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In a week that has seen the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the country stand in silence to commemorate Armistice Day – two endearing and tragic icons of man's fight for freedom – a question asked in the House of Lords has found that the powers of surveillance provided under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) are being used by local councils 200 times a week – an average of 29 times a day.
We have complained about the abuse of RIPA several times on this blog, but this latest statistic really ought to prompt the government into action.
Unelected and unaccountable council officials quite simply shouldn’t be able to intrude into our lives like this.
This is an issue that needs to be put under the spotlight and held there until our politicians pledge to enact the reforms necessary to stop these abuses.
Big Brother Watch is not prepared to let this issue rest until they do.
By Dylan Sharpe
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) – the government quango charged with responsibility for Data Protection and Freedom of Information among other things - has today announced that they would like to start introducing penalties for data loss given that 'the number of incidents of loss or theft of personal data has risen to an "unacceptable" level in the past year'.
There is not yet any discussion of previous years, but we'll take it as read that those were unacceptable too; although according to reports '434 organisations reported data security breaches in the past 12 months, up from 277 the year before.'
Polling conducted by Big Brother Watch last month showed that 86% of people think that the government can’t be trusted to keep our personal information safe. No wonder, when you see enormous losses like this.
The best way to ensure our privacy and secure our information is not to build these intrusive databases in the first place. Failing that, the second best way is to be competent about securing such databases.
It is about time punishments were introduced for those authorities that fail to keep our data secure.
By Dylan Sharpe
Chris Addison, aka the ever-loveable and hilariously error-prone Ollie Reader in BBC Two comedy ‘The Thick of It’, has used his column in today’s Evening Standard to put the boot in to Big Brother Watch and our sister organisation the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
His ire is focussed on our decision to question the wisdom of Harrow Council’s snoopers army initiative.
According to Chris, Harrow’s search for 2,000 people who will report on public nuisances such as vandalism, rowdiness and fly-tipping, “sounds perfectly reasonable”; as it does. But he then says “I must confess I thought we were supposed to do that sort of thing anyway”.
Again he’s absolutely right – and there-in lies the problem. Being a good citizen shouldn’t require a £100,000 scheme provided by your local authority to spy on your neighbours. It’s creating a community spirit and having a quiet word with your fellow citizens if they’re doing something which is effecting your local environment; or informing the police if you think that they might be guilty of a more serious crime. If you see something wrong, you shouldn’t need a badge or a reward to report it or try to help to fix it.
In addition, Harrow Council is the only borough in London to have moved to fortnightly bin collections. Research has shown that fly-tipping has generally increased a lot more in those local authorities putting in place fortnightly collections than in other authorities.
Whilst fly-tipping is obviously a public nuisance, it is legitimate to question the motives behind reducing the number of bin collections one week and recruiting 2,000 residents to spy on those that create enviro-crime the next. One might say that Conservative-controlled Harrow Council are trying to clamp down on the effects of previous bad policy choices – their position is driven by failure, both in their waste removal and moreover in local policing – and a badge or or an incentive to snoop isn’t the right response to that.
Chris, and for that matter, Ollie may not like the fact that the TPA and BBW exist to question the schemes that emanate from our politicians and paymasters, but we are here to voice the concerns of the silent majority…rather than parrot the text of council press releases.
By Dylan Sharpe
The notion might seem counter-intuitive to those of us who picture the idyllic beaches, who dream of the happy sub-tropical lifestyle, who grew up humming this – but it really is worse in Australia.
As Paul Sheehan makes clear in a searing article in the Sydney Morning Herald, whilst "Australians have this outdated idea of themselves as easy-going pragmatists…
we are becoming a nation of petty laws and fearful citizens, too gutless to confront this creeping, productivity-killing, initiative-destroying, community-sapping tide of compulsion and constriction, much of it driven by a corrosive ideology of the need for government control and intervention.
As in all things, the argument is made best by telling example rather than argument alone – his piece is full of them. Perhaps the most striking is this, an insurance requirement sent to a group of women wanting to run a fundraising fete for their school -
''The applicant must provide a copy of a certificate of currency prior to each event showing public liability insurance to the value of $10,000,000 for each fete …'' That is not a misprint.
There's more where that came from. Head down under to the SMH site and have a look.
By Alex Deane
It has been another busy week for Big Brother Watch, with stories ranging from compulsory black-box recorders being placed in new cars to repeated wrangling over the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) keeping us occupied. In the meantime we have also been building up to our first major piece of research and continue to seek out stories of injustice at the hands of our overbearing state. Please do remember to send us details if you or someone you know have been the victim of oppressive and unjustified big brother bullying…for instance like these good people.
