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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


New figures suggest Scottish CCTV is spiralling out of control

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 5 Comments

camerasLocal authorities in Scotland have rushed to install even more CCTV cameras, which are proved to be an expensive and evidentially unsuccessful means of surveillance.

The public would be far safer if the money was spent on street lighting, proper policing and actually punishing criminals when they are caught, rather than giving them a slap on the wrist and putting them back on the streets. In too many towns we now have a CCTV on every street corner, yet never see a police officer there.

New figures have ignited fears that CCTV is “spiralling out of control” in Scotland after councils and police forces have spent more than £8 million to maintain their CCTV systems in the last year alone. There are now at least 4,114 public-space CCTV cameras and mobile camera vans across Scotland, with hundreds of staff employed to monitor them. The figures show that this is an increase of 1,000 cameras in less than a year.

The increase in cameras comes at a time when many other local authorities are, in fact, reassessing their use of CCTV, which has resulted in a decrease in the use of cameras.

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Groups unite to condemn Leveson law

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 3 Comments

This letter, signed by Big Brother Watch and 19 others, appears in today’s Guardian.

Dear Editor,

The Leveson Inquiry was set up to address “the culture, practices and ethics of the press, including contacts between the press and politicians and the press and the police”. Our views diverge on whether the outcome of the Leveson process — and the plans for a new regulator — are the best way forward. But where we all agree is that current attempts at regulating blogs and other small independent news websites are critically flawed.

The government has defined a “relevant publisher” for the purposes of press regulation in a way that seeks to draft campaign groups and community-run websites covering neighbourhood planning applications and local council affairs and campaign groups into a regulator designed for the Guardian, Sun and Daily Mail.”

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Is your MP on the naughty list?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 9 Comments

outoftownSeveral MPs have contacted us to ask why the Communications Data Bill is such a big deal – so how helpful that this week the perfect example came along!

The Government claims the bill is necessary to address three data types: Reconcile IP addresses, capture weblogs and to deal with third party data.

In practice, what would this mean? Well, the first data type is required to give the police “the ability to reconcile an Internet Protocol (IP) address to an individual”ITteam

So, where you have a mobile phone operator that shares a small number of IP addresses, it has to allocate these to its customers as they are needed. In a few minutes, the same IP could be used by several customers so you need to try log which customer is using an address when.

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Greater transparency in police forces

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 2 Comments

shutterstock_42647761In a greater step towards transparency, South Yorkshire and Cleveland Police Forces have announced that they will publish full details of dismissals and resignations due to disciplinary circumstances on their websites.

Having raised several concerns about the level of transparency and accountability in the aftermath of  data breaches this is a welcome step. Our research has shown that over a period of three years: 243 Police officers and staff from forces around the country received criminal convictions for breaching the Data Protection Act (DPA); 98 had their employment terminated for breaching the DPA; and 904 were subjected to internal disciplinary procedures for breaching the DPA.

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Feel free to insult me : Government backs Section 5 reform

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 8 Comments

peter tatchell protest london 2Do not adjust your screen – we bring good news from the Home Office.

From Lord Leveson’s report to the increasingly heavy-handed arrests for social media, freedom of speech was a major issue for Big Brother Watch in 2012 and we were at the fore of calls to change the law.

Today we had a glimmer of hope 2013 will be the year the tide turns and freedom of speech is enhanced and protected.

Speaking as the Crime and Courts Bill returned to the Commons for its second reading, the Home Secretary confirmed the Government would accept Lord Dear’s amendment to the legislation and support amending the Public Order Act 1986 to remove the word ‘insulting’ from Section 5 of the Act.

This is a triumph for David Davis MP, Peter Tatchell, Rowan Atkinson, the Reform Section 5 campaign and all those who like Big Brother Watch supported the campaign – from the National Secular Society to the Christian Institute.

In a civil society, it is not for the police to intervene when someone feels they have been insulted. The Home Secretary and her Coalition colleagues should be applauded for this important reform.

This is a simple change but one that will do a huge amount to protect free speech. As the Director of Public Prosecutions and his predecessor both recognised, this change does not diminish the abilities of the police to arrest people for threatening or abusive language, nor does it make it harder to prosecute incitement.

We said at the time of the Government’s opposition to the amendment in the House of Lords it was a bizarre position to take and are very pleased that common sense has prevailed.

Of course, this is not the end of the campaign to defend freedom of speech. The Communications Act 2003 (responsible for the #twitterjoketrial ) and the Malicious Communications Act 1988 (the Poppy arrest) are both in dire need of reform – new guidance is not enough.

