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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


Merry Christmas from Big Brother Watch

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

BBW announcement photo2014 has been an incredible year for Big Brother Watch, with the team being busier than ever before. The aftermath of the Snowden revelations, surveillance legislation being pushed through Parliament in mere days, and landmark EU rulings on data retention, are just a few of the issues we have encountered this year that have highlighted why the  work that Big Brother Watch does is more important than ever.

As we near our 5th anniversary it has been very exciting to see the team evolve and grow, with Emma Carr being promoted to the role of Director, Dan Nesbitt being promoted to Research Director and Renate Samson joining the team as Chief Executive.

2014 has also been a fantastic year for the organisation’s ever-expanding media profile, with the team appearing in the national press 285 times — including 8 front pages — and in regional press 837 times, as well as featuring on national TV and radio on a combined total of 67 occasions. Not bad for a small team of 3 people!

20140624-131829-47909456.jpgOur research has also been far-reaching, resonating with both the public and private sectors and prompting a great deal of coverage, not only in the press but also in Parliament. The misuse of power at a police level was investigated in our report “Off the Record: How the police use surveillance powers”, which exposed the true frequency with which controversial RIPA-enabled powers are used. “Traffic Spies: A 300m surveillance industry” detailed the expansion of local councils mobile CCTV programs which have raised some £312 million nationwide. This revealing work led the Department for Communities and Local Government to ban the use of CCTV ‘spy cars’ in issuing fines.

We also published our Biometrics in Schools report which revealed that more than one million pupils were fingerprinted in 2012-13, whilst NHS Data Breaches” demonstrated the inability of current Data Protection law to protect the most personal information that authorities hold.  Far from improving since our similar report covering 2008-2011, the number of breaches suggests that the situation has worsened considerably.

2014 also saw more policy briefings being produced than ever before, with topics including RIPA, DRIPA, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, the ‘capability gap’, communications data, the e-call system, body worn cameras and surveillance transparency.

Big Brother Watch has also been called to give evidence to Parliament on 5 occasions this year — with contributions being given to the Home Affairs Select Committee, Health Select Committee, Science and Technology Committee (x2) and the Intelligence and Security Committee. 2014 has also seen the team speak at a number of universities and events, photoincluding debating at the Cambridge Union, giving evidence to the Google advisory council, and speaking in the literary tent at Latitude festival on the topic of secrets, truth and freedom. We were also well represented at the political party conferences this year, with us speaking at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference on a digital bill of rights and organising panels at the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Autumn Conferences on the topic of civil liberties in a digital age.

As we approach the end of the year, we are looking to 2015, which already looks to be the busiest and most exciting yet. With the new team in place, we are looking forward to celebrating the organisation’s 5th anniversary. We will also be continuing to publish unique and innovative research, with reports focusing on data breaches, CCTV, the Cloud and social media prosecutions.

Have a very Merry Christmas, a very happy New Year and thank you for your continued support of Big Brother Watch.

HASC concludes that surveillance legislation is “not fit for purpose”.

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 2 Comments

The Home Affairs Select Committee has published a report today into the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, concluding that the legislation “is not fit for purpose” and “needs a complete overhaul”.

Big Brother Watch has published a briefing on RIPA, which can be accessed here (PDF).

Our director, Emma Carr, talked to BBC News about the report.

BBC News Emma Carr HASC RIPA Report from BigBrotherWatch on Vimeo.

Key conclusions:

S94 Telecommunications Act

  • There is no public disclosure of how this is used, and none of our witnesses has been aware of anyone who considers it their role to scrutinse it or have any oversight powers. We believe this should be reviewed, and one of the Commissioners specifically tasked with oversight of this power, for them to be given the information and access needed to fulfill this role.
  • We recommend that the Government published the number of times this power is used on an annual basis.
  • We further suggest that the Intelligence and Security Committee conduct an inquiry into the use of this power.

Transparency and record keeping

  • “The Committee acknowledges the operational need for secrecy both during investigations and afterwards. However, there has to be proper oversight and scrutiny. The Committee recommends that the Home Office use the current review of the RIPA Code to ensure that law enforcement agencies use their RIPA powers properly.”
  • RIPA is not fit for purpose, with law enforcement agecnies failing to routinely record the professions of individuals who have had their communications data accessed under RIPA. The recording of this information is totally insufficient, and the whole process appears secretive and disorganised with information being destroyed afterwards.

Effective oversight

  • All police forces must communicate openly and effectively with the IOCCO regarding the information they give him about their work.
  • The IOCCO should be given further resources to carry out its job

Updated code of practice

  • The communications data code of practice contains no advice on dealing with the professions that handle privileged information, nor on the use of confidential helplines.
  • There is “vital” that there is better statistical requirements in the code of practice.
  • The Government had stated that there would be a revised code in draft “in autumn” which would be open to public consultation. With only 26 days until the new year, the Home Office has failed to meet its own timetable.

Emma Carr, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “When a senior Parliamentary Committee says that the current legislation is not fit for purpose, then this simply cannot be ignored. It is now abundantly clear that the law is out of date, the oversight is weak and the recording of how the powers  are used is patchy at best. The public is right to expect better.

“The conclusion of the Committee that the level of secrecy surrounding the use of these powers is permitting investigations that are deemed ”unacceptable in a democracy”, should make the defenders of these powers sit up and take notice. At present, the inadequacy and inconsistency of the records being kept by public authorities regarding the use of these powers is woefully inadequate. New laws would not be required to correct this.

