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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 CRB changes a “common sense approach”

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 13 Comments

iStock_000016822421MediumWe have long called for changes to the CRB system having seen lives ruined by over reliance on a flawed system. Following from a Court of Appeal ruling in January, this week the Home Office announced a shakeup of the CRB system which will see a much more common sense approach to a system that was ruining people’s lives.

The Home Office announced that the changes, which are due to become law in the next few weeks, would “ensure a balance between ensuring that children and vulnerable groups are protected and avoiding intrusion into people’s lives.”

As detailed below, the rumours of burglars having their conviction erased from the checks will only happen (if the offence is commented when over the age of 18) if 11 years has elapsed since the date of conviction, and it the person’s only offence and if it did not result in a custodial sentence.

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Positive step forward for DNA sample destruction

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 1 Comment

dna-3In a positive step forward, the Government has announced that more than 1.1 million DNA profiles belonging to innocent people have so far been destroyed to allow new laws to be brought into force. In addition, 6.3 million DNA samples containing sensitive biological material, which are no longer needed as a completed DNA profile has been obtained, have also been destroyed.

Big Brother Watch has campaigned on this issue for several years, raising concerns that the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 failed to adopt the Scottish system of retention meaning that English and Welsh citizens could find that their details are retained and shared in situations where someone from Scotland or another country would not have to worry about something that happened many years in the past.

For more than one million innocent people to have their DNA taken and stored is a stark warning of how the last Government got the balance between security and freedom badly wrong and highlights that public safety can be protected without a constant assault upon our privacy and civil liberties.

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Consumers not interested in privacy? Think again

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 3 Comments

filesWould you be surprised to hear that a manager at the Information Commissioner’s Office, the very organisation that was set up to “uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals”, has said that consumers only like to complain about privacy if companies mess up?

At the IAB’s Mobile Engage conference, and ICO manager of business and industry, Dave Evans, said: “Consumers are not interested in privacy but they become interested if you get it wrong.” He added: “If you give them what they want but you get it wrong in the process then they [consumers] start to care where the data came from.” However, having taken a look at the ICO’s own research it seems like Evan’s isn’t even a little bit right!

A 2011 survey commissioned by the ICO showed that: almost nine out of ten respondents were concerned about the way personal information is handled, with 89% of respondents being concerned about protecting people’s personal information. This makes protecting personal information the second highest concern in terms of social issues raised in the survey, and it has been every year since 2007. There was also a high level of concern from respondents (59%) that they have lost control over the way their personal information is collected.

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Can you support Sgt Danny Nightingale?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 12 Comments

Three weeks today, Sergeant Danny Nightingale will report to the Military Court Centre in Bulford, Wiltshire for a preparatory hearing. This is as a result of the Service Prosecuting Authority exercising its right to seek a re-trial of Sgt Nightingale.

Like many people, Big Brother Watch has been dismayed at the treatment of Sgt Nightingale. Despite his conviction being quashed at the Court of Appeal, military prosecutors continue to pursue Sgt Nightingale so today, working in conjunction with Danny’s family and lawyer, Simon McKay, we have launched this campaign to secure the much-needed funding to pay for Danny’s legal team.

In the event of any funds remaining after the payment of Danny’s legal bills, they will be donated to the SAS Regimental Association.

With costs potentially running to £150,000 for a prolonged battle, every donation makes a big difference and we urge you to give generously.

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Margaret Thatcher, 1925-2013.

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 6 Comments

commons day“We who are living in the west today are fortunate. Freedom has been bequeathed to us. We have not had to carve it out of nothing; we have not had to pay for it with our lives. But it would be a grave mistake to think that freedom requires nothing of us. Each of us has to earn freedom anew in order to possess it. We do so not just for our own sake, but for the sake of our children, so that they may build a better future that will sustain over the world the responsibilities and blessings of freedom.”

Margaret Thatcher.

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.