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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

My speech to the Libertarian Alliance: Anonymity is not a Crime

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, Control Orders, Databases, Events, ID cards, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, Privacy | Leave a comment

I gave this speech this weekend and thought that readers might be interested. It's a bit long and I look like the left side of my face is slowly being cooked by the lighting, but it's not a bad speech I think.


Topics covered:

* Intercept Modernisation Programme

* Stop and Search

* ID Cards

* Control Orders

* NICE databases

Topic I would have covered if I had time, and will be addressing again very soon indeed: European Arrest Warrant

By Alex Deane

Training and data security

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases, Privacy | 1 Comment

Pcc The Public Service Journal carries news today of Portsmouth City Council's failure to ensure adequite data security for information it holds about local residents.  In this particular case, it appears that confidential information regarding the mental health of an individual that ought to have been redacted was released to another member of the public in error.

According to the Information Commissioner's office – which has this week effectively cleared Google for their harvesting of confidential data from thousands of private home-owners – the "breach of the Data Protection Act was entirely avoidable, and would not have happened if the individuals dealing with the request had been given proper training and the necessary levels of support".

Details of the case aside, ICO raises an interesting point; chiefly, that awareness among employees of both public and private sector organisations of the importance of handling personal data sensitively is woefully low.  In light of this case and that of Healthcare Locums, the ICO must take a more proactive role in helping to raise awareness of the importance of professional training to avoid harmful mishaps such as this occuring.

By Daniel Hamilton

A little piece of you will forever be in Rotterdam

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, Databases, Privacy | 7 Comments

Rotterdam Big Brother Watch was recently alerted to the case of an East Midlands school which had deployed automatic facial recognition software as a means by which to sign their pupils in and out of school.

Rotterdam City Council, it appears, have gone one step further in announcing the roll-out of facial recognition scanners on their public transport network as a means by which to prevent those with travels bans from boarding trams.

According to DutchNews.nl:

"The scanners will record the biometric features of passengers as they enter the tram. If a passenger with a public transport ban is spotted, an alarm will sound in the driver's cabin and the passenger will be removed.. At the moment, drivers are issued with photos of banned passengers and have to recognise them from these"

So there, you are warned: if you board the tram while in Amsterdam, the Dutch authorities will forever hold both your biometric data and details as to where you boarded and disembarked the tube.

Ah well, you needn't worry; at least the scheme isn't being introduced in Amsterdam, so they'll never find out about that trip you're planning to De Wallen

By Daniel Hamilton

A call to arms

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, Privacy | Leave a comment

Sword Tomorrow afternoon Members of Parliament will, for the first time, have the opportunity to fully debate the issue of privacy and the internet – an astonishing thought given that more than 60% of the public use the internet every day.  

The debate was secured following a successful application by Robert Halfon MP to the Backbench Business committee and will take place in Westminster Hall from 2:30pm to 5:30pm. 

The debate will be wide-ranging in tone, examining issues such as the implicatons for privacy of the Google Street View service, the targeting of online advertising to internet users based on the websites they have visited in the past and data security concerns surrounding Facebook. 

It is crucial, particularly in light of the discovery that Google has recently harvested thousands of personal e-mail addresses and other sensitive personal information from domestic WiFi connections, that as many Members of Parliament as possible attend and contribute to the debate.

Please do get in touch with your MP and them to attend.  If you don't have their contact details to hand, visit http://www.theyworkforyou.com.

By Daniel Hamilton

The ‘Big Brother’ snooping database is back

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, Privacy | 2 Comments

Privacy During the early days of the coalition Big Brother Watch was encouraged by the numerous Home Office announcements declaring "reviews" of some of the previous government's more draconian policies were underway.

One such policy was that of the 'big brother' database of all communications in the UK, designed to allow "police, security services and other public bodies [to be able to] find out which websites a person had visited, and when, where and to whom a text or call was made".

Sadly, the Daily Mail today reports that Home Office ministers have been "persuaded of the case to give the police and security officials enhanced rights to access the public’s communications", a move which will allow officials to snoop on which websites you visit and any online 'phone calls you may make.

