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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

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Hague goes to Russia… what is to be done about the Litvinenko case?

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Litvinenko Britain's Foreign Secretary is in Moscow today on his first visit to Russia.

I am glad to see that the case of Alexander Litvinenko features prominently in the news reports about the trip and sincerely hope that it gets more than a mention in the talks between the officials concerned. As I wrote elsewhere at the time, this seems to be a straightforward case of extra-judicial execution done on the streets of our capital by a foreign power, and it is absurd that things go on as if nothing happened.

The Russian suspected of having done the deed, former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi, has been the subject of an extradition request by the Crown Prosecution Service since 2007. It remains unanswered, and Lugovoi appears in the media today to flaunts his contempt for British law, bluntly refusing to contemplate an appearance to answer the allegations against him and – forgive me if one appears incredulous about this – urging Britain to "move on" from the case.

I trust that William Hague will demonstrate that countries which respect the rule of law and defend the lives of their subjects don't just brush such things under the carpet.

By Alex Deane

Volunteering: in the dock

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Scouting The Daily Mail carries news today of the story of a former scout awarded £7,322 damages by a Birmingham court after incurring an injury during a game of 'objects in the dark'.  The scout is said to have suffered shoulder damage after scoutmasters failed to "take reasonable care" to ensure the safety of children under their control.

The specifics of this case aside, such a ruling risks setting a regrettable precedent in which volunteers such as those involved in scouting feel unable to organise activities for young people without the permanent risk of incurring costly and personally embarassing litigation.

The ruling is currently being appealed at the High Court with the Lord Justices set to hand down their opinion at the end of the month.

While guaranteeing the safety of children is paramount, it can surely only be right that our legal system affords adequate protections to volunteers like scoutmasters who are so generously giving of their time to help young people?

An effort was made to address this issue back in 2006 in the form of the Promotion of Volunteering Bill championed by backbench MP Julian Brazier. The bill, which sought to "reduce the effect of litigation to organisations and others engaged in "desirable acts"" such as organising school trips and scouting visits, failed to progress beyond a second reading.

By Daniel Hamilton

The police, guns, the Saunders case

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Police with guns Apologies for two posts about the police on the trot from me, but this is an important issue.

Over at the Daily Mail, Max Hastings has written that

Of course, the police have a tough job. But to shoot dead Mark Saunders like a mad dog was an affront to the values of a decent society

I think I disagree.

Let's remember that Saunders had been ­ firing his shotgun wildly around ­Chelsea’s Markham Square. Police had been on the scene for some time, but he still refused to put down his gun. So – although I have not seen the evidence in any depth, and I may be wrong – I tend to think that the jury got it right when they returned a verdict of lawful killing in this case. I would add to that that I believe in the common sense of jurors, and the jury here had every opportunity to stick it to the police in question, and did not.

On the other hand, I do agree with Hasting when he writes that there is

a new and alarming macho gun culture among Britain’s constabulary.

I just don't think that the Saunders case is a good example of that. If ever there's a time for armed police, I'd think that responding to a man blazing away at his neighbours is it. Much better as an example, I think, is the experience I had this weekend, walking with my wife in the sunny gardens of St Paul's Cathedral – when we came across two hulking cops coming down the path towards us, each lugging a submachine gun.

My point isn't that this is unusual – it's that this is usual. Nothing special was happening this weekend, there was no specific event or exceptional justification – it was just a couple of policemen walking the beat, armed to the nines like Rambo.

I'll lay odds that you've seen something similar lately. It started becoming more usual at airports, and then at specific events, and now we see City of London police toting kit meant for warzones around the gardens at St Paul's, in which perhaps the worst examples of disorder might be a recalcitrant squirrel or two. What next in the standard kit – bazookas?

We're a long way from Robert Peel when this is the norm. Who, faced with this, thinks that "the police are the public, and the public are the police"? It's very hard to feel like we have a citizen constabulary when they are swaddled with hyper-aggressive kit (batons, spray, maglite thumper-torches, tasers, and now machine guns). To my mind it's the normalisation of this kind of kit and style of policing on our streets every day, rather than the high-profile exceptional incident, that should command our attention. Being armed for the exceptional circumstance is reasonable and can protect us. Being armed as a norm is a vivid demonstration of something many people feel – that we are now policed by representatives of an often overbearing state, rather than by ourselves.

(Re the specific example of the Saunders case, I know that readers might have expected me to go the other way on this one and I'd love to know what you think.)

by Alex Deane

Earlier post about the police is here, Con Home post about the police here

USA, you’re being watched…

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Hat tip: Pundit Kitchen

James Stannard

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A former Big Brother Watch intern who specialised in Freedom of Information request research, James now works for Ipsos-Mori – he continues to assist in research and web campaigns.

Dominique Lazanski

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Dominique Dominique Lazanski spent over 10 years in the Internet industry with many of those years working in Silicon Valley. She has a long held interest in public policy and participatory government. She has written and spoken on digital issues over the years from a free market and entrepreneurial perspective. She holds degrees from Cornell University and the London School of Economics.

Facial recognition technology: coming to an iPhone near you!

