have appeared on care.data, with are worthy of a few comments.

Firstly, George Freeman MP writes in the Telegraph:

“We must do everything to ensure a robust regime that will protect data from hacking and from any potential misuse. But at the same time, we must not block life-saving advances.”

As we have repeatedly pointed out, the Data Protection Regime is woefully inadequate and those who committ a criminal offence under Section 55 of the DPA cannot be sent to prison, merely fined. Mr Freeman does not suggest this should change, as we have repeatedly called for.

Equally, Mr Freeman writes: “we need to move health from being something done to you by government to something citizens take responsibility for themselves”

Interestingly, Mr Freeman also has his own legislation on this topic – the Patient Data Bill. The first two principles the bill states are:

(2) The Ownership Principle is that patients own their medical data.
(3) The Control Principle is that patients have the right to access their medical data and to control its use (including the right to share it for research or other purposes).

Yet care.data does neither of those things – quite the opposite. If you believe in people controlling their records, pulling them into a central database purely on the back of a junk mailing is hardly making patient ownership and control a reality.

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Police staff forced to quit after snooping on familes and lovers

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Data Protection, Databases, Police | 2 Comments

keyboardFrom passing on incorrect information to snooping on friends, a number of shocking data protection breaches in police forces have been uncovered. With hundreds of incidents every year it is time to start asking whether it is too easy for police databases to be abused to snoop on innocent people.

Big Brother Watch has long been concerned about the number of data breaches occurring within police forces. In 2011, we published the report ‘Police Databases: How More Than 900 Staff Abused Their Access’. The report highlighted a shocking number of data protection breaches and the subsequent limited number of punishments that were handed out. We also commented on the recent case of a police officer being charged with stealing thousands of accident victims’ details from her police force’s computer to sell to law firms.

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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.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

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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NHS England’s wholly inadequate leaflet drop

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Data Protection, Databases, Medical Records, NHS | 6 Comments

3797160719_337b4742e7_bWhen you check your letterbox for mail this morning, make sure you take a second glance because you might just miss a leaflet from NHS England detailing serious changes to the way our medical records are shared.

Last year we campaigned to ensure that patients have the right to opt-out of these changes, however, despite this victory for patient privacy, NHS England has taken the decision that if patients do wish to opt-out of sharing their medical records then they must visit their GP to do so. Given GPs are already very busy, people should not have to see their GP to opt-out of the system. It should be possible to opt-out online or over the phone, and people who opted out of previous NHS IT projects, such as the Summary Care Records, should have their choice carried over for this system.

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A (brief) recent history of security and the free press

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Databases, Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, PRISM, Privacy, Surveillance, Terrorism Legislation, United States | 2 Comments

Statesman

Today, the editor of the Guardian gives evidence to the Home Affairs select committee, as part of the committee’s work on counter terrorism.

Perhaps that might give the committee to question why Parliament learned of much of GCHQ’s activity from the newspaper, rather than from Ministers. Indeed, it seems on current evidence that will remain the case – as the Lords found on the 20th November, when they were told they could not even be informed which law authorised Project Tempora.

Lord Richard: My Lords, of course the Minister cannot go into details on these very sensitive matters. We all accept that. However, for the life of me, I do not see why she cannot answer a straightforward Question about which Minister authorised the project and why the existence of the project was not disclosed to the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill. These are not sensitive issues. They are pure matters of fact, surely capable of being answered.

Baroness Warsi: It is interesting that the noble Lord interprets it in that way but I think he would also accept that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on intelligence matters, which includes any comments on the project.

We have been repeatedly assured that it would be unacceptable for a central database of communications to be built – both by those in Government and those seeking to be.

