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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

Legal Action

Paper on security and privacy for the ISC

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Databases, GCHQ, Information Commissioner, Legal Action, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, Technology, Terrorism Legislation, United States | Leave a comment

Big Brother Watch was invited to submit a paper to the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, relating to it’s inquiry into the balance between security and privacy.BNUARLICcAAiyCZ.jpg large

You can now read our submission below.


In a Democratic society, some secrecy is tolerated, as are some intrusions upon liberty and privacy, provided the legal framework is transparency, the oversight mechanisms robust and the overall sacrifices of liberty made with an appropriate level of understanding.

Recent revelations have made clear the scale of intrusion on our privacy in the name of security, enabled by an explosion in digital communications and the computing resources available to the state.

Ministers have assured the public no central database of internet communications would be created. We now know it existed already. Parliament and the public were not informed by Ministers, the Intelligence and Security Committee or the Commissioners.

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High Court rules Google Safari case can go ahead in the UK

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Legal Action, Online privacy | 2 Comments


Today the High Court took an important step in addressing ongoing concern about the collection of British people’s data by foreign companies.

A group of users of Apple’s Safari browser brought their action against Google after the company tracked their web use despite the ‘do not track’ feature of their browser being enabled. This was exposed by Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer back in February 2012. As Google is based in the US, today’s hearing was to determine if it the case could be heard in the UK, or should be brought in the US, as Google argued.

That argument did not succeed. Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled that the UK courts were the “appropriate jurisdiction” to try the claims.

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Committee widens inquiry into surveillance laws

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Communications Data Bill, Information Commissioner, Legal Action, Surveillance, Technology, Terrorism Legislation | 2 Comments

5946829399_e633991652_oThe Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has announced plans to broaden its investigation into whether the laws on digital surveillance and communications are adequate in the internet age.

This is a welcome step forward given the widespread concern that Britain’s surveillance laws are not fit for purpose, having been written before Facebook existed and when few people had internet access. However, such a debate cannot be allowed to take place behind closed doors and without pressing questions being asked about the legal justification for what we know to be already happening at GCHQ and elsewhere.

Indeed, this is the basis of our legal argument filed as part of the Privacy not Prism campaign – that Britain’s legal framework is not adequate and the surveillance being undertaken is neither necessary nor proportionate.

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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 | 18 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.


This Lobbying Bill must not pass.

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Freedom of Expression, Legal Action | 5 Comments

5946829399_e633991652_oWe agree with 38 Degrees. With Conservative Home. With the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. With Owen Jones. With the Quakers in Britain. With Labour List. Polly Toynbee, Helen Mountfield QC, British Medical Association, Shelter, the Royal British Legion, the British Heart Foundation and Guide Dogs. We could go on.

We expect this does not happen very often. What has led to this rare outbreak of cross-party unity, pan-political co-operation, non-ideological, rational agreement?

Ladies and Gentlemen, we give you the “Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill” Specifically, Part 2 of the Bill, which covers non-political party campaigning.

Some have reported on the concern that the bill could ‘gag’ charities. Others have highlighted how the administration burden could be huge. What is clear is that as the Bill currently stands, it is not fit for purpose.

However, there are some simple, fundamental points that we feel worthy of repeating.

Under existing law [Section 85(2) Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 – PPERA) expenditure is controlled with regard to “election material made available to the public or a selection of the public”. Under the Bill, this will widen to cover largely any activity, from advertising to producing a manifesto, leaflets, market research, transport and public events.

As Polly Toynbee writes, there is a clear risk that “Any organisation spending £5,000 a year and expressing an opinion on anything remotely political must register with the Electoral Commission.”

Mark Wallace on ConservativeHome makes the same point: “The Bill is so loose in its language and so vague in its drafting that anyone who spends over £5,000 on anything that can be in any way said to potentially affect an election will be caught up in the rules it lays out.”

The Bill poses a clear threat to freedom of speech.

The Bill introduces a test of expenditure in connection with “affecting the prospects of a party or candidate” that is dangerously broad.   So, for example, if Big Brother Watch was to highlight an MPs fervent support for ID Cards, or praise a candidate’s work to roll back council snooping, then we would be caught by the legislation. Indeed, in a legal opinion for the NCVO Helen Mountfield QC warns that producing a manifesto – as we did at the last election – or calling on specific parties to adopt specific policies would be caught.

The Electoral Commission itself has deep reservations, warning: “In our view, it is not at all clear how that test will apply in practice to the activities of the many third parties that have other purposes beyond political campaigning. For instance, it seems arguable that the new test could apply to many of the activities of charities, voluntary organisations, blogs, thinktanks and other organisations that engage in debate on public policy.”