While it is encouraging that the coalition appears to have ruled out holding the data collected on one central database, this scheme still represents a significant intrusion on the privacy of the British people which must be strongly resisted.

Click here to read the full story.

If you would like to raise your objections to the scheme, please do get in touch with your local MP. Their details can be found at http://www.theyworkforyou.com.

By Daniel Hamilton.

Book launch this evening: ‘Fight Terror, Defend Freedom’ by Dominic Raab MP

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, Control Orders, Databases, DNA database, ID cards, Legal Action, Privacy | 8 Comments

Ftdf This evening will see the launch of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch’s new publication, ‘Fight Terror, Defend Freedom’ by Dominic Raab MP.
 
The launch of the book will take place between 5:00pm and 6:00pm today in the Thatcher Room in Portcullis House, Houses of Parliament.  
 
Mr Raab, who was an international lawyer prior to his election to Parliament, will introduce his publication, followed by a panel discussion including former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis MP, Centre for Technology Policy Research Jerry Fishenden and Big Brother Watch Director Alex Deane.   
 
Commenting on the launch of the publication Raab said:

“Today’s publication of the National Security Strategy, highlights the flaws in the last government’s approach to counter-terrorism. Too much time, money and effort was wasted on ‘sound byte’ security. Too many of Labour’s measures, like ID cards and prolonged detention without charge, were unnecessary or irrelevant to our security. 

 “The government has a golden opportunity to break with this flawed approach. We should be defending our freedoms, like free speech and the presumption of innocence. At the same time, the justice system is an underused weapon in the fight against terrorism. We should be strengthening our capacity to prosecute terrorists – not least by lifting the ban on using intercept as evidence.” 

Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch said: 

“The case for action is now irresistible.  Dominic Raab’s publication shows the injustices being done every day in this country.  Stop and search and control orders are being reviewed – why?  Why review something when you know it’s wrong?“ 

Click here to download a copy of the booklet.

Guest post: My ill-fated evening in Southampton – Britain’s big brother capital

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases, ID cards, Privacy | 27 Comments

Walker Recently I had the misfortune of being invited for a night out in Southampton.

This visit was a real eye-opener to me and taught me how much the ‘Big Brother’ society is starting to negatively impact on our day to day lives. I also had a lesson in how little power we have to challenge the people who are doing this.

Let’s start with the basics: it is not possible to have a night out in Southampton without carrying some form of identification.

The types that the bars and clubs accept are: a 'Prove it' card (which at 30 I am too old to have), a driving licence (I don’t drive) or a passport (which in line with Home Office guidelines I use for immigration purposes only!). Without one of these documents, snarling bouncers will refuse you entry to almost every club or bar, even if you the last time you got IDed John Major was still Prime Minister!

Read more

Privacy and 192.com

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases, Online privacy, Privacy | 18 Comments

192 Big Brother Watch has long been concerned about the rapid growth of the database state in the United Kingdom – a craze which threatens data security and invades privacy. 

The latest such manifestation of this phenomenon is the website 192.com. 

While the number '192' conjures up images of the telephone number one used to call in order to find out the mislaid telephone numbers of their friends, 192.com is a whole different kettle of fish.

The website prides itself on its ability to "tell you more about people, businesses & places in the UK than any other directory".  Indeed, aside from finding out telephone numbers, one can also (for a fee) access the individual credit risk reports of company directors, read court judgements and trawl the electoral roll to find people's home addresses.

Do take the time to look at the website and see if your personal information is being made publicly available on this website. 

Rather helpfully, 192.com has produced a guide as to how to have your details removed from the database.  Click here to view it.

By Daniel Hamilton.

Who cares about medical privacy

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases, Privacy | Leave a comment

No2id It is a commonplace among proponents of a "no secrets, nowhere to hide" society that young people, brought up in the internet age are happy to live in public on Facebook and mobile phone, and don't value their privacy. The hint is that doing so is somehow for fuddy-duddies.

