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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


Big Brother Watch at the party conferences

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 1 Comment

commons dayThis year Big Brother Watch will be hosting the fringe event ‘Civil Liberties in a digital age’ at Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats Party Conferences.  We very much hope that you are able to join us at one of these events.


Date: Monday 22nd September

Time: 15:45 – 16:45

Venue: TechCentral Marquee, Manchester Central (secure zone, immediately after the security check point)


  • David Blunkett, Member of Parliament for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough and former Home Secretary
  • Steve Reed, Member of Parliament for Croydon North
  • Stephen Deadman, Group Privacy Officer for Vodafone
  • Emma Carr, Director of Big Brother Watch (Chairman)


Date: Monday 29th September

Time: 12:00 – 13:00

Venue: TechCentral Marquee, ICC (secure zone, immediately after the security check point)


  • John Whittingdale, Chairman of Culture, Media and Sport Committee and Member of Parliament  for Maldon,
  • Dominic Raab, Member of Parliament for Esher and Walton
  • Stephen Deadman, Group Privacy Officer for Vodafone
  • Emma Carr, Director of Big Brother Watch (Chairman)


Date: Sunday 5th October

Time: 09:30 – 10:30 (breakfast will be provided)

Venue: TechCentral, Etive in the SECC (secure zone, the room is situated on the ground floor level, behind the Lomond auditorium.)


  • Norman Baker, Minister of State for Crime Prevention and Member of Parliament for Lewes
  • Julian Huppert, Member of Parliament for Cambridge
  • Stephen Deadman, Group Privacy Officer for Vodafone
  • Emma Carr, Director of Big Brother Watch (Chairman)

 We will also be launching our 2015 general election manifesto ahead of the conferences. More details to follow shortly.

As well as our own fringes, we will also be speaking at the following:


Build your own manifesto

Fringe Organiser: Freedom Association

Date: Monday 29 September

Time: 15:15

Venue: Freedom Zone, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Broad Street, Birmingham, B1 2EP (outside of secure zone)


  • Nick de Bois MP (Member of the Justice Committee)
  • Emma Carr (Director, Big Brother Watch)
  • Sam Bowman (Research Director, Adam Smith Institute)
  • Adam Memon (Head of Economic Research, Centre for Policy Studies)
  • Matthew Sinclair (Senior Consultant, Europe Economics).

Social Media Freedom

Fringe Organiser: Freedom Association

Date: Tuesday 30 September

Time: 1630

Venue: Freedom Zone, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Broad Street, Birmingham, B1 2EP (outside of secure zone)


  • Jack Hart (Communications Manager, The Freedom Association)
  • College of Policing representative
  • Emma Carr [Chairman] (Director, Big Brother Watch).

Don’t Spy On Us: Surveillance, where do you draw the line?

Fringe Organiser: Don’t Spy On Us Coalition

Date: Monday 29th September

Time: 1700-1800

Venue: TechCentral Marquee, ICC (secure zone, immediately after the security check point)


  • Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP,
  • Emma Carr, Director – Big Brother Watch;
  • Thomas Hughes, Director – ARTICLE19;
  • Paul Johnson, Deputy Editor – The Guardian;
  • Mark Stephens, Chair – Global Network Initiative;
  • Mark Wallace, Executive Editor – ConservativeHome (Chair).

Office of Surveillance Commissioner’s Warns of Illegal Social Media Snooping

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 2 Comments

Image3The Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC), led by Chief Surveillance Commissioner The Rt Hon Sir Christopher Rose, has published its annual report. The  signed off the report. The report highlights that for 2013-14:

  • Intrusive Surveillance authorisations has increased from 362 to 392
  • Directed Surveillance by law enforcement agencies (LEAs) has increased from 9,515 to 9,664
  • Directed Surveillance by public authorities (PAs) has decreased from 5,827 to 4,412
  • Active LEA Covert Human Intelligence Sources – 4,377 were authorised, 3,025 remain authorised
  • Active Covert Human Intelligence Sources (non-LEA) – 53 were authorised.

