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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

Europe

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 | 3 Comments

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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EU Chief wants to block ‘undesirable’ content on the web

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Europe, Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom, Leveson, Web blocking | 17 Comments

europe flagYesterday the new European Union anti-terror chief appeared infront of MPs to discuss various issues, including what people are reading online.

As we’ve previously warned, the UK’s Anti-Extremism task force has already alluded to greater filtering of web content and now the EU has taken it one step further, with Gilles de Kerchove telling MPs he wanted to remove “not illegal, undesirable websites.”

Setting out the action being taken by the EU he said: “The Commissioner for Home Affairs will set up a forum to discuss with the big players – Google, Facebook, Twitter – how we can improve the way one removes from the internet the illegal and if not illegal, undesirable websites.”

Freedom of speech, and of the press, are essential parts of a free and democratic society. It should not be in the gift of politicians to decide what we read or who can write it and absolutely not on the basis of what some may consider undesirable. If content is to be blocked, it should be a decision taken by a court of law and only when a clear criminal test has been met establishing the content is illegal.

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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

GCHQ faces legal action over mass surveillance

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Data Protection, Europe, Featured, International, Internet freedom, Legal Action | 17 Comments

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 agency has acted illegally.

A dedicated website – Privacy not Prism – has been set up to fund the legal action.

The laws governing how internet data is accessed were written when barely anyone had broadband access and were intended to cover old fashioned copper telephone lines. Parliament did not envisage or intend those laws to permit scooping up details of every communication we send, including content, so it’s absolutely right that GCHQ is held accountable in the courts for its actions.

These concerns have also been raised by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, who questioned if the legal framework is adequate.

When details recently emerged in the media about the Prism and Tempora programmes, codenames for previously secret online surveillance operations, it was revealed that GCHQ has the capacity to collect more than 21 petabytes of data a day – equivalent to sending all the information in all the books in the British Library 192 times every 24 hours. The disclosures have raised serious parliamentary concerns both in Britain and at the EU level.

Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors represent the applicants, instructing Helen Mountfield QC of Matrix Chambers and Tom Hickman and Ravi Mehta of Blackstone Chambers.

 

State sponsored cyber attack: Will we practice what we preach?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Europe, International, Internet freedom, Online privacy | 1 Comment

Image3Another week, another set of documents leaked by Edward Snowden. This time it has been reported that GCHQ is responsible for a cyber attack on Belgacom. Considering the Foreign Office has repeatedly condemned state sponsored cyber attack it appears that we aren’t practicing what we preach.

Speaking at the London Cyberspace Conference in 2011, the Foreign Secretary said: “State-sponsored attacks are not in the interests of any country long term, and those governments that perpetrate them need to bring them under control.”

It appears then that this message is only relevant to the countries that we seek, quite rightly, to condemn rather than to ourselves and our allies. The information leaked by Edward Snowden, and reported on by Der Spiegel, indicates that the goal of “Operation Socialist” was “to enable better exploitation of Belagcom” and to improve understanding of the provider’s infrastructure. It also appears that GCHQ used spying technology that had been developed by the NSA.

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France sets Google deadline for privacy changes

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Europe, Google, Information Commissioner | 1 Comment

2226178289_a6d36a48dd_oThe French data protection authority, CNIL, has today announced that Data Protection Authorities from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom have respectively launched enforcement actions against Google.

The statement read:

“From February to October 2012, the Article 29 Working Party (“WP29”) investigated into Google’s privacy policy with the aim of checking whether it met the requirements of the European data protection legislation. On the basis of its findings, published on 16 October 2012, the WP29 asked Google to implement its recommendations within four months.

After this period has expired, Google has not implemented any significant compliance measures.”

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Time for action on Google’s privacy policy

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Data Protection, Europe, Google, Information Commissioner | 13 Comments

2226178289_a6d36a48dd_o

In a statement issued today, it was announced six European data protection authorities are to launch coordinated and simultaneous enforcement actions relating to Google’s privacy policy.

We raised concerns at the time about how the “simplified” privacy policy made it possible for Google to combine data from across a whole range of services, without consumers being able to understand what happens to their data or to choose to not share their data in this way.

Google has repeatedly put profit ahead of user privacy and the way that the company ignored concerns from regulators around the world when it changed its privacy policy showed just how little regard it has for the law. Read more

Public back privacy law action on Google

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Data Protection, Europe, Information Commissioner, Online privacy, Privacy, Research and reports, Technology | 15 Comments

2226178289_a6d36a48dd_oNew research published today by Big Brother Watch/ComRes finds that the majority of the British public are concerned about their online privacy (68%) with nearly a quarter (22%) saying that they are very concerned.

People are more likely to say that consumers are being harmed by big companies gathering large amounts of their personal data for internal use (46%) than they are to say that this enhances consumer experiences (18%).

As European data protection regulators prepare to take action against Google one year on from its revised privacy policy coming into force, more than 7 in 10 (71%) of the British public say that privacy and data regulators were right to investigate Google’s privacy policy and how it allows Google to collect and combine data on consumers.

A clear majority (66%) of the British public say that national regulators should be doing more to force Google to comply with existing European Directives on privacy and the protection of personal data

The message from consumers is clear – regulators were right to investigate Google’s new privacy policy and now they need to do more to force the company to comply with the law.

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The Prum Treaty: a disaster waiting to happen’?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Civil Liberties, DNA database, Europe, European Arrest Warrant, Home, International | 3 Comments

dna-3The Prüm Treaty may yet be implemented in the UK as a report shows that the European Commission plans to force the UK to allow other member states access to personal details of every motorist in Britain as well as access to the national DNA database and fingerprint records.

The Home Secretary has indicated that she is minded to opt out of the European Home Affairs Injustice measures in 2014, a step that would enable a full and frank discussion on how to sufficiently protect the rights of UK citizens. We can now hope that the Home Secretary will share the same robustness towards the European Commission on this matter.

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Putting a price on our data

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Communications Data Bill, Data Protection, Europe, Information Commissioner, Internet freedom, Online privacy, Privacy, Web blocking | 7 Comments

A new report by Boston Consulting Group on behalf of Liberty Global has attempted to answer the question we often ask – how much is our personal data worth?

We’ve previously warned that with free services, consumers are no longer the customer – they are the product, to be monitored, profiled and sold on. With 96% of Google’s $37.9bn revenue in 2011 coming from advertising and Facebook’s advertising revenue in Q3 2012 reaching $1.086bn, the value of our data has been the oil to the digital revolution.

According to the report, the value extracted from European consumers’ personal data were worth €315bn in 2011 and has the potential to grow to nearly €1tn annually in 2020. That’s nearly 8% of European GDP.

Hardly surprising that the lobbying efforts against greater privacy protection are well funded. One of the main findings was that if users understood what data was being captured and why, and if they could see direct personal benefit, they were willing to hand over their data. The problem is at present consumers simply don’t have that knowledge or the legal protection to ensure they have a choice.

The danger is that without strong consumer protection and competitive markets, privacy is at risk from dominant or monopolistic companies reliant on ever increasing volumes of data about us – and with little to deter them from over-stepping the mark.

We should also not underestimate the power of these commercial interests in lobbying to regulate or outlaw privacy-enhancing technology, particularly where those commercial interests coincide with Government moves towards increased surveillance online. Russia’s plans to outlaw anonymous web-browsing will not only undermine the rights of users and allow the Government to control what citizens see online, but it will also help corporate interests reliant on data maintain their market position.