Our 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.
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.”
The Interception of Communications Commissioner (ICC) 2012 Annual Report has raised serious questions about whether the commissioner’s office is actually fit for purpose. The report has failed to make any mention of Tempora and PRISM whilst at the same time seriously lacks the impression that the ICC has been enforcing serious oversight of the way security agencies acquire and use communications data.
The report has highlighted that the number of requests that security agencies made about texts, emails and other communications data increased by 15% Ito more than 570,000. The report also makes the admission that information that had been released had led to six members of the public being wrongly detained or accused of committing a crime. The ICC and Parliament need to seriously ask themselves how one commissioner with a handful of staff can meaningfully scrutinise 570,000 surveillance requests.
Throughout 2012 the security agencies were desperate to push through new legislation that would allow them to access communications data from the internet, whilst at the same time Tempora and PRISM were giving them all the data that they have wanted.
In positive step towards transparency Eric Pickles MP, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, has published new guidance which explicitly states that Councils should allow the public to overly film and council meetings.
DCLG was forced to publish the guidance after a string of councils had prevented individuals from recording council meetings on health and safety and legal grounds. The guidance will only apply to English councils, but it certainly creates a serious precedent for councils in Wales.
Public access to meetings is a key part of holding local councils and public bodies to account and it’s wholly wrong for people not being able to film or tweet in public meetings for spurious legal reasons.
Whether through Freedom of Information law, filming council meetings or publishing data, transparency is a critical check on those in power and an essential part of defending our liberties.
We 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.
In 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.
Would 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.
“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.”
Local 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.