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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

International

Surveillance law reform is not optional

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, International, Internet freedom, Online privacy, PRISM, Surveillance, United States | 1 Comment

camerasToday, some of the world’s biggest technology companies have spelled out the principles that they believe should underpin the balance between privacy and security online.

In full page advertisements eight firms, including Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Twitter, signed a joint letter calling for Governments to adopt the following principles to underpin a reform of surveillance legislation:

  • Limiting Governments’ Authority to Collect Users’ Information:
  • Oversight and Accountability
  • Transparency about Government Demands
  • Respecting the Free Flow of Information
  • Avoiding Conflicts Among Governments

We wholeheartedly support these principles and call for the British Government to take urgent steps to adopt them.

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Time for surveillance transparency

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Featured, Google, International, Internet freedom, Online privacy, Surveillance, Technology, United States | 8 Comments

cameras

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 ComRes on the public’s attitude to surveillance. Overwhelmingly they want more transparency about powers are being used.

  • 70% of British adults say British companies should publish reports on how often they receive requests for customer data from the police and security services.
  • 66% of British adults say that the Government should publish more data about how surveillance powers are used

 

Last year more than 570,000 data requests were made – up 15 percent from 2011 – by the police, security services, HMRC and various public bodies, including local councils and organisations like the Charity Commission, Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive. No breakdown of who is using the powers is made available, or what types of crime are being investigated.

Transparency is an essential part of ensuring surveillance powers are not abused and maintaining public confidence that they are being used proportionately. Much more information could be published without any risk to security.

British companies are not bound by secrecy laws from disclosing how many data requests they receive and they should follow the lead of companies like Microsoft and Google in publishing basic information about how many times they hand over customer data. We’re calling on companies like BT, Sky, Vodafone and EE to publish data about how many requests they receive from the police and security services in the same way that Google, Microsoft and Facebook do. Equally, Government can do much more.

Much more can be done to inform the debate. Already in the US much more data is published about how often surveillance powers are used and the Obama administration is moving to publish even more, including how many citizens are affected by requests and what sort of crimes are being investigated. It is possible to give the public a better understanding of how powers are being used without compromising security and it should be an urgent priority to explore what data could be made available.

Recently we wrote to the Prime Minister highlighting several pieces of information that have no security risks and should be public. They were:

  • The budget of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security committee
  • The number of data requests inspected by the Interception of Communications Commissioner to reach his error rate estimate
  • Figures on the use of surveillance powers broken down by agency, as opposed to the single UK figure currently published, including the scale of international intelligence sharing
  • The number of British citizens affected by such requests

Transparency is not a substitute for a proper legal framework and robust oversight. However, it is an important part of evaluating how the overall system is operating and at present far too much information is kept from the public on security grounds when in reality there is no security risk in publishing it. Such unnecessary secrecy only casts doubt upon what is happening.

UPDATE: BBW director, Nick Pickles, spoke to the BBC Sunday Politics (Yorkshire and Humberside) about surveillance transparency

 

Ideas to start the debate and reform surveillance

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Data Protection, Databases, Europe, International, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, PRISM, RIPA, Surveillance, Terrorism Legislation, United States | 1 Comment

Dear Prime Minister,

cc Deputy Prime Minister; Chair – ISC;  Chair – Home Affairs committee; Chair – Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill; Chair – LIBE Committee of the European Parliament; Chair – Joint Committee on Human Rights;

Yesterday you said that you would be happy to listen to ideas to improve the oversight and operation of safeguards concerning our intelligence agencies.

This is an extremely welcome and timely intervention, and an offer that we would like to take up enthusiastically.

Below are just a few of the well-established proposals to improve the operation, scrutiny and safeguards of surveillance powers.

-       Commission independent, post-legislative scrutiny of the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act 2000 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994, legislation that covers much internet surveillance but was written years before Facebook existed and when few households had internet access. If Parliament intends to allow the collection of data from every internet communication, it should expressly say so in primary legislation, covering both metadata and content

-       Publish, as the US Government has done, legal opinions that are used to underpin the ongoing surveillance framework

-       Allow the Intelligence and Security Committee to report to Parliament, and be chaired by an opposition MP, as called for by Lord King. It should also be able to employ technical experts to assist its work.