“Whilst this report concentrates on targeting journalists, it is important to remember  that thousands of members of the public have been also been snooped on, with little opportunity for redress.  If the police fail to use the existing powers correctly then it is completely irresponsible for the Home Office to be planning on increasing those powers.

“Failure by the Government to address these serious points means 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 intolerable.”

Big Brother Watch supports campaign to limit pre-charge bail to 28 days

Posted on by Renate Samson Posted in Civil Liberties, Home | 1 Comment

5946829399_e633991652_oBig Brother Watch has added its support to a campaign calling for pre-charge bail to be limited to 28 days.

The law was introduced as part of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and was strengthened to include conditions in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.   It was designed to ensure that people suspected of a crime didn’t linger in prison cells whilst the police conducted their enquiries.  With no statutory time limit in place, people can be held on bail for months, and in some cases even years.

Research indicates that an estimated 70,000 people are currently living under pre-charge bail conditions, 5,000 of which have been subject to the control for over six months.

Whilst it is necessary for the police to have the required time to investigate crime and determine whether an individual should be charged or not, the current situation is not acceptable to the police or to the individual.  Establishing a clear time frame of 28 days will give clarification to all parties.  Should there be a need for further investigation any extension should be fully transparent and subject to judicial review.

Living in limbo with no indication as to when a charge may or may not be brought is a form of punishment in itself.  The impact on a person’s day to day life, health and mental wellbeing is profound. Your life is simply put on hold with no right to appeal.

Big Brother Watch Advent Calendar

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

Every day in December we will be opening the BBW advent calendar, which includes practical tips to keep your devices and profiles safe online.

December 10 Read more

Counter Terrorism and Security Bill

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 4 Comments

commons dayThe Counter Terrorism and Security Bill is due to be published today, making it the seventh major counter terrorism law introduced in Britain since 9/11. The Bill can be accessed here.

Although we are still waiting to see the detail of the Bill, there are three Big Brother Watch briefing notes which are relevant: TPIMs, IP address matching, and the capability gap.

A brief analysis of what the Bill will include:

  • Barring returning terrorists

Temporary exclusion orders will be introduced to control the return of British citizens suspected of involvement in terrorism-related activity abroad.This will result in the cancellation of travel documents and inclusion of the individual’s details on British border “watch lists”, which could include a no-fly list.

It is this proposal that has seemingly received the most backlash from politicians, with concerns about its legality and practicality.

  • Fighting campus extremism

Colleges, schools, prisons, probation providers, police and councils will face a statutory  duty to “prevent individuals being drawn into terrorism”.

Many educational establishments have had a policy for several years of denying a platform to ‘extremist’ speakers. However this has not been an easy policy to implement, largely due to the nature of defining ‘extremist’.

Read more

Home Secretary announces plans to introduce IP address matching powers

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 15 Comments

Theresa MayWhen the Communications Data Bill was scrapped in 2013, one of the issues that appeared to have full political consensus was the ‘resolution of IP addresses’ – particularly where mobile phone operators may have millions of customers using just a few hundred IP addresses.

In the simplest of terms, an IP address is the address you access the internet through (although ways of masking this are nothing new nor particularly technically challenging). The Home Secretary has announced her intention to include measures to tackle this in the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill.

It is perfectly reasonable that powers to provide the police with the ability to match an IP address to the person using that service is investigated. However, if such a power is required, then it should be subject to the widespread consultation and comprehensive scrutiny that has been sorely lacking to date with industry, civil society and the wider public when it comes to introducing new surveillance powers. It is important to also recognise that the Communications Data Bill went far, far beyond being a focused attempt to solve this problem.

Read more

Who’s watching your webcam?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 3 Comments

Image3The Daily Mail has revealed that people could be being watched in their own homes or at work as hackers are targeting webcams and uploading the live footage to the internet. The warning comes from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which is urging people to upgrade their passwords from the default setting.

Very few people would leave their front doors unlocked, yet failing to password protect your devices carries the same risks to both their privacy and security. As the capability of these devices becomes increasingly sophisticated, it is inevitable that users will inadvertently expose themselves and their lives to hackers.

It has been reported that a Russian website is featuring live feeds from the UK, including a gym in Manchester, a bedroom in Birmingham, and an office in Leicester. In light of the 350,000 estimated cameras that were sold in the UK in 2013, the number of vulnerable cameras could be in their tens of thousands.

Read more

New Report: Patient confidentiality broken 6 times a day

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home, Research and reports | 10 Comments

3797160719_337b4742e7_bOur new report, NHS Data Breaches (PDF), highlights the  scale of data breaches in the NHS. The research reveals examples of medical data being lost, shared on social media, and inappropriately shared with third parties.

The report shows that between 2011 to 2014, there have been at least 7,255 breaches. This is the equivalent to 6 breaches every day. Examples of the data breaches include:

  • At least 50 instances of data being posted on social media
  • At least 143 instances of data being accessed for “personal reasons”
  • At least 124 instances of cases relating to IT systems
  • At least 103 instances of data loss or theft
  • At least 236 instances of data being shared inappropriately via Email, letter or Fax
  • At least 251 instances of data being inappropriately shared with a third party
  • At least 115 instances of staff accessing their own records.
  • There have been at least 32 resignations during the course of disciplinary proceedings.
  • There is 1 court case pending, for a breach of the Data Protection Act. In this instance the individual may have also resigned prior to proceedings.

Read more

Support the right for journalists to protect their sources

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 3 Comments

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.

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