But a study just published by the Royal Academy of Engineering suggests that so called Digital Natives actually have a more subtle understanding of what privacy means than those pooh-poohing it.

‘Privacy and Prejudice’ (full report available here)  specifically studied the views of teenagers of the computerization and centralization of medical records – Electronic Patient Records (EPR).  It is very clear:

Growing up in an era of the Big Brother television series and the expansion of social networking sites such as Facebook does not mean that young people do not care about privacy or what happens to their personal information. Privacy is indeed extremely important to young people. [...]

Young people have significant concerns regarding EPRs. These arise due to the perceived inherent weaknesses of an EPR system, including both the robustness (or not) of the technology and the potential errors that will be made by the users. Young people noticed that this could lead to incorrect data within a patient’s record, data loss (massive or individual) or the data reaching the ‘wrong hands’. The consequences were deemed to be very serious and include the improper treatment of patients, fundamental breaches in privacy, the misuse and inappropriate exploitation of the data, prejudice and discrimination.

They distinguish naturally between such systems, where the information included and the uses it is put to are not chosen by the subject but fundamentally affecting his or her life, and the social network, seen as a matter of self-projection and presentation. It’s the nature of the relationship that is important, who is in charge.

On this evidence teenagers also have a much clearer understanding of the meaning of privacy than government policy makers, who have just decided that the NHS Summary Care Records system can continue to be built by the sort of inertia selling that would be illegal for a commercial organisation. In future they will put an opt-out form in the envelope. Big deal. You will still be assumed irrevocably to have consented, regardless of your understanding of what you are being asked, if you fail to use it – on behalf of yourself and your children.

There are no plans to write to under-18s individually. Adults know better what’s good for them, apparently.

By Guy Herbert, NO2ID

“Scraping” – or, Beware of What You Put on the Web (part two)

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, Privacy | 3 Comments

Scrap Regular visitors to this blog will have seen Dominique Lazanski's warning earlier this week about the risks of businesses and employers "scraping" personal information you have uploaded to the internet.

With this in mind, Big Brother Watch has been alerted to the case of the 'scraping' of PatientLikeMe.com – a discussion forum for people with emotional disorders, "ranging from bipolar disease to a desire to cut themselves". In the early hours of the morning on 7th May, website administrators observed "suspicious" activity on website, with copies of each of the messages on the website being copied in their entirety by a media-research firm representing the pharmaceutical industry.

Information about the opinions of the website's users where then forwarded to drug companies. While many users of the website posted their messages under pseudonyms, one user complained that information contained on his profile revealed his correct e-mail and blog addresses – something which could allow drug companies to identify him directly.

Despite the sensitive nature of its content – and their condemnation of companies who engage in "scraping" -  PatientsLikeMe.com, the website from which the data as to views of patients was obtained, freely admits to selling anonymized information about the profile of its users to commercial clients for market research purposes.

Scraping, the Wall Street Journal confirms, is big business:

"The emerging business of web scraping provides some of the raw material for a rapidly expanding data economy. Marketers spent $7.8 billion on online and offline data in 2009, according to the New York management consulting firm Winterberry Group LLC. Spending on data from online sources is set to more than double, to $840 million in 2012 from $410 million in 2009.

"Scraping services range from dirt cheap to custom-built. Some outfits, such as 80Legs.com in Texas, will scrape a million Web pages for $101. One Utah company, screen-scraper.com, offers do-it-yourself scraping software for free. The top listening services can charge hundreds of thousands of dollars to monitor and analyze Web discussions.

"Nielsen BuzzMetrics, quickly became a leader in the field of social-media monitoring. It collects data from 130 million blogs, 8,000 message boards, Twitter and social networks. It sells services such as "ThreatTracker," which alerts a company if its brand is being discussed in a negative light"

In light of this case, Dominique's warning has become all the more prescient:

"The best advice for all of this is to be careful of what you put online. Only individuals are best placed to take control of what they share and when they share it. And you never know who is watching"

By Daniel Hamilton