The Cabinet Office assures the public that the Bill is not intended to be so broad. We welcome these reassurances but the only way to properly ensure this Bill does not have a dangerous chilling effect on campaigning and public debate in Britain is to significantly narrow the legislation. The absence of any meaningful external input and parliamentary scrutiny (the Bill was published two days before Commons rose for the summer recess and is back in the commons today on the second day of the new session) only further reinforces the failings at the heart of this legislation.


Legal justification for Miranda detention deeply flawed

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Judicial review, Legal Action, Police, Terrorism Legislation | 6 Comments

police-2Writing in today’s Guardian, Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor who helped introduce the Terrorism Act 2000, has laid bare the increasingly clear case that the police acted unlawfully in detaining David Miranda under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

“The Terrorism Act defines a terrorist as someone “involved in committing preparing or instigating acts of terrorism”. Miranda is plainly not committing or preparing acts of terrorism.”

At stake is not only a procedural check but the fundamental principle of the rule of law – namely, that the state will not use powers granted to it for reasons the democratically elected legislature has not permitted.

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The Terrorism Act 2000, David Miranda and the rule of law.

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Legal Action, Terrorism Legislation | 4 Comments

5946829399_e633991652_oFurther details continue to emerge about the case of David Miranda. There are those who think that it is acceptable to use the Terrorism Act 2000 to pursue someone carrying information that may or may not be sensitive to the UK.

However, even if David Miranda was carrying documents to Glenn Greenwald, on a ticket paid for by the Guardian, it doesn’t change the fundamental facts.

Miranda was detained under the Terrorism Act 2000 and section 40(1)(b) of that legislation defines a “terrorist” as:

“a person who…is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.”

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Further calls for custodial sentencing for data breaches

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Civil Liberties, Data Protection, Legal Action, Privacy | 2 Comments


A probation officer who disclosed a domestic abuse victims details to the alleged abuser has been fined £150 and ordered to pay court costs. Compare this to the fine of £300,000 that Tesco received for ‘false and misleading’ strawberry pricing, and it becomes very apparent just how inconsequential a fine of £150 actually is.

We have warned about lax attitudes to data protection in the past, highlighting the shockingly low reprimand and dismissal rate for data breaches. The fact that only a tiny fraction of staff are disciplined brings into question how seriously managers take protecting the privacy of their users and local residents.

Our reports on data breaches and the use of private investigators, as well as our submissions to the Leveson Inquiry and Joint Committee on the draft Communications Data Bill, have all called for the government to introduce custodial sentences for those found guilty of an offence under section 55, where personal data is obtained or accessed unlawfully. This stance is echoed by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Home Affairs Select Committee, Lord Leveson, the Joint Committee on the draft Communications Data Bill and the Justice Select Committee.

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Four essential safeguards MPs must back

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Legal Action, Ministry of Justice | 1 Comment

5946829399_e633991652_oTime is running out to ensure that the British legal system is not fundamentally altered in favour of the State’s desire to keep secret what it chooses. Today several amendments to the Justice and Security Bill are before the House and we urge MPs to back them, if they are unwilling to vote against Part 2 of the Bill.

The House of Lords amendments to safeguard the use of Closed Material Procedures were a reasonable and practical way of ensuring that legislation did not put undue power in the hands of the Executive to keep inconvenient and embarrassing matters secret. Anthony Peto QC, co-Head of Blackstone Chambers, has perfectly highlighted how the Government removed “four sensible and clear safeguards introduced, with overwhelming majorities, by the Lords” – they were:

  • That Judges should refuse CMP’s where the public interest in the fair and public administration of justice outweighed the likely damage to national security.
  • A provision that CMPs should be a measure of last resort.
  • That the judge must first consider PII before ordering a CMP.
  • That the citizen must have the same right to apply for a CMP as the State.

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Write to your MP about the Justice and Security Bill today

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, International, Legal Action, Ministry of Justice | 13 Comments

Time is running out to ensure that the British legal system is not fundamentally altered in favour of the State’s desire to keep secret what it chooses.

The House of Lords attempted to introduce safeguards to the Justice and Security Bill – but they were overturned at Committee stage in the Commons.

The latest assessment from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, publishing its second legislative scrutiny report, warned that there were still a number of significant issues that had not been addressed by the Government.

Andrew Tryie MP and Anthony Peto, QC wrote a damning paper for the Centre for Policy Studies ‘Neither Just nor Secure’ while former Labour Minister Chris Mullin joined critics arguing the Bill “will be deeply damaging to the integrity of our legal system in the eyes of the world.”

A letter signed by 702 legal experts called the Bill ‘dangerous and unnecessary’ while the Special Advocates’ latest analysis,  argues there is “no compelling justification for the proposals in Part 2 of the Bill has been made out, notwithstanding the Government’s assertions to the contrary“.

You can download a letter to send to your MP now – time is running out.


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