The Commissioner notes that the information included in the report is for 100% of LEAs and 96.6% of all other PAs. However, he does note that “I am once again slightly disappointed that a few public authorities appear to treat my request for statistical returns as an option” and that “I have therefore decided that, as from next year, those public authorities which have failed to respond within the set deadline will be named in my annual report.” The Commissioner also raises the fact that there have been a number of occasions where senior officers have failed to meet with inspectors. These comments would therefore indicate that amongst some LEA and PA’s there is a problem of the OSC not being taken seriously?

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New Big Brother Watch Team Announced

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 1 Comment

BBW announcement photoJust months before Big Brother Watch’s fifth anniversary, we can today announce the new leadership team, following the departure of Nick Pickles, who left the campaign in May to join Twitter as UK Public Policy Manager.

Emma Carr is to take up the role of Director, whilst Renate Samson is to become Chief Executive.

Emma Carr joined Big Brother Watch (BBW) in February 2012 as Deputy Director and became Acting Director in May 2014. Over the course of the last two and a half years Emma has worked hard to challenge policies that threaten our civil liberties, privacy and freedom: making an active contribution to the organisation’s research, frequently appearing on national and international television and radio programmes, and actively spreading the ethos of the organisation at conferences around the world. As BBW’s new Director, Emma will be overseeing BBW’s research, media and campaigns. Emma takes up the post of Director with immediate effect.

Joining Emma is Renate Samson in the new role of Chief Executive, in which she will oversee BBW’s operations, parliamentary outreach and new projects. The first of these will be a new educational outreach programme, designed specifically for those in higher education. Further details about this project will be announced in due course. Renate has spent the past four years as Chief of Staff to David Davis MP, working on every major civil liberties debate during this Parliament. She comes to BBW with a wealth of contacts and knowledge which will be vital as the campaign expands over the coming years. Renate will start later this year, after the party conference season.

BBW’s researcher, Daniel Nesbitt, will also be taking on the role of Research Director. Daniel has been with the campaign for eighteen months, during which time he has produced a high calibre of research and started appearing as a spokesperson for BBW in the media.

We will also be looking to recruit a new member of staff later in the Autumn, which will be advertised to the BBW mailing list, and elsewhere.

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The UK still lags behind the US in surveillance transparency

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 1 Comment

filesIf the UK is serious about conducting a proper debate on mass data collection and surveillance transparency, they would do well to take note of the issues raised in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) documents recently released by the US. In a redacted, 117-page document [PDF], FISC Judge John Bates heavily criticised the NSA’s repeated ‘overcollection’ of data, stating that:

“The government has said nothing about how the systematic overcollection was permitted to continue, [redacted]. On the record before the court, the most charitable interpretation possible is that the same factors identified by the government [redacted] remained unabated and in full effect.”

Alarmingly, not only was too much data collected but, as Judge Bates also highlights, it “included some data that had not been authorized for collection.” The document shows that the agency struggled to collect metadata – the who, when and where – without also collecting information such as the content. (For more information about metadata you can read our briefing here)

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Would you trust the Police to have access to your medical records?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 8 Comments

shutterstock_42647761The patient-doctor relationship is the bedrock of the NHS, where patient confidentiality and trust in that system must be constantly maintained. Failure to maintain this trust could have devastating consequences for both individual patients and the NHS as a whole, which is why we are concerned that Greater Manchester Police has said that it wants direct and regular access to medical records.

In an interview with The Guardian, Sir Peter Fahy, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, has said that “we could do a better job if we have greater access to information, which it is currently hard for us to get.”

Public bodies do not have a great track record on data protection and as sharing private information around more public bodies only increases, so does the risk that it will be leaked, lost or otherwise revealed. Big Brother Watch has previously drawn attention to the scale of data breaches in reports such as Local Authority Data Loss and NHS Breaches of Data Protection Law. Specifically on the subject of medical records we have given evidence to the Health Select Committee (pdf) on the flaws in the proposed care.data scheme.

