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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

Internet freedom

Problems of Social Media Law Dismissed

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom, Social Networking, Technology | Leave a comment

5946829399_e633991652_oThe legislation that governs the use of social media is generally appropriate”, or so says a report from the House of Lords Communications Committee. This is despite the legislation being passed, almost without exception, before social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter were launched.

In its report the Committee found that social media law was “generally appropriate for the prosecution of offenses committed using the social media“. Yet with a host of cases that many believe should have never even led to arrest never mind to court, we find it concerning that this conclusion has been reached. As it stands, laws that now govern the use of platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, such as the Malicious Communications Act 1988, were drafted with the intention of combating traditional communications, like threatening phone calls.

As a result, it would be unreasonable to expect the Parliamentarians of the day to have thought about how the internet could change the nature of communications irrevocably. Indeed, during one of the evidence sessions, the situation was likened to “when a cruise liner all of a sudden needs to become a troop-carrying ship” in a time of war.

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EU Chief wants to block ‘undesirable’ content on the web

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Europe, Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom, Leveson, Web blocking | 17 Comments

europe flagYesterday the new European Union anti-terror chief appeared infront of MPs to discuss various issues, including what people are reading online.

As we’ve previously warned, the UK’s Anti-Extremism task force has already alluded to greater filtering of web content and now the EU has taken it one step further, with Gilles de Kerchove telling MPs he wanted to remove “not illegal, undesirable websites.”

Setting out the action being taken by the EU he said: “The Commissioner for Home Affairs will set up a forum to discuss with the big players – Google, Facebook, Twitter – how we can improve the way one removes from the internet the illegal and if not illegal, undesirable websites.”

Freedom of speech, and of the press, are essential parts of a free and democratic society. It should not be in the gift of politicians to decide what we read or who can write it and absolutely not on the basis of what some may consider undesirable. If content is to be blocked, it should be a decision taken by a court of law and only when a clear criminal test has been met establishing the content is illegal.

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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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A (brief) recent history of security and the free press

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Databases, Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, PRISM, Privacy, Surveillance, Terrorism Legislation, United States | 2 Comments

Statesman

Today, the editor of the Guardian gives evidence to the Home Affairs select committee, as part of the committee’s work on counter terrorism.

Perhaps that might give the committee to question why Parliament learned of much of GCHQ’s activity from the newspaper, rather than from Ministers. Indeed, it seems on current evidence that will remain the case – as the Lords found on the 20th November, when they were told they could not even be informed which law authorised Project Tempora.

Lord Richard: My Lords, of course the Minister cannot go into details on these very sensitive matters. We all accept that. However, for the life of me, I do not see why she cannot answer a straightforward Question about which Minister authorised the project and why the existence of the project was not disclosed to the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill. These are not sensitive issues. They are pure matters of fact, surely capable of being answered.

Baroness Warsi: It is interesting that the noble Lord interprets it in that way but I think he would also accept that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on intelligence matters, which includes any comments on the project.

We have been repeatedly assured that it would be unacceptable for a central database of communications to be built – both by those in Government and those seeking to be.

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Who decides what we can read?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom, Web blocking | 8 Comments

commons daySpeaking at the Internet Service Providers Association, Security Minister James Brokenshire said that an announcement on blocking extremist websites is ‘forthcoming.’

This follows the Prime Minister telling Parliament on October 23 that: “We have had repeated meetings of the extremism task force — it met again yesterday — setting out a whole series of steps that we will take to counter the extremist narrative, including by blocking online sites.”

Such an announcement has not been preceded by a public consultation, or any engagement with civil liberties and freedom of speech organisations. The threat the freedom of speech is only too clear.

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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 | 9 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

 

Parliamentarians warn of ‘deliberate failiure’ to conceal GCHQ capability

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, PRISM, Surveillance, Terrorism Legislation, United States | 2 Comments

ben-cctv-bigShortly after Lord Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, condemned the way the new head of MI5 had dismissed calls for greater scrutiny several senior figures involved in the scrutiny of the draft communications data bill have said that Britain’s spy agencies may be operating outside the law in the mass internet surveillance programmes uncovered by Edward Snowden.

Lord Strasburger, a Liberal Democrat member of the joint committee, has also said: “You have to wonder why, even in the secret sessions, none of the witnesses mentioned Project Tempora … It was highly relevant to our work and I believe that deliberate failure to reveal it amounts to misleading parliament.”

The chairman of the Joint Committee on the draft Communications Data Bill, Lord Blencathra, has said that he is concerned and annoyed that the committee was never told about GCHQ’s mass surveillance capabilities. He said: The committee was not made aware at all of anything relating to Prism or Tempora, or even given any hint. We had a joint memo from MI5, MI6, GCHQ setting out why in their view the bill was essential, the usual stuff you get on terrorists, paedophiles, organised crime. But there was no hint whatsoever they were engaged in [these] programmes. I certainly feel we were given less information than the committee should have had. I am not suggesting we were deceived or misled but someone or some people were very economical with the actuality. I think we would have regarded this as highly, highly relevant. I personally am annoyed we were not given this information.”

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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 | 17 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.

 

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