The Grim Ripa
Ripa, for those unaware, is a piece of legislation brought in by the government nine years ago to help monitor terrorism and organised crime on the internet and mobile phones. When Ripa was passed in 2000, only nine organisations, such as the police and security services, were allowed to use it; but as of 2008, that number had risen to 792, including 474 councils.
Big Brother Watch has kept a close eye on the use of Ripa by local authorities (the most frequent offenders of its misuse) since our creation and in the past we have highlighted cases of abuse by Wandsworth Council and its use in monitoring our shopping habits.
We have been tracking the news all week on the website and also appeared in the media voicing our opposition to the use of Ripa by unelected council bureaucrats. We will continue to call for more checks and balances until finally it is used as it was intended – to catch dangerous criminals, rather than create criminals out of law abiding citizens.
Big Brother Watch moves onto Facebook
For those of you on Facebook, the Big Brother Watch Group is now available here (you may need to log-in to your Facebook account before being able to see the group).
We are hoping the group will become a forum for discussion of the big topics of the day in individual liberty and personal privacy. It will also give you a chance to interact with both your fellow BBW supporters and the BBW staff, who will visit the group regularly to update followers on what is going on with Big Brother Watch.
Blogs of the Week
Letter from America – a state-wide poll to violate privacy and intimidate voters - Our third guest post on the website comes courtesy of Ewan Watt in Minnesota, who writes about a shameful attempt by a group in Washington State to ‘out’ signatories to a pro-gay rights petition.
GPS tracking devices on the high-street - For just £50 you too can play at being James Bond and track employees, family members or anyone who leaves their mobile phone in your vicinity long enough for you to install software on it…tremendous.
Thursday 5th November 2009
Daily Express – Curb on Big Brother ‘doesn’t go far enough’
Alex Deane, of civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said: “Unaccountable council officials shouldn’t be able to intrude into our lives as they currently do. Abuse is rampant.”
Daily Telegraph – Child support investigators get new spying powers
…Dylan Sharpe, campaign director of Big Brother Watch, said: “Saying that these new extensions to RIPA will only target benefits cheats and parents that fail to pay child support is all well and good; but given recent experience most people will be waiting for cases that show the powers are being used for other, more nefarious reasons.”
Wednesday 4th November 2009
Independent – Town halls set to lose surveillance powers
…Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “Ripa abuse is rampant – from spying on dog walkers to people’s dustbins, to parents wanting their children to go to schools in a particular catchment area.
Leith FM – Alex Deane interviewed on Logan’s Brunch show
Tuesday 3rd November 2009
City Talk 103.5FM – Alex Deane interviewed on the Legal Surgery show
Monday 2nd November 2009
Daily Telegraph - EU proposes black boxes for cars
Dylan Sharpe, campaign director for Big Brother Watch, said: “These boxes are yet another means of surveillance that will give anyone with the means to decode them the ability to find out exactly where you have been.
“It starts with the police and insurance companies and ends with vicious employers and jealous partners watching your journeys.”
Imagine a UK without the heavy-hand of EU surveillance…
Indeed, Shami Chakrabarti, the director of human rights group Liberty, described the introduction of such mass surveillance techniques as a “sinister step” for any country, adding that it was “positively chilling” on a European scale.
Dr Lee Rotherham has written a new book in which he imagines a Britain 10 years into the future having rejected the EU, and you can own one of the first 5,000 copies for free by going to this website: http://www.greateudebate.com/order/
It's time to name, shame and take a snapshot of the worst excesses of our Big Brother State:
- Followed by surveillance cameras on your way to the shops?
- Is there a building or institution near you which stands as an icon of our overbearing state?
We have thousands of stickers like the one on the right and we want to give them away so that you can name and shame the everyday invaders of your privacy.
Send us your name and address to [email protected] together with the number of stickers you would like us to send and we will post them in an envelope to that address, completely free of charge. Then email us your pictures and the best images will be hosted on the blog!
Below are a selection of photos taken to start the game off. The rogue's gallery is now available to view here.
Alan Pearce has worked as a journalist, broadcaster and author for thirty years. He has covered conflicts around the world and whilst the BBC Afghanistan correspondent im 1996 he was seriously injured covering the Taliban takeover of Kabul. He lives in France.
I am trapped in the plot of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’. I can see what’s going on all around me but everybody else is too busy watching ‘The X-Factor’ or ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ to notice. This government can now pass any law – no matter how appalling – and no one will say boo.