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Iphone Following our blogposts yesterday regarding the introduction of facial recognition systems schools and the iPhone Facebook application's leeching of your private data, it now appears Apple are set to go one step further and allow you to fuse the two.

Apple has recently acquired the facial-recognition software firm Polar Rose whose technology has the ability to allow internet users to "tag, detect, manage, and search for Facebook (including other social networks) friends in Flickr photos". 

The Business Press reports that it appears likely Apple will "implement the technology into mobiles.., allowing users to easily tag, search and manage friends with synchronizing capabilities on iOS powered devices such as the iPhone and iPad".

Facebook's own privacy policy makes extensive reference to the ability of individual users to "control the privacy level… of all the content [they] post on a day-to-day basis".  

At Big Brother Watch, we hope this commitment will extend to this new technology so that Facebook users are able to share a few photographs online with friends without the fear of their images being accessed by this intrusive and invasive facial recognition software.

By Daniel Hamilton

Land of my fathers

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Abbey Gardens Bury St Edmunds. My home town. Sigh.

Over at the Daily Mail, this story. Apparently, at least two morons visitors to the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds have complained about being struck by a conker after walking beneath boughs of a large tree.

So the council, taking no chances, put a temporary warning sign on it: Beware Falling Conkers – Please Proceed with Care…

St Edmundsbury Borough Council said: ‘A couple of people came into our parks office after being hit by falling conkers and asked if we could warn people at this time of year.’

To which, it plainly never occurred to my bureaucratic homeboys to say, "push off". Pity.

In BSE's defence, (1) it is a lovely place to live, and (2) Bury's not alone in this kind of nannyist stupidity:

Last week it was revealed that Nottingham City Council had picked all the conkers off a tree after a girl was hurt by a falling branch the year before. It was believed to have been thrown by children trying to dislodge the conkers.

But my home patch does have "form" on this – you may remember that, to nationwide ridicule, the Council banned hanging baskets at one point, also on health and safety grounds. It was this kind of guff that led me to BBW in the first place…

By Alex Deane

Conker police strike again! Horse chestnut warning reminds park goers it's autumn

By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 11:07 AM on 8th October 2010

It goes without saying that conker trees drop conkers in the autumn.

Or does it? It seems there are still those who are surprised by what falls out of a horse chestnut tree at this time of the year.

Take for instance visitors to the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. At least two have complained about being struck by a conker after walking beneath boughs of a large tree there.

Take care: A visitor to the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds passes the warning on the offending tree

Take care: A visitor to the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds passes the warning on the offending tree

So the council, taking no chances, put a temporary warning sign on it: Beware Falling Conkers – Please Proceed with Care. The action was condemned yesterday by visitors to the park as ‘over the top’.

Gareth Young, 38, said: ‘Where would we be without our trees? We are lucky to have the park.’

Over the top: Sylvia French, 74, looks at the sign put up on a Horse Chestnut tree warning of falling conkers

Over the top: Sylvia French, 74, looks at the sign put up on a Horse Chestnut tree warning of falling conkers

Another parkgoer said: ‘I think it’s a bit daft really. They are only conkers. If you walk under a conker tree in autumn it doesn’t take a genius to realise conkers might drop off.’

The sign also attracted the wrath of Local Government Minister Bob Neill. ‘Every person who ever went to school knows exactly when the conker season is,’ he said, adding that he wanted to see an end to the excesses of ‘health and safety zealots’.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council said: ‘A couple of people came into our parks office after being hit by falling conkers and asked if we could warn people at this time of year.’

Last week it was revealed that Nottingham City Council had picked all the conkers off a tree after a girl was hurt by a falling branch the year before. It was believed to have been thrown by children trying to dislodge the conkers.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1318638/Conker-police-strike-Horse-chestnut-warning-reminds-park-goers-autumn.html?ito=feeds-newsxml#ixzz11m1SeHbZ

Were you given points or a fine for speeding in a case involving a “Police Pilot Provida”?

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A potentially important judgment:

Iaciofano v Directo of Public Prosecutions [2010] EWHC 2357 (Admin)

On appeal the crown conceded that the ‘Police Pilot Provida’ was not an approved speed device. Further held that it, even if the contrary had been the case it was not open to the magistrates’ to take judicial notice of the devices widespread use in order to satisfy themselves as to type approval. The court declined to convict on an alternative basis, but remitted the matter back to the magistrates’ court for trial.

(No link available for online judgment at present)

By Alex Deane

Daniel Hamilton

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Danpic
Daniel Hamilton is a graduate in Politics and International Relations from Royal Holloway University of London.

Before joining Big Brother Watch as Campaign Director in October 2010, he was Head of European Insight at the leading opinion polling and political research firm ComRes.  He has previously worked in both the House of Commons and European Parliament and was praised in the Total Politics Guide to the 2010 General Election for his “remarkable… encyclopaedic knowledge” of British politics.

He was appointed Director of Big Brother Watch in February 2011.

Aside from campaigning on civil liberties issues, he is a regular commentator on frozen conflict zones and the politics of the United States, Brazil and Serbia.

A regular contributor to ConservativeHome and PoliticalBetting, he has also written for Total Politics, the European Journal and Public Affairs News.

His personal website can be found at http://www.danhamilton.co.uk/.