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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


£330,000 for some more CCTV?

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

Cherwell_logo The Bicester Advertiser is carrying a piece about CCTV in Cherwell district getting "a high-tech overhaul" to the tune of £330,000.

What does that considerable chunk of change get you?

Old monitors and video recorders are being replaced by new LCD screens and a hard-disk recording system.

The piece goes on to say

Cherwell District Council, which owns the equipment, is footing the bill.

Which is a slippery way of saying that the people who live there are paying for it.  Were they asked?

And one more thing:

The new system will also be capable of coping with an unlimited number of cameras if more were added in the future.

Oh, good.

By Alex Deane

Speed camera snaps stationary car…twice

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

Speed camera A little way down Jeff Buck's street in Nuthall, Nottinghamshire, there is a speed camera. Due to a lack of off-road parking, Jeff parks his car in the road outside his house. In the past few weeks Jeff has received two different speeding tickets from the camera on his street…while his car has been parked.

I'll let Jeff explain the rest (as taken from the Nottingham Evening Post):

"I assumed the first time it happened that the police would put something in place to prevent it from happening again.

"I'm concerned now that every time someone triggers the camera I'll get these notices. I am amused by it, but also angry that I have to go to the trouble of contacting the police."

Jeff received his latest apology from Notts Police on Monday. He added:

"The photograph must presumably show two vehicles, with mine parked halfway on the pavement and road. It's amazing that whatever system is in place cannot tell the difference between a car that is motionless and one travelling at 37mph."

It truly is amazing, Jeff, and a sad example of the type of flawed surveillance technology our police and councils are coming to rely upon.

By Dylan Sharpe

The FBI faked emergencies to obtain thousands of phone records

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Fbi_1 Over at the ever-excellent Register, a story that should make you sit up and smack the monitor -

The FBI fabricated terrorism emergencies to obtain thousands of phone records between 2002 and 2006

The Bureau created "exigent letters" to get around rules that had already been significantly loosened by the Patriot Act. The letters were used to obtain some 2,000 phone records, The Washington Post reports.

Washington Post and New York Times journalists were among the targets.

The internal concerns were confirmed in emails that are part of an investigation by the Justice Department's inspector general, which is due to report this month.

If true, this is just unbelievably wrong.

By Alex Deane

Guerrilla sticker picture of last week

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We saw this photo sent in by prolific sticker guerrilla ZacS – can there be a more telling picture of our Big Brother State? - and thought we'd share it with you.

If you haven't taken a look at the gallery recently, the number of photos is rising weekly. And if you haven't got your stickers yet, just get in touch with an address and the number of stickers you want and we'll send them straight out, free of charge!

The chance to name, shame, and take a photo of our overbearing state awaits!

Big Brother Britain

Man arrested under terrorism act for Twitter joke

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

Last week a 26 year-old man, upon hearing that his local airport was closed due to snow and with a planned trip to Ireland just 8 days away, wrote the following 'tweet' to his followers on social-networking site Twitter:

"Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"

Twitter_1457340c While perhaps a little close to the mark under the current atmosphere of fear surrounding airport security (one that has, of course, prompted our dear leader into installing intrusive body scanners up and down the country), what happened next could only be described as a massive overreaction.

As reported in the Independent:

A week after posting the message on Twitter, Paul Chambers was arrested under the Terrorism Act and questioned for almost seven hours by detectives who interpreted his post as a security threat.

After he was released on bail, he was suspended from work pending an internal investigation, and has, he says, been banned from the Doncaster airport for life.

"I would never have thought, in a thousand years, that any of this would have happened because of a Twitter post," said Mr Chambers, 26. "I'm the most mild-mannered guy you could imagine."

Now, Big Brother Watch fully supports the use of intelligence and data to track-down those who would try and commit terrorism (as opposed to random stop and searches and invasive scanners etc). 

However it is pretty clear that a mid-20's, East Midlands-born man with no previous convictions, who posts an empty threat on a social networking site, is not announcing his next target so much as being slightly injudicious with his choice of words.

It is in times of hightened stress that our freedom and liberties are most sorely tested. In this case, it is fair to say that the police failed the test.

By Dylan Sharpe

Power2010 – Help make freedom and privacy a top issue

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

For those who haven't yet heard of Power2010 this is how they explain the campaign:

Power2010-logo Our plan is simple. We want to identify the five key reforms that will change the way we do politics in this country – and we want you to tell us what these should be.

Together we will ensure every candidate standing for election backs these reforms so that the next Parliament delivers the change we need.

These worthy, if perhaps optimistic, aims are set to provide an interesting case study into what the general public really cares about - as opposed to the political elite.

The final shortlist of 29 issues was decided at a recent convention and they are now available to view on the Power2010 website where the public can vote for their favourites over the next 5 weeks.

