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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


The IOCC report finds institutional overuse of powers and woefully inadequate record keeping

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 4 Comments

Image3The Interception of Communications Commissioner has published his annual report highlighting the way that surveillance powers, provided under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, are used.

This report is a marked improvement on the quality and quantity of information that has been presented in the past, highlighting that it is certainly possible to be more transparent about how surveillance powers are used without jeapordising security. Yet there is much more than can and should be done to reassure the public.

For instance, whilst we are told that the total number of approved authorsations and notices for communications data (excluding urgent oral applications) in 2013 was 514,608, the fact remains that this report does not include the number of British citizens affected by these powers, or any meaningful detail on what sort of offences are being investigated. The Commissioner acknowledges this fact within the report, stating that In my view the unreliability and inadequacy of the statistical requirements is a significant problem which requires attention”.

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Poll shows more than half of internet users are afraid of expressing their opinions online

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 3 Comments

Image3A new poll has highlighted that a worryingly high number of internet users have a lack of confidence in the ability to speak freely online without threat of censorship or surveillance

We have been concerned about lack of confidence that internet users have in their privacy and freedom of expression for some time, with our own 2013 Global Attitudes to Privacy Online Survey highlighting that 79% globally said they were concerned about their privacy online.

A survey conducted by BBC World Service, as part of the BBC’s Freedom Live initiative, polled internet users in 17 countries and found that 52% of participants disagree with the statement that “the internet is a safe place to express my opinions”. The survey also highlighted that confidence that the media in their country has the freedom to report accurately has fallen by 19% since 2007.

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Is BT handing over data on Brits in bulk?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, GCHQ, Home, Mobile Phones, Privacy, Surveillance, United States | 8 Comments

phone_exchangeLast year, the Guardian published an order under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act made to Verizon, which made clear that the NSA was collecting details of phone calls made by American citizens not on a targeted basis, but in bulk.

We have a simple question – is the same happening here?

Appearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday, our Director raised this issue and revealed that BT had refused to deny that it hands over data in bulk:

“Late last night I received a letter from British Telecom refusing to deny that they are handing over information in bulk on thousands or millions of British citizens and that mirrors a refusal to deny the same situation in a parliamentary answer received by Mr Davis.”

“My concerns is that there is the activity going on under the Telecommunications Act that is unsupervised and that is why BT cannot publicly refuse that they are handing over information in bulk.”

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Home Secretary launches public inquiry into the use of undercover police

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 2 Comments

Theresa MayThe independent inquiry by Mark Ellison QC, which was established to review the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation, has revealed “wrong-headed and inappropriate” use of undercover policing. The conclusions of the review make it very clear that there was an “extraordinary level of secrecy” at play.

The Home Secretary, who has described the findings of the review as “deeply troubling”, has been a leading force behind the review into the case of Stephen Lawrence and is to be applauded for her efforts. She has now announced that a judge-led inquiry will take place into undercover policing, as she fears that the abuse of powers in this case is not an isolated incident.  The Home Office is also currently holding a public consultation into the use of covert surveillance powers.

The revelations about the potential for there to have been unfairness in some of the Metropolitan Police’s (MPS) proceedings, alongside efforts to discredit the family of Steven Lawrence, quite rightly brought cross-party condemnation. Taken alongside revelations about the scale of internet surveillance, the wider questions about the oversight of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies are too important to ignore.

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Briefing Note: Consumer Rights Bill – Data Amendment

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

keyboardBig Brother Watch has issued a briefing note on the Consumer Rights Bill, with specific emphasis on a proposed amendment which will ensure consumers will be able to access data quickly, easily, and in a usable, digital format.

It is hoped that the Consumer Rights Bill will ensure that more emphasis is placed on the importance of transparency and data security. It is right that individuals should have more power to question organisations and be provided with information that is actually in a usable format.

It is remarkable that despite being in a digital age, if consumers want to request information from a utilities company, you are still required to send a £10 cheque in the post with the response then being provided in a paper format. Labour’s amendment will modernise the way organisations communicate with their customers, enhancing both transparency and consumer rights.

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State Appointed Guardians for Every Child in Scotland

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 9 Comments

iStock_000017522162SmallLast week the Scottish Government passed a staggeringly disproportionate piece of legislation that may see thousands of innocent families lives intruded upon by public sector busybodies.

Despite opposition from the public, church leaders, legal experts, MSPs and civil liberties groups, the Children and Young People Act was passed in Scotland. This new piece of legislation now means from birth until the age of 18, every child in Scotland will have a specific state-appointed ‘guardian’ to safeguard their interests and oversee their safety. Initially, this person is likely to be a health visitor or midwife, with the role latterly being taken over by a school teacher who will have a “duty” and responsibility to act as the child’s guardian. Not only that, but to allow these ‘guardians’ will have legal authority to access information from the police, council, NHS, amongst others.

Resources should be focused on those families in genuine need and on those children in real danger. As soon as you create an army of guardians they are going to have to justify their positions and that will mean more paperwork, more intrusion and more families being treated as suspects when they have done nothing wrong.

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A win for the Reform Clause 1 Campaign

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

reform clause 1There is great news to report from the Reform Clause 1 campaign. The Government has scrapped plans to outlaw annoying and nuisance behaviour in public.

