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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

Human Rights Act

“Legal Minds Agree” that CRB is a breach of human rights

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CRB check, Human Rights Act, Legal Action, Privacy | 33 Comments

iStock_000016822421MediumIn a landmark ruling, the Court of Appeal has ruled that the law which requires people to disclose all previous convictions to certain employers is a breach of human rights.

In this case, a 21 year old man wanted cautions to be removed from his criminal record. His crime, being accused of stealing two bicycles at aged 11. Information about the cautions had been flagged up when applying for a part-time job at a local football club at the age of 17 and later when he applied for a university course in sports studies.

An urgent reform of the Criminal Records Bureau is required. This case highlights how the Coalition’s reforms have not gone far enough and the CRB system continues to lead to absurd results in too many cases, including thousands of people being wrongly branded criminals.

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Drink driving, national security and secret justice

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Human Rights Act, Legal Action, Terrorism Legislation | 1 Comment

Last week we warned of the dangerous implications of the Justice and Security Green paper and today a case has emerged that not only highlights the existing dangers of secret justice, but also the potential for abuse of the sweeping powers proposed by Ken Clarke.

In today’s Sun and Hereford Times, a story has emerged about an alleged SAS employee being convicted of drink driving. Despite causing £40,000 of damage and being more than twice the drink drive limit, the man – Mr G – was only charged with drink driving and so his case was heard at a magistrates court. He was fined£520, banned from driving for 12 months and has been ordered to pay the family involved £400 in compensation, £85 court costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

The Government sought – and won – an order preventing the disclosure of the man’s identity. In the past, these orders have been overturned, most recently in the case of convicted child abuser Ian Tuckley. The cost of taking on the Government in court is a huge burden for a local newspaper to take on, and so it is not surprising when the orders sometimes go unchallenged.

Importantly, because the man was not charged with a more serious offence, for example dangerous driving or criminal damage, which given the scale of the damage caused would not have been unreasonable, his case did not go before a Crown court. This meant the arguments about protecting the man’s identity were not heard by a senior judge, but a magistrate.

The Magistrate did rule however that the man’s human rights meant his identity should not be disclosed,

Whether the party involved is a local newspaper or a family who have been the victim of wrongdoing, open justice is a fundamental part of a democratic society.

There is clearly a need to protect those working in sensitive roles, but given the serious implications for justice these kind of orders should be used sparingly, not as a routine procedure. It is no secret the SAS are based in Hereford and those working there should not be held as above the law.

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Human rights and cat fights – and why reform matters

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Human Rights Act | 2 Comments

Writing on the Huffington Post this morning, I outline the importance of a serious debate over the Human Rights Act and how it is functioning.

“The Human Rights Act has clearly had unintended consequences. Over creative judges, not grounded in the British legal tradition, have extended the scope of a law meant to protect against the very worst of humanity to defend those who do not value it at all.

If a badly researched anecdote is the last we hear of the debate to reform a malfunctioning law, our political classes are failing the society they were elected to defend.”