At present, scrapping ID cards and rolling back the database state stands at an impressive number 2 in the voting, which is very encouraging. It would be good to see reduce the use of statutory instruments (a tool by which some of the most intrusive and repressive legislation has been introduced to Britain in the past decade) and expanding the scope of the Freedom of Information Act (a suggestion from our friends at the TaxPayers' Alliance) also make the top 5.

By Dylan Sharpe 

In the week it has been ruled unlawful…

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 7 Comments

…Sussex PCSO's issue two schoolboys with stop and search forms for damage they didn't cause.

Sledging 12 year-old Jacob Mogre and Charlie Stakim, 11, were about to start sledging down a hill in West Sussex, when, as explained by the Daily Mail:

…they were beckoned by two police community support officers (and) asked why they were not in school and then quizzed about damage to a nearby fence.

They politely told the officers they knew nothing about the fence, but instead of simply being allowed to carry on playing they were given an official ‘stop and search’ form which they had to sign themselves.

Their parents have now been told the youngsters’ details will now go on a police database.

There are three points to make from this story. The first is in reference to that final line – these are two innocent boys whose details should be immediately binned. They committed no offence and they should absolutely not be added to any database.

The second is that there was simply no need for the PCSOs to issue the 'stop and search' papers. Community policing should be about having friendly chats with the public. The police had no reason to suspect the boys other than the fact they were out sledging. So why not just ask without the paperwork?

Finally, it is cases like this which demonstrate why the ECHR's decision on section 44 needs to be taken up by the government as soon as possible. It is a deeply flawed method of solving or preventing crimes which, more often than not, targets innocent people completely unnecessarily.

By Dylan Sharpe

‘Web Cop’ to patrol internet for anti-police comments

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 35 Comments

Metro 'web officer' clipped Big Brother Watch completely missed this story when it appeared in the press last Friday (not altogether surprising given that it was given only minimal coverage in the Metro – see right – and Star), but apparently West Midlands Police are about to employ a full-time 'web cop'.

As explained by the Daily Star:

The officer will search for criticism of the police and use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Bebo to promote the force.

Assistant Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie told Police Review yesterday: “There will be someone on the web chatting about West Midlands Police right now, about whether they have had bad service or if they have heard a rumour about guns and gangs.”

He added: “A lot of chatter is ill-informed. We need to be much smarter about identifying these conversations so we can join in and influence what people think.”

How can this possibly be a good use of a policeman's time? The force will no doubt defend it by saying the 'web cop' will also look out for criminal activity online; but there are already more specific web-officers (e.g. in CEOP and the Fraud Squad) doing this on a case-by-case basis.

Two further points need to be made. Firstly, there are innumerable cases of officials from government or private companies trying to influence online behaviour and failing miserably. People invariably use the internet to air their greviances and will not appreciate having the official line repeated back to them.

Secondly, Big Brother Watch is concerned that this role is designed to prevent criticism of the police from taking place online. Those with understandable greviances should be free to air them in a democratic forum without fear of reprisal. We would appreciate the West Midlands police giving assurances that there will be no black-list created as a result of the web cop's work.

By Dylan Sharpe

Many thanks to Rodney for the tip on this story – much appreciated

Another school starts fingerprinting students

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

Childfingerprint Just before Christmas, Tory PPC Andrea Leadsom wrote a guest piece about her discovery that schools were regularly taking the fingerprints of their students as a means of identification.

In her post, she said that she would be writing to her local council to ask that they reject any attempts by schools in her area to introduce fingerprint scans.

However, today we have been called by a supporter in Hull who has flagged that a school in his local area has begun gathering fingerprints despite the objections of the council leader.

As reported by the Hull Daily Mail:

City council leader Carl Minns has criticised Hull Trinity House School for installing a biometric fingerprint system for pupils to get their school meals.

Councillor Minns says it goes against guidance issued to schools by the council.

The school, in Princes Dock Street, city centre, started using the system this week. Cllr Minns told the Mail: "My principal objection is on the grounds of information security.

"At some point the school will have to store a child's data on a computer and if it is subject to hacking or proper security is not there, then once the data is out there, it is out there for life and you can't get it back."

In recent days Big Brother Watch has been encouraging its supporters to bombard several misbehaving local councils, so it is refreshing to see a council leader showing such commonsense and concern for individual privacy.  

Councillor Carl Minns we applaud you for this stance and we will keep our readers updated on the progress of the council in getting Hull Trinity House School to reverse its position.

By Dylan Sharpe

This is not a joke

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 2 Comments

Playmobile Can there be anything more amusingly telling about the state of our surveillance society than the Playmobil Security Check Point?

By Alex Deane