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There’s No Such Thing As Free WiFi

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 2 Comments

textFollowing York Council’s announcement that the city is to become the first in the UK with city-wide free Wifi, the Council has found itself in hot water for failing to properly inform users about the fact mobile users could find personal information, including their precise location, exposed.

It has been reported that when mobile users sign up for the free WiFi service they are inadvertently handing over vast amounts of personal information. The technology picks up signals from your mobile and links them with your social media profile on your smartphone – storing information such as your age, gender, interests, friends and your location. A BBC report shows exactly how the information is used and analysed.

Whilst we have become accustomed to accessing internet services for free in the expectation that our data will be used for marketing or advertising purposes (there is no such thing as a free lunch after all), we continue to call for internet users to be provided more transparent information about what happens to their data when they sign up for a service.

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Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights report on “The right to privacy in the digital age”

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 3 Comments

Image3Whilst the DRIP Bill process is coming to an end in Parliament, it is certainly timely that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has published his report on “The right to privacy in the digital age” (PDF).

The report raises some important questions regarding the legitimacy of mass data retention, the role of private companies, and the potential impact on privacy and human rights.

We have picked out (the many) key points from the report:


  • As noted by the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression and opinion, technological advancements mean that the State’s effectiveness in conducting surveillance is no longer limited by scale or duration (p.3)
  • Deep concerns have been expressed as policies and practices that exploit the vulnerability of digital communications technologies to electronic surveillance and interception in counties across the globe have been exposed. Examples … government mass surveillance emerging as a dangerous habit rather than an exceptional measure. (p.3)

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Big Brother Watch picks up Internet Villain award on behalf of NSA and GCHQ

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 3 Comments

Internet-Villain-GENERAL-300x300It was somewhat ironic that yesterday of all days the Internet Service Providers Awards were held in London. Big Brother Watch were invited to pick up the tongue in cheek award of ‘Internet Villain’ on behalf of the winners (who would obviously not be attending).

The shortlist of finalists were selected by the ISPA Council in recognition of their achievements in hindering the industry. The category stated: “The Internet Villain category recognises individuals or organisations that have upset the Internet industry and hampered its development – those who the industry loves to hate.”

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Surveillance Transparency is Now More Important Than Ever

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Home | 9 Comments

With the announcement of emergency legislation on the retention and interception of communications data the question of safeguarding the privacy of individuals should be foremost in the minds of legislators.

However the speed that the Bill is tabled to progress at raises concerns over the amount of scrutiny it will receive. If the Government wants to force communication service providers to retain citizens’ data then they must be prepared to open the system to a greater deal of transparency than is already in place.

As Big Brother Watch has repeatedly pointed out it is possible to increase the level of transparency around surveillance without compromising security. In the US the Department of Justice publishes information provided by federal and state officials on orders authorizing or approving interceptions of wire, oral, or electronic communications in annual reports.

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The Response to Revenge Porn Should Be Level Headed, Not a Knee Jerk Reaction

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 5 Comments

Image3A debate has erupted around revenge pornography and whether new legislation is required to tackle the problem of jilted lovers posting sexually explicit photographs online. Whilst there is no doubt that these occurrences are deeply damaging and upsetting for the individuals involved, the Government must ensure that any new laws created to police what is posted on the internet is done so with a clear head and not in the heat of the moment.

Yesterday Chris Grayling MP, the Justice Secretary, said yesterday that the Government is very open to a discussion about creating new legislation specifically for revenge porn offences, whilst Julian Huppert MP called for “criminal sanction [to be] available when people share indecent images in the knowledge that consent would not have been given”. Today, two Liberal Democrat members of the House of Lords has tabled an amendment to the Criminal justice and Courts Bill with the intention of making ‘revenge porn’ a criminal offence.

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