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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 of things

RFID Taking the Mickey?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in International, Internet of things, Privacy, Technology | 5 Comments

Today’s Independent reports on the latest front in retail convenience and privacy, with Disney’s plans to utilise RFID technology. 5436253998_eefbd95f25_b

“The latest kerfuffle has resulted from Disney’s plan to introduce an RFID wristband – “the MagicBand” – at its parks during 2013. It would function as a room key, a parking ticket, a pass for certain rides, a payment system and, if you opted in, a personal ID that would, say, allow Disney characters to greet you or your children by name. The online reaction to this plan ranges from “awesome” to “terrifying”.

Disney says that it’s trying to “appeal to customers more efficiently” in a way that’s “transformational” to its business; critics say that it enables the company to “monitor, track and analyse your every activity”. When the plans became public, Congressman Ed Markey complained to Disney about the “surreptitious use of a child’s information”, a claim that was deftly rubbished by the company – but the move still furrows the brows of privacy campaigners, including Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch.”

RFID isn’t a particularly new technology, but as it’s sophistication increases and new demands emerge for data on what consumers are doing off-line to keep up with online tracking, the reality is that it offers yet another way to track us. Particularly in environments designed for children, the broader issue about how we educate young people about privacy is a concern when they are told to accept as normal a degree of tracking in everyday environments.

Yes, it does also offer new convenience for customers so as ever, the critical issue is how companies detail the systems – and if consumers have a real choice between using the technology or not. Consumers need to be aware of what data is being collected, how it is linked to other data and how it will be used. Critically, consumers also need to know if third parties will be using the data and if so, who.

Big Brother Watch joined a campaign in the US against the use of RFID in schools and we are monitoring to see how the technology – and other kinds of physical tracking – are deployed in the UK.





Fifteen billion online devices by 2015

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Communications Data Bill, Data Protection, Internet of things, Privacy, Smart Meters, Surveillance | 7 Comments

The internet of things is coming, and it’s not just the CIA who are excited.

Last week Intel, the chip manufacturer, predicted that by 2015 there will be more than 15 billion internet-connected devices and one third of these connected devices will be intelligent systems.

The CIA are already getting excited, with Director David Petraeus talking about the”transformational” effect on “clandestine tradecraft.” The proposed draft Communications Data Bill is so broadly drafted it’s been warned that a system to control your central heating could be covered by the legislation.

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Smart meters – the future of spying?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Internet of things, Mobile Phones, Online privacy, Smart Meters, Surveillance, United States | 6 Comments

As several major energy companies continue to rush ahead with installations – British Gas plans to install 2m by the end of this year – there is still no concrete privacy protection in place, nor a clear set of rules about how and when they can be installed – and what rights consumers have to switch them off.

Back in 2009 we warned of the dangers around smart meters and how they could give prying eyes an unprecedented look inside our homes. We welcomed the Energy Minister’s commitment that they would not be compulsory but it is clear that serious issues still exist.

And we’re not the only ones aware of the clandestine value of smart meters connected to smart appliances throughout your home – so is the CIA.

Speaking at an event organised by In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm, CIA Director David Petraeus said:

“Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters — all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing,”

He went on to say how these household spy devices “change our notions of secrecy.” Quite.

An internet of things is the next step in the evolution of the web. A new wave of web-enabled devices, from the latest HD TVs equipped with facial recognition to lightbulbs, will suddenly capture data about our every day lives and broadcast it to the world. Smart meters are the first step in commercialising some of this data, but the real risk is that if we do not put in place proper protection before they go live, the damage to privacy could be unprecedented.