-       Publish the budget and investigatory capacity of the ISC, Interception of Communications Commissioner and Surveillance Commissioners

-       Reform the Investigatory Powers Tribunal so there is a presumption its hearings are held publicly, that it should state reasons for reaching its decisions and that its judgements can be appealed in court

-       End the need for Secretaries of State to approve appearances of the heads of agencies before Parliamentary committees, and allow agency and service heads to give evidence in public where appropriate

-       Establish an independent body to review the work of the agencies, as President Obama has done with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and ensure it has staff with relevant technical expertise

-       Lift any legal restrictions on British companies from publishing transparency reports about surveillance requests

-       Publish details of the use of surveillance powers broken down by agency, as opposed to the single UK figure currently published, including the scale of international intelligence sharing

-       Enhance whistleblower protection for those who wish to come forward from within the services

We would be delighted to meet with you or members of your Government to discuss these issues. At a time when the internet is an inescapable part of daily life, the modern economy and the delivery of public services, it is surely paramount that the laws that govern surveillance are fit for a digital age, and that the safeguards that operate are robust, properly resourced and can command public confidence.

Yours sincerely,

Anne Jellema, Chief Executive Officer, World Wide Web Foundation

Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group

Gus Hosein, Executive Director, Privacy International

Guy Herbert, General Secretary, No2ID

Nick Pickles, Director, Big Brother Watch

Professor Peter Sommer

Ross Anderson, Professor of Security Engineering, Cambridge

Caspar Bowden, Independent privacy researcher

Douwe Korff, Professor of International Law, London Metropolitan University

Judith Rauhofer, University of Edinburgh

Duncan Campbell, Investigative journalist and author of European Parliament report on Echelon

No debate please, we’re British.

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Databases, International, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, PRISM, Surveillance, United States | 2 Comments

ben-cctv-bigIn a speech to the  Royal United Services Institute on Tuesday, the Director General of MI5 said: “it causes enormous damage to make public the reach and limits of GCHQ techniques.Such information hands the advantage to the terrorists. It is the gift they need to evade us and strike at will.”

This is a sentiment expressed on the front page of various national newspapers. The bad guys, you may have guessed, are the Guardian and Edward Snowden.

To suggest that the Snowden disclosures allow terrorists to attack “at will” is both farfetched and disingenuous. Even in the US, nobody has sought to make such an assertion. Those newspapers who have reported this claim without critique or balance have done their readers a disservice.

Equally, and disappointingly, in his speech Andrew Parker did not mention why it was possible for a 29 year old contractor to the US Government to download thousands of documents about GCHQ’s techniques (nor have any of the media outlets reporting the speech asked such a question.)

Nor did he did not highlight that the US Government itself has sought to detail the operations, reach and capabilities of its agencies – the Director of National Intelligence has established a dedicated website for legal opinions, statements and factsheets – yes, factsheets – on what the NSA is doing.

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GCHQ faces legal action over mass surveillance

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Data Protection, Europe, Featured, International, Internet freedom, Legal Action | 12 Comments

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 agency has acted illegally.

A dedicated website – Privacy not Prism – has been set up to fund the legal action.

The laws governing how internet data is accessed were written when barely anyone had broadband access and were intended to cover old fashioned copper telephone lines. Parliament did not envisage or intend those laws to permit scooping up details of every communication we send, including content, so it’s absolutely right that GCHQ is held accountable in the courts for its actions.

These concerns have also been raised by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, who questioned if the legal framework is adequate.

When details recently emerged in the media about the Prism and Tempora programmes, codenames for previously secret online surveillance operations, it was revealed that GCHQ has the capacity to collect more than 21 petabytes of data a day – equivalent to sending all the information in all the books in the British Library 192 times every 24 hours. The disclosures have raised serious parliamentary concerns both in Britain and at the EU level.

Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors represent the applicants, instructing Helen Mountfield QC of Matrix Chambers and Tom Hickman and Ravi Mehta of Blackstone Chambers.

 

State sponsored cyber attack: Will we practice what we preach?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Europe, International, Internet freedom, Online privacy | 1 Comment

Image3Another week, another set of documents leaked by Edward Snowden. This time it has been reported that GCHQ is responsible for a cyber attack on Belgacom. Considering the Foreign Office has repeatedly condemned state sponsored cyber attack it appears that we aren’t practicing what we preach.

Speaking at the London Cyberspace Conference in 2011, the Foreign Secretary said: “State-sponsored attacks are not in the interests of any country long term, and those governments that perpetrate them need to bring them under control.”

