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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

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Time for surveillance transparency

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Featured, Google, International, Internet freedom, Online privacy, Surveillance, Technology, United States | 10 Comments

cameras

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 ComRes on the public’s attitude to surveillance. Overwhelmingly they want more transparency about powers are being used.

  • 70% of British adults say British companies should publish reports on how often they receive requests for customer data from the police and security services.
  • 66% of British adults say that the Government should publish more data about how surveillance powers are used

 

Last year more than 570,000 data requests were made – up 15 percent from 2011 – by the police, security services, HMRC and various public bodies, including local councils and organisations like the Charity Commission, Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive. No breakdown of who is using the powers is made available, or what types of crime are being investigated.

Transparency is an essential part of ensuring surveillance powers are not abused and maintaining public confidence that they are being used proportionately. Much more information could be published without any risk to security.

British companies are not bound by secrecy laws from disclosing how many data requests they receive and they should follow the lead of companies like Microsoft and Google in publishing basic information about how many times they hand over customer data. We’re calling on companies like BT, Sky, Vodafone and EE to publish data about how many requests they receive from the police and security services in the same way that Google, Microsoft and Facebook do. Equally, Government can do much more.

Much more can be done to inform the debate. Already in the US much more data is published about how often surveillance powers are used and the Obama administration is moving to publish even more, including how many citizens are affected by requests and what sort of crimes are being investigated. It is possible to give the public a better understanding of how powers are being used without compromising security and it should be an urgent priority to explore what data could be made available.

Recently we wrote to the Prime Minister highlighting several pieces of information that have no security risks and should be public. They were:

  • The budget of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security committee
  • The number of data requests inspected by the Interception of Communications Commissioner to reach his error rate estimate
  • Figures on 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
  • The number of British citizens affected by such requests

Transparency is not a substitute for a proper legal framework and robust oversight. However, it is an important part of evaluating how the overall system is operating and at present far too much information is kept from the public on security grounds when in reality there is no security risk in publishing it. Such unnecessary secrecy only casts doubt upon what is happening.

UPDATE: BBW director, Nick Pickles, spoke to the BBC Sunday Politics (Yorkshire and Humberside) about surveillance transparency

 

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 | 18 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.

 

Patients win choice of sharing medical records

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Data Protection, Databases, Featured, NHS, Privacy | 11 Comments

BCDBu3rCIAAyhwY.jpg_largeEarlier 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 this and it is another victory for Big Brother Watch campaigning to protect privacy.

Jeremy Hunt said on Friday: “”GPs will not share information with the HSCIC if people object…people will have a veto on that information being shared in the wider system”

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Boom in private investigators risks avoiding surveillance regulation

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Councils, Featured, Research and reports, Surveillance | 31 Comments

photographerOur 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 tree provisions in the US, and broader protection offered by the Fourth Amendment, UK law risks failing to join up the evidential admissibility process and the regulation of surveillance.

While the surveillance doesn’t come cheap, with some organisation spending thousands of pounds on a single operation, the primary finding of the report is the potential loophole in surveillance regulation that is being exploited following the passage of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.

Accordingly, we are seriously concerned there is a gap in UK law emerging around surveillance and the ability of third parties to conduct surveillance operations without proper regulation. Some of these operations were conducted at the request of insurers, raising concerns about conflicts of interest.

The government has acted to control surveillance by local councils but this research shows more than ever before public bodies are using private detectives to do their snooping. The law is at breaking point and public bodies shouldn’t be able to dodge the legal checks on them by using private investigators.

Commenting on our report, Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles (no relation!) said “Such powers can only be used for serious crimes, and require a magistrates’ warrant. It is totally unacceptable if councils are trying to sidestep these important new checks and they should be held to account for acting outside the law.”

With as many as 10,000 people working as private investigators in the UK, we agree with the Home Affairs Select Committee that the current legal framework for regulating their activities is wholly inadequate.

This highlights the ongoing concern that RIPA is not fit for purpose, in failing to deal with evidence and material obtained outside the legislative framework. Equally, the changing nature of surveillance – particularly the ability to search online, through social networks and through semi-public sources of information – further reinforces the need for the law to be reformed to strengthen protection against unwarranted and unauthorised surveillance becoming a frequent occurrence.

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Deputy Director Emma Carr appeared on Sky News sunrise discussing the report, with BBC News, Metro, The Daily Telegraph, ITV News, BBC Radio 5 Live, Politics.co.uk, LocalGov and numerous regional media including the York Press, Huddersfield Examiner and the Sunderland Echo reporting our findings.

The Class of 1984

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, Civil Liberties, Featured, Information Commissioner, Research and reports | 42 Comments

Based on data covering more than 2,000 secondary schools and academies, Big Brother Watch warns that there are more than 100,000 CCTV cameras in secondary schools and academies across England, Wales and Scotland.

With some schools seeing a ratio of one camera for every five pupils, more than two hundred schools using CCTV in bathrooms and changing rooms and more cameras inside school buildings as outside, the picture across the country will undoubtedly shock and surprise many.

To put into context the number of cameras, our research earlier this year found there are currently at least 51,600 CCTV cameras controlled by 428 local authorities.

The report, which you can download here, warns that the Home Office’s proposed system of regulation for CCTV cameras is not fit for purpose, with the newly created position of Surveillance Camera Commissioner having no enforcement or inspection powers.

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