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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


Why fake handbags could mean your internet activity is monitoried

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Europe, International, Internet freedom, Technology, United States, Web blocking | 2 Comments

Back in 2007, L’Oreal and other luxury brands brought a court case against eBay because of fake goods being sold on the site. In many ways, the arguments were the same as those advanced in support of SOPA and PIPA – namely, that sites should take on a much greater policing role themselves, and be driven not by judicial action by complaints from the companies affected.

As we argued last week when we shut down our site in protest against the proposed US legislation, the draconian proposals for a blacklist of websites to be blocked would do little to combat the underlying problem, while in some areas actually making the internet more dangerous for consumers.

The public debate around that legislation saw 13m sign a petition and international media coverage. Yet there is a piece of legislation currently being discussed that has recieved barely a mention in the UK, containing much of the same proposals abandoned in the US. We’re talking about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

Not heard of it? Nor have most people. While the Australian Government is holding a consultation, there’s not been a peep out of the British Government, or the EU. The proposals it contains will encourage Internet Service Providers to spy on all the web activity of their customers to make sure they are not infringing copyright or selling fake goods. This highly intrusive surveillance will not require the authorisation of a judge or the oversight of an elected official.  Moreover, the proposals in the SOPA regulation to ‘blacklist’ and ‘disappear’ sites have been replicated in this treaty.

The proposals represent a clear and invasive violation of internet freedom and privacy norms. Instead of following the money and chasing those who actually host and distribute illegal content,  ACTA seeks to intrude into the lives of millions of everyday web users and clamp down on the internet as a vibrant, open means of communication and creation.

We’re writing to Business Secretary Vince Cable to ask he makes public the UK’s input into the EU’s negotiations and to MEPs asking them why so little public discussion has taken place.

Is your location personal information?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Europe, Information Commissioner, International, Mobile Phones, Privacy, Technology | 4 Comments

Last week we raised the issue of Foot Path, technology used in shopping centres to monitor the movement of people’s mobile phones. No personal information is being collected, but there are clear privacy issues with your movements being recorded without any kind of direct permission or opt-out.

In a similar way to Foot Path, the satalite navigation provider Tom Tom say they “anonymise, aggregate and redistribute [location data], to make everyone’s journeys faster and more predictable.”

However, the Dutch Data Protection Authority felt this was not fully compliant with privacy laws, and this morning a statement has been issued by Tom Tom that states:

“To this end, in February there will be a software update on all TomTom consumer products. This update will provide customers with detailed information about what customer location information TomTom gathers, how TomTom uses customers’ location data and how customers can easily opt in and out of sharing their location data if they wish to. TomTom has a created a dedicated section on www.tomtom.com/yourdata, to clearly explain how it uses and safeguards location data.”

The website states clearly that “you can decide to switch on and off data collection” giving customers the ability to control what data on them is gathered.

Read more

EU Commission Changing the Rules on Airport Body Scanners

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners, Europe, Privacy | 13 Comments

Today, the European Commission is releasing new rules for the use of airport body scanners.  The rules are meant to give airline passengers more choices when it comes to submitting to airport security measures before flying.

The new proposals ensure that images from body scanners are not stored or copied and that security staff monitoring the images do so in a separate room.  The proposals also means that passengers will be offered the option of an alternative method of screening should they choose.  Finally, the proposals ban the use of x-ray technology in response to health concerns rising from frequent exposure. Read more

Lord Baker’s 488 pages cannot hide his fundamental failure on civil liberties

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Europe, European Arrest Warrant, International | 1 Comment

Lord Baker’s review into UK Extradition Law – all 488 pages of it – has been published today. A major section of the report deals with the working of the European Arrest Warrant, which Big Brother Watch held a fringe meeting on at Conservative conference.

Before the election, Dominic Grieve summed up the situation well. He said: “Our extradition laws are a mess. They’re one-sided. A Conservative government will re-write them.” Nick Clegg was in agreement on the failures of the UK/US Extradition treaty, adding: “I forced a debate on it…and warned the Government then that the treaty would lead to an abuse of people’s rights in this country.”

Nick de Bois MP, who spoke at our fringe event, yesterday outlined what he would like the review to say on the European Arrest Warrant. His view shares the concerns of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, who reported in July this year on the need for reform.

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The Burqa Ban and Civil Rights

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Europe, International | 4 Comments

The banning of the burqa is an extremely controversial issue.  The arguments for protecting against the subjugation of women or increasing security against Mulism extremists dressed full veil are understandable.  But where do we draw the line between discouraging sexism or religious extremism and curbing the rights of individuals to religious freedom and expression?

Belgium’s law coming into force next week banning women from wearing the burqa or niqab makes it the second EU state to bring forward such a law, France’s law having come into force in April this year.  And while I have no doubt that people in Belgium, France and the UK (and every other country in Europe) would prefer to see these women feel comfortable walking out of their homes without their faces and hands covered, is it any less degrading to force women who wear the veil out of mainstream society?  Is it any less wrong to take away the rights of a woman to practice their religion as they see fit?  In the 21st century, is choosing to wear a veil any different than choosing to wear a Christian cross or Jewish kippa?  Perhaps, but of course it is not that simple.

I agree, some of the women who wear the burqa or niqab do so under pressure from their families or communities.  But these women in burqa are few in number.  In France they numbered only an estimated 700 or so, and in Belgium, even fewer still at no more than 300.  In the case of those under pressure to adopt such strict dress, is it worth it to further segregate these women simply to make a point?  To restrict their rights in Europe to practice their religion freely?  To make it impossible for them to leave their homes without fear of persecution from their families, neighbours and strangers alike?  To leave them no option but to withdraw from society and become second-class citizens?  Do we want to make criminals out of women who are following their cultural traditions?  A law requiring people to identify themselves if placed under arrest while wearing any attire that obscures the face is one thing, but I think this may go too far.