It appears then that this message is only relevant to the countries that we seek, quite rightly, to condemn rather than to ourselves and our allies. The information leaked by Edward Snowden, and reported on by Der Spiegel, indicates that the goal of “Operation Socialist” was “to enable better exploitation of Belagcom” and to improve understanding of the provider’s infrastructure. It also appears that GCHQ used spying technology that had been developed by the NSA.

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British police are third highest users of Facebook data globally

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Communications Data Bill, Databases, Google, International, Internet freedom, Online privacy, Police, PRISM, Social Networking, Surveillance, United States | 5 Comments

facebook_logo-300x99Today Facebook has published it’s first transparency report, detailing law enforcement and national security requests from countries around the world. Britain requested data on 1,975 occasions, covering 2,337 users. In 32% of cases, Facebook declined to provide any data.

Thanks to the transparency reports of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter we continue to learn more about the scale of law enforcement being able to access information held by internet companies. Contrary to the claims by various politicians that the internet is a wild west, we know that Britain receives more data than any other country about Skype users, and Facebook’s data shows that the UK is the third highest user of Facebook data in the world, after the US and India.

In his introduction to the data, Colin Stretch, Facebook General Counsel says that “We strongly encourage all governments to provide greater transparency about their efforts aimed at keeping the public safe, and we will continue to be aggressive advocates for greater disclosure.”

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Intelligence and Securtity Committee reports on PRISM

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Databases, International, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, PRISM | 4 Comments

commons dayThe ISC has today made a statement on it’s investigation into PRISM, following the revelations made by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

While it appears the investigation was limited to PRISM, as opposed to Tempora or any of the other programmes we now know to be operational, it reaffirms that the statutory basis for PRISM at least is the 1994 Intelligence Services Act.

Of particular significance is paragraph six:

“Although we have concluded that GCHQ has not circumvented or attempted to circumvent UK law, it is proper to consider further whether the current statutory framework governing access to private communications remains adequate.”

Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “If the law is not fit for purpose, the question of not breaking it is largely irrelevant. These laws were written when the internet was unknown to the majority of people and was far from the minds of the Parliamentarians who drafted the laws GCHQ is now bound by many years on.

“When the Intelligence and Security Committee is raising concerns that the current legal framework is adequate, alarm bells should be ringing loud and clear that all is not well. Parliament must urgently turn its attention to this issue.

“I am deeply concerned that this investigation appears to have focused on only one of several programmes we now know to be operational, particularly the storage of the content of communications as they leave the UK. We are still a long way from getting to the bottom of what has been happening.”

GCHQ revelations must lead to Parliamentary inquiry into RIPA

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Freedom of Expression, International, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, Surveillance, Terrorism Legislation | 4 Comments

phone_exchangeRecent alarming revelations have raised some incredibly important questions about the use of surveillance techniques and Big Brother Watch, alongside seven other foremost campaign croups, have called on MPs to begin an enquiry into exactly how ministers and the security agencies have been interpreting the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), as reported in today’s Guardian.

After CIA officer Edward Snowdon revealed documents which showed that GCHQ has used advanced technology to access hundreds of millions of private telecommunications messages, including phone calls, emails and records of internet usage, questions have been rightly asked about the extent of GCHQ’s operations and their legality. The key programme goes by the name of Operation Tempora and it is argued that the gathering of the messages is completely legal because the traffic has left the UK and therefore becomes “external”. In our letter to the Home Affairs Select Committee, we argue that the advanced pace of technology has exposed the inadequate oversight of the surveillance agencies, while legal definitions written for landline telephones are now being used on fibre-optic internet connections.

New research: Global attitudes to privacy online

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Data Protection, Google, Information Commissioner, International, Internet freedom, Online privacy, Privacy, Research and reports, Social Networking | 14 Comments

serversOur latest research looks at consumer attitudes towards online privacy, with the findings confounding presumptions that consumers – young or old – do not care about their privacy.

Undertaken by ComRes, it involved 10,354 interviews across nine countries (UK, Germany, France, Spain, India, Japan, South Korea, Brazil and Australia) and the key findings were:

  • Three quarters (79%) globally say they are concerned about their privacy online.
  • Two-fifths (41%) of consumers surveyed globally say that consumers are being harmed by big companies gathering large amounts of personal data for internal use.
  • Two out of three (65%) of consumers surveyed believe that national regulators should do more to force Google to comply with existing regulations concerning online privacy and the protection of personal data.

Online privacy is a global issue of real importance to people and the overwhelming message is that citizens do not feel their authorities are doing enough to the desire of large companies to collect vast amounts of data on them. You can read the full research below.

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