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Ideas to start the debate and reform surveillance

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Data Protection, Databases, Europe, International, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, PRISM, RIPA, Surveillance, Terrorism Legislation, United States | 1 Comment

Dear Prime Minister,

cc Deputy Prime Minister; Chair – ISC;  Chair – Home Affairs committee; Chair – Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill; Chair – LIBE Committee of the European Parliament; Chair – Joint Committee on Human Rights;

Yesterday you said that you would be happy to listen to ideas to improve the oversight and operation of safeguards concerning our intelligence agencies.

This is an extremely welcome and timely intervention, and an offer that we would like to take up enthusiastically.

Below are just a few of the well-established proposals to improve the operation, scrutiny and safeguards of surveillance powers.

-       Commission independent, post-legislative scrutiny of the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act 2000 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994, legislation that covers much internet surveillance but was written years before Facebook existed and when few households had internet access. If Parliament intends to allow the collection of data from every internet communication, it should expressly say so in primary legislation, covering both metadata and content

-       Publish, as the US Government has done, legal opinions that are used to underpin the ongoing surveillance framework

-       Allow the Intelligence and Security Committee to report to Parliament, and be chaired by an opposition MP, as called for by Lord King. It should also be able to employ technical experts to assist its work.

-       Publish the budget and investigatory capacity of the ISC, Interception of Communications Commissioner and Surveillance Commissioners

-       Reform the Investigatory Powers Tribunal so there is a presumption its hearings are held publicly, that it should state reasons for reaching its decisions and that its judgements can be appealed in court

-       End the need for Secretaries of State to approve appearances of the heads of agencies before Parliamentary committees, and allow agency and service heads to give evidence in public where appropriate

-       Establish an independent body to review the work of the agencies, as President Obama has done with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and ensure it has staff with relevant technical expertise

-       Lift any legal restrictions on British companies from publishing transparency reports about surveillance requests

-       Publish details of the use of surveillance powers broken down by agency, as opposed to the single UK figure currently published, including the scale of international intelligence sharing

-       Enhance whistleblower protection for those who wish to come forward from within the services

We would be delighted to meet with you or members of your Government to discuss these issues. At a time when the internet is an inescapable part of daily life, the modern economy and the delivery of public services, it is surely paramount that the laws that govern surveillance are fit for a digital age, and that the safeguards that operate are robust, properly resourced and can command public confidence.

Yours sincerely,

Anne Jellema, Chief Executive Officer, World Wide Web Foundation

Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group

Gus Hosein, Executive Director, Privacy International

Guy Herbert, General Secretary, No2ID

Nick Pickles, Director, Big Brother Watch

Professor Peter Sommer

Ross Anderson, Professor of Security Engineering, Cambridge

Caspar Bowden, Independent privacy researcher

Douwe Korff, Professor of International Law, London Metropolitan University

Judith Rauhofer, University of Edinburgh

Duncan Campbell, Investigative journalist and author of European Parliament report on Echelon

No debate please, we’re British.

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Databases, International, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, PRISM, Surveillance, United States | 2 Comments

ben-cctv-bigIn a speech to the  Royal United Services Institute on Tuesday, the Director General of MI5 said: “it causes enormous damage to make public the reach and limits of GCHQ techniques.Such information hands the advantage to the terrorists. It is the gift they need to evade us and strike at will.”

This is a sentiment expressed on the front page of various national newspapers. The bad guys, you may have guessed, are the Guardian and Edward Snowden.

To suggest that the Snowden disclosures allow terrorists to attack “at will” is both farfetched and disingenuous. Even in the US, nobody has sought to make such an assertion. Those newspapers who have reported this claim without critique or balance have done their readers a disservice.

Equally, and disappointingly, in his speech Andrew Parker did not mention why it was possible for a 29 year old contractor to the US Government to download thousands of documents about GCHQ’s techniques (nor have any of the media outlets reporting the speech asked such a question.)

Nor did he did not highlight that the US Government itself has sought to detail the operations, reach and capabilities of its agencies – the Director of National Intelligence has established a dedicated website for legal opinions, statements and factsheets – yes, factsheets – on what the NSA is doing.

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