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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


Support the right for journalists to protect their sources

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 1 Comment

commons dayLord Strasburger, Big Brother Watch’s advisory council member, has tabled an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill which would stop the police from being able to access journalists’ phone records to identify their sources without permission from a judge. The amendment is to be debated on Tuesday, and we are calling on you to contact members of the House of Lords to ask them to lend it their support. You can find a directory of Lords here.

Supporting the amendment, the deputy prime minister stated that: “It’s incredibly important in a free society that journalists should be able to go after information where there’s a clear public interest to do so, without fear of being snooped upon or having all of their files kind of rifled through without clear justification.”

The amendment follows concerns that a loophole in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) is being exploited to allow access to private information without judicial authorisation. This is in light of the revelations that journalists at the Mail on Sunday and the Sun had secretly had their phone records obtained.

Commenting on his amendment, Lord Strasburger said: “The Liberal Democrats are serious about protecting whistle-blowers and the freedom of the press to expose corruption through the use of confidential sources. Ripa must be changed to close the loophole that the police have been using with virtually no scrutiny.

“Of course this is not the only major flaw in Ripa and I wish more newspapers had backed the Guardian when it exposed the widespread collection by the state of phone and other records of ordinary citizens through the Tempora Project and other secret surveillance activities.”

Today we have also released a report on how police forces are using ‘directed surveillance’ powers permitted under RIPA, calling on the government to introduce judicial authorisation for all use of surveillance powers, increased transparency around how the powers are being used, and for the right of redress for those who have been spied on.

Join the Big Brother Watch Team

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | Leave a comment

We are looking for an ambitious intern to join our team to assist with research projects, social media outreach and event management. This role is flexible; however we would ideally like the candidate to be able to work at least 2 days a week.

Full details of the role can be found here (PDF)

The ideal candidate will:

  • Be familiar with Microsoft Word, Excel, Internet research and web content management.
  • Be able to work under pressure and be part of a dynamic national campaigning team.
  • Be politically engaged
  • Have a good knowledge of national, regional and online media.
  • Be able to assist with content management and pay close attention to detail.
  • Be confident and competent in oral and written communication.
  • Be sympathetic with the aims of Big Brother Watch.
  • Be able to work in our central London offices for a minimum of eight weeks

The closing date for applications is Friday 14th November. Interviews will take place as and when a suitable application in submitted. The closing date may be extended if a suitable candidate has not been found.

More than 120,000 requests for communications data by police forces

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 6 Comments

shutterstock_42647761It appears that the press have finally started to understand the intrusive nature of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, for both innocent members of the public and journalists.

As part of our written evidence submitted to the Joint Committee on Draft Communications Data Bill in 2012, we submitted figures obtained through he Freedom of Information Act, highlighting police forces’ use of RIPA to access communications data for the period 2009-12. The figures highlighted that there were more than 120,000 requests for communications data by police in the year 2011-12.

We are re-publishing that information today, and it can be accessed here.

The significant variations in the level of use of communications data and the variations in the numbers of requests internally rejected starkly highlights a clear issue around training and education within forces about making best use of information available, where necessary and proportionate, and also raises questions about the consistency of oversight. Also interestingly, only Humberside Police was able to provide us with a breakdown of the offence categories it has used communications data for.

The Government needs to urgently address the fact that the Interception of Communications Commissioner has warned that spying powers are being over-used by some police forces. Quite simply, if the police can’t get it right with the powers they already have then it is completely irresponsible for the Home Office to be planning on increasing those powers. The inadequacy and inconsistency of the records being kept by public authorities about how they are using these powers is woefully inadequate. Correcting this would not require new laws so it should not wait until after the election.

If the Government fails to address these serious points, we can already know that there will be many more innocent members of the public who will be wrongly spied on and accused. This is simply unacceptable.

A short analysis of the Home Secretary’s speech to the 2014 Conservative Party Conference

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 5 Comments

The Home Secretary gave her speech to the Conservative Party Conference today, focusing on a number of counter-terrorism measures. Here we dissect the key points:

1) Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures, or TPIMs, will be strengthened

TPIMs have not proven to be an improvement on control orders and have been attacked by figures on both sides of the debate. It is our belief that the current system and proposed new measures fail to facilitate the prosecution or conviction of suspected terrorists. The Government should allow the use of intercept evidence in court as a way of helping to resolve any evidence gap.

To read our briefing note on TPIMS click here

2) If there is a majority Conservative government at the next election, the Communications Data Bill will return.

The figures quoted by the Home Secretary in her speech relating to an inability to access communications data are not new, and when pushed for an evidential basis for those figures the Home Office hasn’t been able to make them stand up. When the Bill was being pushed by the Home Office in in 2012 we also heard the example regarding the Soham murder investigation being prevented through a lack of communications data. This was successfully rebutted at the time.

It remains true that it would be reckless of the Conservative’s to attempt to to legislate on further surveillance powers before a comprehensive, independent review of the existing legal framework has taken place. A broad political consensus has emerged in support of a review, with the Deputy Prime Minister, the Shadow Home Secretary and the Home Affairs Committee all recognising that the public should know more about how our surveillance laws are being used and whether the current oversight mechanisms are adequate.

We know from examples in the US that there is far more information that could be published without jeopardising security. Greater transparency would build trust and improve accountability yet the data being recorded by the police and agencies is seriously inadequate. This does not require legislation and should be addressed by the Home Secretary without delay.

3) Prevent will be made a statutory duty for all public sector organisations.

In her speech the Home Secretary said “I want to see new banning orders for extremist groups that fall short of the existing laws relating to terrorism. I want to see new civil powers to target extremists who stay just within the law but still spread poisonous hatred. So both policies – Banning Orders and Extremism Disruption Orders – will be in the next Conservative manifesto.”

The Home Secretary freely admitted that as part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy, the Home Office will assume responsibility for a new counter-extremism strategy that goes beyond terrorism.

The fact that these Extremist Disruption Orders won’t only apply to potential terrorists, but simply to those who present a threat to public disorder, clearly highlights that this policy is the thin end of the wedge.

We were told that the National Extremist Database would contain details of those who posed a nations security, yet we know members of the public who have done little more than organise meetings on environmental issues are on the database. We already have a system to tackle extremists that cloaks itself in mystery, refusing to divulge simple details of how many people are on the Extremist Database and the criteria for being added to it.

In a democratic country, it is wholly wrong for people to be labelled an ‘extremist’ and face having major restrictions placed on their freedom without facing a due legal process and a transparent and accountable system. The Home Secretary must think very carefully about the international precedent that this policy would set and consider the potential consequences for members of the public.

Big Brother Watch at the party conferences

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 7 Comments

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 | 3 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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