• Media Enquiries

    07505 448925(24hr)

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


Clegg’s speech: a waste of time

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, Control Orders, Databases, DNA database, Events, ID cards, Legal Action, Media coverage, Privacy | 3 Comments

Public-service I attended Nick Clegg's speech this morning, and discussed it on Victoria Derbyshire's show on Radio 5 Live today. Over at Public Service I have written an article which puts the argument more fully. In case you're interested, I thought I'd reproduce it here:

Perhaps against our better judgment, I and a number of other civil libertarians trudged through the rain to listen to Nick Clegg's speech at the Institute of Government today. What a waste of time it was.

One appreciates that today is the Deputy Prime Minister's birthday, but there's still no excuse for giving a speech so entirely without substance as this. Effectively, this was the governmental equivalent of the boy who cried "wolf" – he called a press conference, but had nothing to say. As I said with praise at the time, the mood music on offer when the coalition was formed was extremely encouraging – but now, fully seven months on, it is profoundly depressing for anyone who cares about freedom to find all-but exactly the same music on offer, with no substantive additions at all.

Mr Clegg spent a great deal of time talking about the expansion of Freedom of Information, which although hardly revolutionary is significant and welcome, and on libel and defamation reform, on which there was some substance. The trouble there is that that latter issue falls squarely in Ken Clarke's patch, not Clegg's, but – his desparate team must have thought – so what? The DPM desperately needed something substantive to say. And he'd obviously been denied any meat – at all – on the issues everyone was there for, i.e. our profoundly illiberal anti-terror legislation, under which hundreds of thousands of people are stopped and searched at random without a single terror-related arrest, people are kept under detention for a month before they're even charged, and individuals can be put on control orders indefinitely. All of this, he said, fell under the purview of the Home Secretary, and he wouldn't presume to say anything about it – peculiar, one might think, for the man supposedly in charge of the Freedom Bill, especially on the Control Orders front.

The case for action on this is plain, and not only because the Liberal Democrats were so clear and principled on the issue before the election. Control Orders are completely immoral. If you're a victim of this pernicious form of house arrest, not only are you denied sight of the evidence against you, you're not even told the nature of the accusation. So there's simply no way to defend yourself from it. When the Government can restrict liberty like this on a whim, it is not enough, on the one hand, to speak in head-shaking, deep-toned, pseudo-profound terms about the "grave threat" we face, and on the other offer assurances that the police and security services "know what they're doing" (just ask Jean-Charles De Menezes or Ian Tomlinson what they'd make of such assertions). At times like these, faced with an objectively less significant threat than this country faced throughout the 1970s, the kneejerk reaction on show from the last government is truly the greatest threat posed to our free society.

Such a threat is far from merely theoretical. Blame my barristerial background, perhaps, but I'm old-fashioned enough to believe in the presumption of innocence, and in trying people accused of crimes in courts, then finding them innocent or guilty. Such basic principles were gravely harmed by the last government, and once such bright line principles are breached then the freedoms of all of us are threatened.

Though he talks a good game, Clegg has hitherto done and is doing precisely nothing to reverse this illiberality. There were lofty words on offer on covert surveillance for absurd things and on our DNA database, the largest per capita in the world, with the details of more than an innocent people on it. There was even a single line about limiting the power of representatives of the state to enter private property.It was all rather familiar [for BBW followers...]. But on absolutely none of it was there any specificity. So one fears that the delays, reviews and empty speeches (co-ordinated with a suspiciously well-timed parade of supposedly impartial grandees coming out against Control Orders, and a remarkably coincidental escalation in the terror level we are told we face) are taking place as a prelude to substituting effectively the same kinds of regime on all of these issues. This is why, for example, one views Clegg's preferred formula, "Control Orders cannot survive in their current form", with such suspicion. We are very likely, I fear, to see a cosmetic change offered as a sop to the Liberal Democrats, with no real genuine action at all.

I do not allege that Clegg is actually happy with this. Perhaps he is making all manner of uncomfortable compromises. But is he actually right to do so? Of course the Lib Dems are enjoying the trappings of power, but Mr Clegg has to ask himself – is he truly the Deputy Prime Minister, or not? If he is, then this kind of delay by others on his fundamental manifesto pledges, leading to his excuse-riddled inaction, is simply inexcusable. If he's not… then what's he doing in the Coalition?

By Alex Deane

Scottish schools storing biometric data without offering opt-out

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

Fingerprint72 Late last year, we reported on the case of an East Midlands school which had installed a costly and invasive facial recognition system in order to log their pupils in and out of lessons.