To my mind, they crossed the Rubicon this month with the latest Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, signing a law that allows a host of town hall officials, quangos and agencies from the Royal Mail to the Rural Payments Agency – even civilian investigators – to force their way into our homes, seize cash, freeze assets and confiscate property to recover minor fines.
In one of the most audacious acts of ‘function creep’, laws aimed at confiscating the yachts and villas of the masters of the criminal underworld are now been turned against the ordinary citizen should they fail to pay a parking fine or fall behind with their council tax.
To make matters worse, those collecting the debts will get a share of the proceeds which makes a mockery of our independent legal system. Will anyone be surprised if they now set their sights on the easy targets?
This government has already introduced 430 laws allowing officials to enter our homes. Debt collectors and bailiffs have remarkable powers allowing them to determine the amount of violence necessary to recover debts. And woe betides the house-holder who tries to stop them, with fines of up to £2,500 and a year in prison.
It amazes me that while our troops are apparently exporting democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan, we sit by and allow a minister to smash down the doors to our private castles by amending the Proceeds of Crime Act with a Statutory Instrument – effectively a flick of the pen that allows for no Parliamentary debate.
Even the chairman of the Police Federation, Paul McKeever, drew a sharp breath when he likened the move to the new terror and surveillance powers being turned on ‘bin criminals’ and potential school catchment cheats by junior council staff.
When I mention to people that next year (2010) they will need to apply for an exit visa to leave the country, they look at me in amazement. ‘What, Britain?’ they ask. Yes, the very same place that hosts the Mother of Parliaments, the cradle of modern democracy, etcetera.
According to legal publishers Sweet & Maxwell, around eight new criminal offences are added to the list every day. People are so numbed by the tsunami of legislation that they have entered the twilight zone and are happily oblivious to the changes around them. As Hitler put it: “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think.”
How fortunate for today’s establishment – and especially for the police – that so few can be bothered to notice let alone think. We need to remember that our greatest successes on the road to democracy have been achieved through public protest, not by the flourish of a minister’s pen.
Without the Suffragettes, the women of Britain would not have secured the vote when they did. You can go back as far as you like. King John was held captive at Runnymede until he signed the Magna Carta – and that act of kidnap is today seen as the cornerstone of our democracy.
With this latest intrusion, I wonder if there is no limit to what we will accept. Would we draw the line if they tattooed all of our forearms? Or would we accept it to safeguard our ‘freedom’?
The time has come to take matters into our own hands again because the government can no longer claim to be acting in our best interests. We must now ask:
Whose Side Are They On?
If you would like to contribute a guest post, please contact us.
Harrow Council… wants 2,000 people – one for every 100 residents – to sign up as a "Neighbourhood Champion" and report minor crimes, anti-social behaviour, litter and vandalism.
As always, these "policies" are failure-driven. To drive for a better police force never seems to cross the minds of those who propose snoopers' charters.
Furthermore, as I've discussed elsewhere in the context of handing local government and quangoes vast new seizure and intrusion powers, there seems to be no "joined up thinking" on offer from our masters, either – Alan Johnson has had to tell councils to cut back on their surveillance, after the uproar over Poole council spying on a family over their school catchment area, so instead, councils are now trying to get us to spy on one another!
If they’re “successful” it will lead to even less trust and ever more surveillance. An Orwellian culture depends on everyone spying on everyone else – just as Harrow wants.
By Alex Deane
There are reports today that the government wants to send health and safety inspectors into the homes of households with under-15's; under the auspices of preventing indoor accidents.
According to the Daily Mail:
NICE's draft guidelines call for inspections of home safety to be carried out by trained staff from the NHS or councils. Officials would identify homes where children are thought to be most at risk of accidents and 'offer home risk assessments'.
The guidance states: 'A home risk assessment involves systematically identifying potential hazards in the home, evaluating those risks and proving information-or advice on how to reduce them.'
Devices specified by the guidelines including smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, hot water temperature restrictors, safety and stair gates, and oven, window and door guards and locks.
There will be repeated return visits to check that parents have maintained their safety devices.
So, once again we are faced with new legislation that increases the prospect of state inspectors entering our homes. It starts as a consensual decision; then those that refuse are blackmarked; and it ends up with the inspectors barging into your home unannounced at 3am.
This is nanny-statism at its very worst. The home has always held little dangers and potential accidents since you and I were children. Why is it now that the government feels it necessary to waste time and money, whilst trampling our privacy, sending their agents into our houses to try and wipe them out?
By Dylan Sharpe