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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


or stay out say Newham Council

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

It’s already been dubbed the ‘sex snoop list’ and residents are up in arms.

Newham Council’s decision to force residents to sign-in every visitor to their property in 30 tower blocks is a clear invasion of privacy and an entirely misguided response to a problem.

The policy was announced with less than 24 hours notice and staff are being asked to refuse entry to visitors who don’t sign in. Ridiculously, the council say it’s for fire safety and to combat anti-social behavior.

Despite finding the time and resources to implement the guest register, the council failed to fix the locks on doors for several years. Big Brother Watch knows which one would stop criminals and it isnt a list of who visited who.

Yet again a council has jumped for an intrusive solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Throwing civil liberties aside does not help create stronger communities, yet Newham Council seem intent on alientating residents with a total disregard for their privacy.

This is the kind of policy you’d expect in East Germany, not East London. Big Brother Watch is joining residents opposed to the scheme in calling for it to be abandoned immediately.

Restricting Public Demonstrations at London Olympics

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Home, Olympics | 5 Comments

In the wake of the Occupy movement, student protests and TUC rallies in London over the past year, the Home Office has ordered officials to draft plans for avoiding public protests during the London 2012 Olympics.  Such protests can be seen as both a security threat and an embarrassment to the host country.  Understandably, Government officials are keen to avoid tarnishing the much-awaited events of the coming summer with angry crowds or vocal protesters.

However, the means by which they intend to do so are disappointing at best.

We at Big Brother Watch understand that the realities of events such as the Olympics mean security concerns are much greater than usual.  As huge numbers of people swarm to one of the most global and symbolic events in the world, police and security will be confronted with major challenges requiring intensive training and quick and reasoned decision-making.  The reality is that any demonstration or protest can pose a very real threat to safety in London and the Olympic village for athletes, spectators and Londoners alike.  Terrorism threats and civil action can create chaos and public disturbance, which we have seen first-hand over the last year during protests against the cuts and the UK riots.  It is, therefore, hugely important to be aware of these risks and realities and to provide adequate security to ensure the events go off without a hitch.

Nevertheless, it is not necessary to do so by limiting the rights to free speech and a peaceful protest.

However justified the concerns for security, by taking this kind of action, the government, also appear to be keen on curbing free speech.  Regardless of the time or place, intentionally limiting the public’s right to protest is uncalled for and will inevitably be met with resistance.  Civil liberties campaigners will be quick to say that inhibiting such rights is a clear violation of the law and such a move will surely not be appreciated by lawyers, activists, or anyone interested in free speech, come to think of it.

Sheffield University professor Colin Hay said in response to these moves that if you attempt to limit the rights of individuals to a peaceful protest, then you invariably give them a reason to protest.  I’m inclined to agree and sympathetic to those who would feel slighted by these moves.

Rolling back civil liberties in the name of good PR or because security is shamefully unable to protect the public from or prevent security threats is simply unacceptable.  I’ve quoted him countless times, but I think this story warrants consultation of the brilliant statement of Benjamin Franklin: “Those who can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary security deserve neither.”

Big Brother is watching – and listening – in Oxford

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Audio recording, CCTV, Civil Liberties, Home, Information Commissioner, Privacy, Surveillance | 32 Comments

Be careful what you say if you decide to take a taxi or the bus in Oxford – every word will be recorded.

Despite being in clear breach of the guidance issued by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) and a gross invasion of privacy, Oxford Council has decided to make it a condition for all licensed black cabs in the city to record both audio and video.

The audio will be available to council officers and the police, and will cover any time the taxi’s engine is running and the 30 minutes after the engine has been switched off.

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Selling Personal Data

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Data Protection, Home, Online privacy | 5 Comments

According to the ICO yesterday, a former gambling industry worker has plead guilty to committing three offences under section 55 of the Data Protection Act.  For these offences, Marc Ben-Ezra was handed a three year conditional discharge and £1,700 fine in addition to just over £800 pounds in court fees.  This is his penance for selling more than 65,000 individuals’ personal data for a profit of around £25,000.

This case is a particularly blaring example of where the laws surrounding data protection are lacking.  Not only was Mr Ben-Ezra able to obtain and remove personal data from his place of work, but he was able to make a profit from doing so-even after his sentence for pleading guilty was handed down.   Read more

NHS patient confidentiality breached 5 times every week

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Data Protection, Home, Research and reports, Social Networking | 18 Comments

A new Big Brother Watch report reveals how medical information is lost, shared on Facebook and how NHS staff look at each other’s medical records

According to Freedom of Information Act requests, between July 2008 and July 2011 there were at least 806 separate incidents where patient medical records were compromised, highlighted a shocking number of incidents in the NHS where patient medical records were accessed inappropriately.

This included:

  • 23 incidents of patient information being posted on social networking sites
  • 91 incidents of NHS staff looking up details of colleagues
  • 24 NHS Trusts saw confidential information stolen, lost or left behind by staff
  • 44 NHS trusts failed to respond to the Freedom of Information request and 55 Trusts refused to release all or some if the information requested.