Up in the North Eastern corner of Scotland, it appears as if schools in Angus have gone one step further. According to reports in the Tayside and Fife Courier, parents are up in arms following reports that schools in the Borough have collected biometric data from their children without informing parents of their right to opt-out of the service.

Councillor Peter Nield, the Chairman of the council's education committee has gone on record as stating there had been "no opt-outs" by any parents across the borough, a claim directly contradicted by a pupil's father Graham Galloway whose children have effectively had their biometric data 'stolen' despite his objections.

Click here to read the full story.

Another day, another data loss

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

229usb Big Brother Watch has grown used to receiving reports of local councils misplacing, losing and accidentally leaking confidential information about their local residents.  Indeed, earlier this month, we reported on the worrying case of a Hampshire council who divulged confidential information about the mental health of a resident. 

A supporter has written in alerting us to the loss of an unencrypted memory stick containing the personal details of 40 children in care in the city of Stoke-on-Trent – a council rated one of Britain's worst performing local authorities. 

Commenting on the case, the Information Commissioner's Office said: 

"When handling sensitive personal information, particularly information relating to the care of vulnerable children, it is important that authorities ensure the necessary measures are in place to protect this information.

"This incident occurred before April 6 so the powers now available to the Information Commissioner to issue penalties of up to £500,000 for serious breaches of the Data Protection Act, could not be considered."

In this case, Stoke City Council appears to have effectively gotten away with it.

How long, for example. until a council divulges the identities of women on the run from abusive relationships?  Is it out of the question that information on the identities of children on the 'at risk' register might become public property as a result of a lack of adherence to data protection laws?  Could we see a repeat of central government's loss of personal bank account details on a local level?

Not for the first time, however, this type of data loss only serves to heighten the need for increased staff training to improve the awareness of the importance of maintaining standards of data security at Britain's local councils.

By Daniel Hamilton.

Strength of fingerprint evidence in doubt – 100 years after use of this “foolproof” detection tool began

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, DNA database | 2 Comments

If you click the DNA button in the cloud on the right, you'll see that there's a lot of debate over DNA on this site (and in my columns elsewhere). I wonder if in 80 or 90 years' time, it will emerge that doubts over DNA detection will emerge to have been correct?

Worth thinking about today, as a senior judge raises concerns over fingerprint evidence used in criminal trials, warning that it rests on “assumptions” that have never been scientifically proven:

Lord Justice Leveson, an appeal judge and chairman of the Sentencing Council, called into question the “century old” identification process, which he said was often considered “virtually unassailable” in tying a person to a crime.The judge said that there have been “numerous” recent cases of innocent people being wrongly singled out by fingerprint evidence.In a speech to the Forensic Science Society in London, he said the analysis of fingerprints by experts was “fundamentally subjective” and that it was therefore “inherently capable of misidentifications”.

Lord Justice Leveson called for new research to be carried out to ensure fingerprinting is “robust” and reliable.“There is growing unease among fingerprint examiners and researchers that the century old fingerprint identification process rests on assumptions that have never been tested empirically,” he said.Speaking about the use of expert evidence in court cases, the senior judge said it was vital to have a “methodology and a hypothesis that are capable of withstanding robust testing”.“Arguably, as it currently stands, the science of fingerprint identification does not,” he added.

If (only now, after countless thousands of convictions based on it) we are told that we should doubt the century-old "proven" fingerprint technique, what problems might lie with DNA (or ANPR, or facial recognition technology…), discovered in the future, but resulting in wrongful convictions today..?

By Alex Deane

Guest post: Clegg re-affirms his commitment to Civil Liberties

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, DNA database, ID cards | 3 Comments

Clegg164 In a keynote speech at the Political Studies Association/Hansard Society Annual Lecture on Tuesday evening, Nick Clegg spoke of the protection of civil liberties as being one of the core elements of the modern British Constitution.

He outlined in very clear terms that he believes people should not have to put up with unnecessary spying or interference and continued, “no law abiding citizen must ever fear arbitrary intrusion or harassment from the state”. He specifically mentioned ID cards, unregulated CCTV, fingerprinting of children without parent’s consent and the indefinite retention of DNA as “illegitimate intrusions”. He also drew attention to the current reviewing of counter-terrorism legislation.

It is reassuring to hear that the Deputy Prime Minster still has these issues in his top priorities, and this hopefully suggests that the forthcoming Freedom Bill will deliver real changes.

Click here to read the full speech.

By Amy Wevill

If you would be interesting in writing a guest post, please e-mail [email protected]

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.