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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


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

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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.


Google users do battle in court

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 3 Comments

4249731778_c071fcb365_oA group of internet users has come face to face with Google in the High Court this week in order to ensure that legal action, launched by the group, can take place in the UK.

The group, Safari Users Against Google’s Secret Tracking, has accused Google of bypassing security settings on the Safari internet browser in order to track their online browsing and to target them with personalised advertisements. However, Google is claiming that because it is based in the US the court has no jurisdiction to try the claims relating to UK claimants.

The entire situation is plainly absurd. The primary reason that the group has been required to take legal action in the first place is due to gross failings by the regulators to protect UK internet users. If this was the first time the allegations had been made Google’s position would potentially be understandable, however they have already been fined $22.5m by the Federal Trade Commission and paid $17m to US states in compensation.

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We must stop the ‘chilling effect’ of the Lobbying Bill

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 1 Comment

commons dayToday the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement has published its action plan to protect democracy from the ‘chilling effect’ of Lobbying Bill. We wholeheartedly support the recommendations presented in the report (which you can read here) and call on Ministers to support the findings of the Commission.

As present, the Lobbying Bill would drastically reduce the amount campaigners can legally spend campaigning on issues on which parties disagree in the year before an election and massively increase the regulatory burden. At the same time it would increase the number of activities which would be monitored.

The Commission warns that Part 2 of the Bill is so broadly drafted it would restrict campaigning in the whole year before an election. Parliamentary candidates only have to account for their spending in the few months before an election.

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GP surgery manager prosecuted for illegally accessing thousands of patients’ medical records

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 2 Comments

filesAs the year comes to an end, the successful prosecution of a former GP surgery manager for serious data breaches reminds us why we remain deeply concerned about lax attitudes towards our medical data. We have consistently argued that patients should have more control over their medical records and proper punishments should be issued to those who abuse their access to this information.

In September we wrote about the concerns of many GP’s about the new NHS care.data system. Patients have had zero direct communication from the NHS about the program, with patient information posters are wholly uninformative and have only been displayed in GP surgeries, rather than being sent directly to patients. It is very simple; any change to how medical data is used should mean that we are notified to the highest standards, with an easy opt-out process.

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Councillor branded an “extremist” for organising meetings supporting equal marriage and animal rights

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 3 Comments

Image3It has been revealed that a Councillor may have been branded an “extremist” by the Metropolitan Police after he received information to indicate that he may feature on the National Domestic Extremist Database (NDED).

Ian Driver, a Green Party Councillor in Thanet, submitted a subject access request to the Metropolitan Police, the lead force for the National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU), which revealed 22 database entries covering 2011 to 2013. Most of the entries were related to his role as an organiser of a campaign protecting against the export of live farm animals and one record related to him organising a meeting in support of Equal Marriage in 2012.

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Further calls for custodial sentences for serious data breaches

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 1 Comment

Image3Two cases have come to light highlighting the urgent need for custodial sentences for those who unlawfully obtain or disclose personal information. We have warned about the effects that lax attitudes to data protection has, highlighting that the seriously low rates of punishments and shockingly low fines that are handed out do little in deterring those that seek to illegally access and share personal information.

We have repeatedly called for the government to introduce custodial sentences for those found guilty of an offence under section 55, where personal data is obtained unlawfully. This stance is echoed by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Home Affairs Select Committee, Lord Leveson, the Joint Committee on the draft Communications Data Bill and the Justice Select Committee. The fact that unlawful breaches of section 55 are not recorded on a criminal record, coupled with the low fines handed out, means that some personnel trusted with our personal information continue to abuse that trust.

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Miranda’s detention is a direct attack on freedom of the press

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 4 Comments

iStock_000003156836MediumToday’s detention of David Miranda, the partner of The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald  who interviewed whistleblower Edward Snowden, is a direct attack on freedom of the press and a chilling reminder that our anti-terror laws are in desperate need of reform. Whoever took the decision to have Miranda arrested and detained should be named and held publicly accountable for this flagrant abuse of anti-terrorism laws.

The law Miranda was detained under provides powers to deal with those suspected of involvement with acts of terrorism, not a license to interrogate those with knowledge of the activity of journalists. If a foreign government detained the partner of a British journalist we would rightly be up in arms.

It is clear that this was not a random stop and search. Only 0.06% of all people detained under Schedule 7 are detained for more than six hours. Miranda was held right up to the maximum nine hours.  According to the Government “fewer than 3 people in every 10,000 are examined as they pass through UK borders.

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Are we at risk of a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ snooping culture emerging?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 6 Comments

daily mailOur report on private investigators, published earlier this year, highlighted the growing use of the industry by public authorities, with particular concern being raised about the occasions that they were used without RIPA authorisation.

The research has spurred investigations into how public authorities are using private investigators, with two stories from this week alone detailing shocking incidents of staff being placed under highly covert and intrusive surveillance, including a mother having a GPS tracker fitted to her family car. The Home Office has agreed with us that the industry should be regulated, stating that operating as an unlicensed private investigator will become a criminal offence.

However, far more could be done to rein in who is allowed to launch surveillance operations and making them responsible for the investigators working on their behalf. If the FBI are required to go to court to get a warrant then there is simply no reason why in Britain we shouldn’t expect snooping operations to be signed off by a judge.

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Police use of ANPR in Royston ruled illegal

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 13 Comments

Today the Information Commissioner has ruled on a joint complaint from Big Brother Watch, No CCTV and Privacy International, concerning the use of automatic number plate recognition technology in Royston?

In a victory for BBW, our complaint was upheld and The ICO found that Hertfordshire Constabulary failed to carry out “any effective impact assessments” and that the system was “unlawful” as it breached the Data Protection Act, and that it was not justifiable for Hertfordshire Constabulary to log every vehicle passing through the town on its system.

The ICO’s head of enforcement Stephen Eckersley said: “It is difficult to see why a small rural town such as Royston, requires cameras monitoring all traffic in and out of the town, 24 hours a day. The use of ANPR cameras and other forms of surveillance must be proportionate to the problem it is trying to address.”

He said that other UK police forces should be taking note of Royston’s plight. “We hope that this enforcement notice sends a clear message to all police forces, that the use of ANPR cameras needs to be fully justified before they are installed. This includes carrying out a comprehensive assessment of the impact on the privacy of the road-using public.”

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “The idea that it is acceptable for the police to record the details of every car entering and leaving a small town was always ridiculous.

“This sends a clear message that the blanket logging of vehicle movements is not going to be within the law and it is now essential that the ICO ensures other police forces are abiding by the law.

“Yet again we find the public placed under surveillance when the police force was unable to justify why the surveillance was necessary or proportionate. Whoever took the decision to press ahead with this ring of steel and to ignore the law so brazenly should be clearing their desk today.”