Despite these breaches of Data Protection policy, just 102 cases resulted in dismissal of staff.

You can download the report here.

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “This research highlights how the NHS is simply not doing enough to ensure confidential patient information is protected.

“The information held in medical records is of huge personal significance and for details to be disclosed, maliciously accessed or lost and these cases represents serious infringements on patient privacy.

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Where’s the porn, we’re British?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Home, Online privacy, Privacy, Web blocking | 15 Comments

“The Supreme Court says pornography is anything without artistic merit that causes sexual thoughts; that’s their definition, essentially. No artistic merit, causes sexual thoughts. Hmm. . . . Sounds like . . . every commercial on television, doesn’t it?” Bill Hicks

Later today we’re expecting a speech from the Prime Minister on internet adult content and how four of the UK’s biggest internet service providers (ISPs) are agreeing to implement an opt-in to adult material online.

We should tread very carefully when developing state-sanctioned censorship of the internet. Let alone the quagmire of deciding what should be censored, it is a dangerous path to go down to expect technology to replace parental oversight and responsibility.

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Keeping up with Big Brother Watch at Conservative Party Conference

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 1 Comment

So far, Big Brother Watch has been busy at Conservative Party Conference.  Thanks to our Director, Nick Pickles, and former Director, Daniel Hamilton, our fringe events went excellently.  We have heard a lot of interesting comments and support since the weekend as well.

Yesterday, Conor Burns MP, took part in our fringe event on the Coalition’s track record with civil liberties.  He discussed a policies including the limits the European Arrest Warrant places on the British system, a British Bill of Rights and other issues with the rule of law and due process.  His comments were featured on the BBC news site last night and can be found here.  We also heard great words from David Jones MP as he spoke of some of the victories civil liberties campaigners have seen since the Coalition came into power.  These are encouraging developments, but of course, we’re anxious to see more! Read more

Big Brother Watch at Conservative Party Conference

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

Big Brother Watch is once again participating in the Freedom Zone at Conservative Conference, hosting two meetings with a range of excellent speakers.

On the Sunday, I’ll be discussing the European Arrest Warrant, and the urgent need to reform its use. Speakers include Nick de Bois MP, leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament Martin Callanan MEP, Dominic Raab MP and Andrew Symeou, a victim of European Arrest Warrant.  (Sunday 2 October: 4.45pm: The European Arrest Warrant: Time for Urgent Reform)

Monday will see a broader discussion of the Coalitions’ track record on civil liberties and what the remaining years of the Parliament may hold. Speakers include Conor Burns MP, David Jones MP and former Big Brother Watch Director, Dan Hamilton. (Monday 3 October, 3.15pm: Freedom, Privacy and Civil Liberties: Where next for the Coalition?)

I will also be speaking at a Taxpayers Alliance event looking at Digital Policy under the Coalition. I’ve promised to try to keep my opinions on Cliff Richard under wraps during what is sure to be a lively fringe meeting. (Tuesday 4 October, 1.45pm: Digital Policy Under the Coalition)

So if you’ll be around at Conference, do step into one of our events, we’d love to see you there.  Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @bbw1984 to see our latest news, blogs and information from across the weekend.

Betfair fails to inform millions of customers of credit card details loss

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

The news that online gambling firm Betfair lost millions of customers’ credit card details in a cyber attack 18 months ago – and then did not notify customers - is nothing short of a scandal.

For the personal details of millions of customers to be lost is one thing – but to then fail to inform those affected is outrageous.  Whoever made the decision to sacrifice the financial security of millions of people  for the sake of Betfair’s reputation should resign immediately.

Big Brother Watch has continued to highlight how the regulation of personal data in the UK is dangerously lacking. This incident reaffirms the need for more severe penalties for individuals and companies who do not fulfil their responsibility to protect personal information.

It once again highlights how the volume of personal information held by private companies poses a clear threat to individual privacy and civil liberties if it s not adequately protected.

If also reaffirms the need for consumers to have a ‘right to know’ about security breaches concerning their own data, as is the case in the US.

New layout, same lax attitude to privacy: the Facebook Timeline is coming

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home, Online privacy, Social Networking | 5 Comments

In a matter of weeks, if you’re one of the 800m users of Facebook you’ll be seeing (another) major shift in how your profile looks.

The new ‘timeline’ layout is already in use by developers and will be implemented for everyone in a matter of weeks. You might be surprised by this, as unless you were watching Mark Zuckerberg’s speech at Facebook’s f8 conference last week, the site hasn’t begun to tell users about the changes.

It appears Facebook are once again playing fast and loose with personal information. Despite these changes being imminent, users are still in the dark about their implications and for many it may mean a nasty surprise as information they believe to be private – going back from the date they joined the site – is suddenly visible to anyone.

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