For these women it isn’t clear who benefits from restricting adherence to the practice of living behind the veil.  Encouraging integration and assimilation into western societies has its value.  Discouraging sexist views that promote inequality between men and women is a step forward for western values.  But doing so in such a way that limits expression, freedom to practice one’s religion or adhere to one’s cultural practices is dangerous, even if the motives behind it are pure.  It’s a slippery slope that may have consequences for freedom of religion or expression more generally or for immigrants and the integration process.

EC seeks feedback on data breach notification

Posted on by Dominique Lazanski Posted in Europe | Leave a comment

The European Commission launched a consultation today on personal data breach notifications. The EC is seeking feedback from all relevant stakeholders including telecoms, ISPs, EU member states, consumer groups and individuals on what the process should be for notifying people who have had their personal data copied or stolen without their consent.

This consultation comes on the heels of the European-wide implementation date for the revised ePrivacy Directive which was May 25, 2011.  With the wheels turning on that implementation across all EU member states, the European Commission is seeking additional information and feedback through related consultations.

Go here read the consultation and submit a response.

European Parliament approves reforms to Data Protection Directive

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Europe | 1 Comment

Following the publishing of the ICO’s annual report this morning, the European Parliament has approved reforms to the Commission’s Data Protection Directive of 1995. These are designed to give more control to individuals over any information held on them by organisations and companies, as well as placing a responsibility on those bodies to inform people of any data breaches which occur involving their personal information.

Axel Voss, the German MEP, wrote the report for the European Parliament, which had demanded more accountability from businesses with regards to data breaches. E.U. citizens will now be able to delete, correct or block their information easily.

The EU Justice Commisioner, Viviane Reding, claimed: “Putting people back in control of their personal data is a priority for me.”

By the end of the year the European Commission is expected to finalise new legislation to dramatically modernise European data protection rules.

Dr Miguel-Angel Meizoso and the European Arrest Warrant

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Europe | 2 Comments

EUAt Big Brother Watch, we have long warned about the pernicious nature of the European Arrest Warrant and how it can be misused to persecute those who have either commuted no crime at all or an offence so minor that international extradition would be inappropriate.

Alex Deane, a member of the Big Brother Watch Advisory Council has written to the Home Secretary in order to seek clarifications from her surrounding the case of Dr Migel-Angel Meizoso, a Spanish national whose extradition is currently being sought by his home nation:

“I am writing to draw your attention to the case of Dr. Miguel-Angel Meizoso, the Spanish citizen who has claimed political asylum on 27 June 2011. It is, of course, very unusual for an EU national to claim asylum; especially for someone who, like Dr. Meizoso, has lived in this country for the past 20 years. Furthermore, it is an EU mechanism – the European Arrest Warrant – that he is asking protection from.

“We at Big Brother Watch are gravely concerned about the EAW regime and other threats to civil liberties arising from the European Union. We welcome the fact that the government has recognised that EAW system is open to abuse and commissioned the independent review led by Sir Scott Baker.

“In these circumstances, it is my view that Dr. Meizoso’s case raises issues of great public importance, and the Big Brother Watch intends to follow it closely. We are confident that you will give his asylum claim a fair and careful consideration.”

We will keep you in touch with this case, including the response we receive from the Home Secretary Theresa May MP.

EU-wide DNA database ruled out… for now

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Europe | 3 Comments

Eu177 Over at Public Service, there's an article drawing our attention to comments made by Europol Director Rob Wainwright about the future of DNA record sharing across Europe.

Speaking to the website, Wainwright said:

"I am not sure a major European DNA database for every citizen would be the right balance, it would be disproportionate so it's not something that is going to happen in the short term, I am sure".

While it is encouraging that such a database has been ruled out in the short term, his comment is hardly a forceful rejection of the principle of such a database. 

We will be pushing Home Secretary Theresa May to confirm, if such a scheme is mooted, that she has no such plans for the UK to cooperate with such a scheme. Watch this space…

EU watchdogs to demand high level of protection for mobile phone users’ location data

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Europe | 4 Comments

Eu177 It is expected that the EU data protection watchdogs will tell the European Commission that the location data stored by mobile phones should be considered personal data, and therefore receive a high level of protection. If accepted by the Commission, it is highly likely that provisions will be written into the Data Protection Directive later on in the year for the protection of location-based data.

This advice follows worrying reports that mobiles such as the iPhone and those containing Google’s Android interface store location data in an unencrypted manner, allowing potential hackers to see all your movements for the preceding months or even years.

The New York Times has reported that the Article 29 working party will explain its findings this Friday, where it is highly likely their report will contain opinions about geographic locations. This body contains regulators of data protection from all 27 member countries, operating independently of the Commission to avoid any conflict of interest.

Matthew Newman, a spokesman for the Commission's vice president Viviane Reding, said that protecting personal data obtained through new technologies was a priority for the Commission. Reding is leading a review of European privacy laws. Newman said:

"The Commission is currently analysing all forms of new technology and we will take into consideration social network sites and the rise of data-sharing like photos and the use of cloud computing and behavioural advertising when we reform the Data Protection Directive later this year.

"The technology has moved on in leaps and bounds since the Directive came into force more than 15 years ago, so what we want to do is see how people are using the technologies and how that relates to personal data to make sure that people's fundamental rights are protected.”

Location data from your mobile phone is self evidently personal data and should be treated as such in law. It's just a shame it's the EU, not Westminster who are stepping up to take action on this issue.