We hope after today’s announcement the Home Office is inclined to explore these issues too.

The Prum Treaty: a disaster waiting to happen’?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Civil Liberties, DNA database, Europe, European Arrest Warrant, Home, International | 3 Comments

dna-3The Prüm Treaty may yet be implemented in the UK as a report shows that the European Commission plans to force the UK to allow other member states access to personal details of every motorist in Britain as well as access to the national DNA database and fingerprint records.

The Home Secretary has indicated that she is minded to opt out of the European Home Affairs Injustice measures in 2014, a step that would enable a full and frank discussion on how to sufficiently protect the rights of UK citizens. We can now hope that the Home Secretary will share the same robustness towards the European Commission on this matter.

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The Government misjudges the problems of judicial reviews

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 2 Comments

5946829399_e633991652_oWe recently wrote about the Government’s plans to shake up the judicial review process by making it “leaner and faster”.  However, it would seem that yet again the Government has prescribed a solution that doesn’t fit the problem.

The recently published 2020 Vision: An Agenda for Transformationhighlights that ‘criminal’ and ‘other’ applications for judicial reviews has barely risen since 1997 (see graph). However, judging from the evidence presented in the same essay, what has risen is the number of reviews based on immigration. Charlie Elphicke MP notes that “It’s not hard to see why there has been increasing concern in the past decade. In 1997, the number of applications for judicial review was 3,848. By 2011 the number had risen to 11,200. Read more

Not even the Duchess of Cambridge can escape data lapses

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 4 Comments

Obviously we never thought that we would be joining in with all of the media that has amassed after the announcement of the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy. However the Duchess has found herself embroiled in a data protection scandal.

Extraordinarily, a prank call made by Australian 2Day FM radio presenters to King Edward VII Hospital enabled them to obtain intimate medical information about the health of Catherine. The presenters pretended to be the Queen, Prince Charles and, most bizarrely, corgis in order to attempt to get Catherine live on air. The transcript shows that, despite a very unconvincing performance by the presenters, a nurse gave private details of Catherine’s condition.

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Prime Minister misses the point on judicial reviews

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home, Judicial review, Legal Action | 1 Comment

David Cameron has announced plans to build a “leaner, faster” government, by means of a shakeup of the judicial review process. Rather than focusing on creating a system that would hold public decisions to account, the Prime Minister has promised to crack down on “time wasting” caused by the “massive growth industry” in legal challenges to government policy.

The stats speak from themselves: the number of judicial review applications used to challenge a decision by a public body has risen from 160 in 1975 to 11,200 in 2011. However, last year applications were five times more likely to be refused than granted.

The Prime Minister placed reforms to the judicial process at the center of his plans to ensure Britain can compete globally. The proposals include cutting the three month time limit on applying for a review and charging more “so people think twice about time-wasting”, however how much “more” is currently unclear. Currently, a fee of £60 is payable when permission for the application is lodged and a further £215 is payable if permission is granted. Legal costs can then run up to tens of thousands of pounds.

A recent example of a judicial review is the case of the West Coast rail franchise which saw Virgin Rail successfully overturn the Department for Transport decision to award the contract to FirstGroup. Another successful example is the legal challenge launched by Friends of The Earth on the Government’s plans to cut solar tariff incentives.

The Government appear to be missing the point; the process should be about speed and efficiency not making it harder to make a claim. Perhaps, rather than focusing on people and organisations causing unnecessary delays, the Government should be introducing what is currently lacking; proper checks to hold public decisions to account.

Why consumers need choice to protect their privacy

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

Writing on Huffington Post business, I outline why it’s not enough to have strong data protection laws to protect privacy – we need competitive markets too.

As the digital revolutions continues to fueled in a large part by advertising spending, a data arms race is emerging, with a handful of multi-billion dollar corporations engaged in a battle to know more about us — and therefore better target adverts — than their competitors.

This race to the bottom, where respecting consumer privacy is an obstacle to greater profit is the stark reality of a digital world where services are free and data is valuable. We are not customers, but a product, to be repackaged and marketed to the highest bidder.

In March this year, perhaps the single most important test for this balance began. Google, in what was purported to be a simplification of their existing product-specific privacy policies, a new, all-encompassing policy was implemented, despite a request from European data protection regulators for more time to assess the impact for consumer privacy.

The silo-walls came down, with a tsunami of information released across Google’s operations.

The time has come for privacy and competition regulators to act together, recognizing that it is essential for consumers not only to be fully informed about what happens to their data, but to have a real choice of service and on what terms those services are offered.

You can read the piece here.