Following a three month campaign by the Reform Clause 1 group and a key vote in the House of Lords earlier this month, where peers voted overwhelmingly for Lord Dear’s amendment to the legislation, the Government have today confirmed that they will accept the key changes.

We had been seriously concerned, along with other civil liberty groups, peers and MPs that plans to replace ASBOs with IPNAs would have a chilling effect on free speech and potentially outlaw many ordinary and hitherto legal activities. The Government had planned to extend the replacement to Labour’s ASBOs, by allowing the Courts to restrict any action “capable of causing nuisance or annoyance” by any person in any place. We warned that the wording and the low evidence thresholds in the Bill were dangerous as, almost anyone and any action was capable of being annoying, or causing a nuisance and would lead to a slew of ridiculous and costly cases.

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Get your tickets to The Freedom Festival

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

FreedomFestivallogoWe are very pleased to announce details of The Freedom Festival, an amazing weekend for anyone who cares about freedom and liberty. From Friday 14 to Sunday 16 March, attendees will play an active part in discussions and debates about the big political, economic and moral issues.

Over the weekend, you’ll rub shoulders with some of the most inspirational pro-freedom speakers from the UK and overseas – Dan Hannan, Robin Harris, Ruth Lea, Mark Littlewood, Tom Palmer, Toby Young and many, many more. There will be politicians, writers, academics, journalists, economists and philosophers. Big Brother Watch’s deputy director, Emma Carr, will also be running an interactive session on the future of civil liberties.

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Google fined €150,000 by French Data Protection Authority

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 1 Comment

4249731778_c071fcb365_oThe French data protection authority, CNIL, has announced that it has issued a €150,000 fine to Google after finding that its privacy policy does not comply with the French Data Protection Act. CNIL has also demanded that Google.fr post a warning on its home page warning that the companies unified privacy policy from 1 March 2012 does not comply with French law.

It is absolutely right that regulators have the tools to bring multinational companies to task, yet there are concerns that regulators do not yet have the powers that they need to have a real effect. Trivial financial penalties are at risk of being seen as the cost of doing business, rather than a meaningful sanction. Whether consumer notices, restriction on public sector contracts or interpreting each user affected as an individual breach, regulators need to think long and hard about how they resolve this situation to ensure users privacy is respected and the law upheld.

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Merry Christmas and looking back on 2013

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | Leave a comment

This year Big Brother Watch has grown in stature and influence into one of Britain’s leading privacy and civil liberties campaign groupphotos – and we couldn’t have done it without your support. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

Over the year we won several campaign victories, including draft Communications Data Bill (aka the Snoopers’ Charter) blocked, with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales among those who spoke at our press conference following the victory. We also fought to ensure NHS patients are guaranteed an opt-out of new data sharing plans and, as we called for, the Government announced private investigators will now be regulated and CCTV cameras will not be used for parking enforcement.

Our campaigning on CCTV regulation led to the first Surveillance Camera Commissioner being appointed and we led the calls for him to be given greater powers, while also stopping Oxford and Southampton Councils from recording passenger’s conversations in taxis.Big Brother Watch Draft Communications Data Bill committee press conference

This year has been a fantastic year for Big Brother Watch’s media profile, with the team appearing in the national press 446 times (including 12 front pages),more than 70 national broadcast appearances along with 1689 regional press hits and 1588 international pieces of coverage. Not to mention more than 100 blog posts seen 1.5 million times on our website!

We published reports looking at a range of issues, from ’Democratic Value?’, which addressed the scale of the commercial use of the edited electoral register, and ‘Private Investigators’, which highlighted the growing use of private investigators by local and public authorities. Our ‘Global Attitudes to Privacy Online’ looked at consumer attitudes towards online privacy and involved more than 10,000 interviews across nine countries, while we also investigated the UK public’s views on Google, attitudes towards surveillance transparency and whether a debate on surveillance was in the public interest.mail_splash

Alongside the Open Rights Group, English PEN and German internet activist Constanze Kurz, we launched our fist legal case before the European Court of Human Rights, taking action against GCHQ following the revelations from whistle-blower Edward Snowden. We helped to establish MedConfidential, a public campaign to fight for confidentiality and consent in health and social care, and were part of the successful Reform Section 5 campaign, which secured a change to the law to ensure it is not a crime to use insulting language. We have also joined Reform Clause 1, a campaign to prevents new draconian powers which would mean that individuals that are considered ‘annoying’ can be driven from the streets and played a leading role in the coalition against the Lobbying Bill.

We contributed to events at all three major political party conferences discussing critical surveillance issues, speaking alongside leading political figures.

ThClaude MORAES, Constanze KURZ, Dominique Guibert, Nick PICKLESe team have attended countless events at universities around the country, including the Cambridge Union, and hosted a film screening of ‘Terms and Conditions May Apply’ for supporters and wider stakeholders. We also traveled further afield for speaking engagements, including the European Parliament’s LIBE Committee in Brussels and the Public Voice: “Our Data, Our Lives” conference in Warsaw.

Looking ahead to the New Year we have another ground-breaking piece of research on the use of biometrics in schools, as well as new work on ANPR, CCTV’s impact on crime and prosecutions for social media speech. We’ll also continue to hold to account the Government and ensure that the debate about surveillance started by Edward Snowden leads to meaningful change at home and abroad and will continue our campaign for greater surveillance transparency.


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


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