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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


There’s No Such Thing As Free WiFi

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 1 Comment

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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If companies cared about our privacy they would be transparent about how they use our data

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Home | 5 Comments

facebook_logo-300x99First GameStation threatened to harvest the souls of its customers’ though its Terms and Conditions (no really!), now it has been revealed that Facebook has been attempting to manipulate its users’ moods after gaining ‘consent’ by burying information about the project in its Terms and Conditions.

Over one week in 2012, Facebook manipulated the extent to which people were exposed to emotional expressions in their News Feed. The point of this experiment was to ascertain whether exposure to emotional posts on Facebook led to users to post similarly emotional content. The project was conducted in collaboration with Cornell University and the University of California. Katherine Sledge Moore of Illinois University claimed that this was nothing unusual “based on what we’ve agreed to by joining Facebook”.

We have long warned about the dangers to users’ privacy that lurk within the lengthy and complex Terms and Conditions of online companies. For example, one study conducted by Which? showed that Facebook’s privacy policy and general terms of use added up to 11,195 words, around the same as Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Some are even longer, with Apple’s conditions for iTunes use running to 19,972 words, over 1,000 more than Macbeth. It is therefore not surprising that as a result of these lengthy T’s&C’s, 74% of people were put off reading them.

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The Intelligence Services Commissioner’s Oversight Is Weak and Unaccountable

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

Image3The Intelligence Services Commissioner has released his annual report (pdf) which highlights a high number of times individuals’ privacy was breached due to a series of errors. However, with only 17% of warrants being checked by the Commissioner, serious questions have also been raised about how thorough his investigations can actually be.

It is not unfair to suggest that at present the oversight by the Commissioner is weak and his accountability to Parliament and the public is almost none existent.  A part time Commissioner with only one member of staff cannot reasonably provide adequate oversight of the use of intrusive surveillance powers. As the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) recently pointed out, the Commissioner should be aiming to check at least 50% of warrants if the investigations are to be thorough.

It is clear that the Government must urgently address the fact that the Commissioner clearly does not have enough resources to thoroughly carry out his investigations into the intelligence and security services.

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Big Brother Watch gives evidence to Parliament

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

20140624-131829-47909456.jpgYesterday our acting director gave oral evidence to the Science and Technology Select Committee in Parliament on the topic of social media and real time analytics.

The remit of the inquiry was to look into the differences between traditional data storage systems, which were not designed for real-time analysis, and new technologies which can now provide live information and data analysis. The focus of our session was on the privacy implications that may arise from real time analytics and big data generally.

Emma’s fellow panelists were:

- Professor Liesbet van Zoonen, Professor of Communication and Media Studies, Loughborough University
- Professor David Robertson, Head of School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh, representing the UK Computing Research Committee
- Dr Mathieu d’Aquin, Research Fellow, The Open University

Big Brother Watch’s written evidence to the Committee is available here.

BBW Director Job Advert

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Home | Leave a comment
Job Title: Director
Location: London
Salary: Competitive, dependent on experience

Job Details:

Big Brother Watch is one of the UK’s leading privacy and civil liberties campaign groups, defending freedom and resisting the rise of the surveillance state. It combines a high media profile with original research, cross-party political links and policy acumen to influence and campaign on a range of issues.

The campaign is seeking an experienced candidate to take on the role of Director, leading the organisation’s growth and development and reinforcing its position as a respected and high-profile civil liberties campaign group.

Having established an Advisory Council for the first time, the coming year will see us celebrate our fifth birthday, progress our case against GCHQ in the European Court of Human Rights and focusing on making sure that our issues are at the forefront of the political debate as manifestos are produced for the 2015 General Election.

Reporting to the Founder, Matthew Elliott, the role will include the following responsibilities:
• Planning BBW’s work and campaigning activity to align with its strategic objectives
• Managing the team of Big Brother Watch staff and interns
• Directing BBW’s research activity and policy focus
• Leading BBW’s media profile as main spokesperson
• Acting as the main liaison with Government, MPs, Special Advisors and outside groups
• Identifying and pursuing fundraising opportunities
• Representing BBW with formal and informal settings, including Governmental advisory bodies and stakeholder processes
• Manage BBW’s engagement with enquiries, consultations and policy formulation, giving evidence in person where required

Candidates should/will ideally:
• Be sympathetic with the aims of Big Brother Watch
• Have excellent attention to detail
• Be confident and competent in oral and written communication, ideally with previous experience of media interviews
• Be able to work under pressure and be part of a dynamic national campaigning team
• Have a good knowledge of national and regional media and politics
• Have an understanding of the UK legislative process
• Ideally have existing relationships or experience working with leading figures in the field of Justice and Home Affairs in Westminster and Whitehall

An Open Letter to the Home Secretary On Powers of Entry Review

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 3 Comments

Today we have written to the Home Secretary and her Home Office Ministers to ask why the third progress report on the review of Powers of Entry has not yet been published.

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 places a duty on secretaries of state to review the powers of entry they are responsible for and report back to Parliament within 2 years following Royal Assent. The also Home Office is required to provide updates on progress must be sent to Parliament every 6 months. The second progress report was published in July 2013 and the first progress report was published in January 2013.

The purpose of the review is to examine each individual power, and see if that power:

  • is still required or should be repealed
  • should have further safeguards added to it
  • can be consolidated with other similar powers, to reduce the overall number

Dear Home Secretary

I am writing to you to enquire why the third progress report on the review of Powers of Entry has not yet been published.

As you will be aware, under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 progress reports should be published by the Home Office on a six monthly basis, however it has been almost one year since the second progress report was published in July 2013. I would therefore be grateful if you could clarify why there has been a six month delay in publishing the third report and whether this means there will be a subsequent delay in secretaries of state reporting back to Parliament within the 2 year time period following Royal Assent.

Yours sincerely,

Emma Carr

Acting Director

CC: Lord Taylor of Holbeach, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Criminal Information and James Brokenshire MP, Minister for Security and Immigration and Norman Baker MP, Minister of State for Crime Prevention

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