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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

Lie Detector

Councillor resigns in protest of use of ‘lie detector’ tests

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Councils, Lie Detector, Privacy | 5 Comments

phone_exchangeA councillor from Cornwall Council has resigned in protest of the council’s use of lie detectors to help catch benefit cheats. We congratulate Councillor Ferguson for taking the the moral high ground when it comes to privacy and proportionality in councils.

Councillor Ferguson took exception to the Council signing up to a contract with Capita to provide “voice risk analysis” as part of a scheme to help combat benefit fraud. The contract comes at a cost of £50,000 with the Council promising that the system could save at least £1 million. However, there is little evidence to suggest that this technology actually even works.

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Council’s Lie Detectors are no better than astronomy at detecting fraud

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Councils, Lie Detector, Surveillance, Technology | 12 Comments

Southwark Council has taken it upon itself to install ‘lie detector tests’ to help root out benefits cheats. The Council claim that the technology, which analyses phone calls for signs of stress in the speaker’s voice, has helped catch 4,000 fraudsters over a four month period.

The voice analysis works by examining the pitch of the callers’ voices when they are asked questions and if the system suspects that someone is telling a lie a beep sounds in the operator’s ear. The operator has then been trained to ask questions which may uncover the truth. The Council has said that anyone who refuses to take part in the call will be visited for an assessment of their claim.

Despite Southwark Council’s claims that the technology is working, the government and academics have voiced their concerns about its reliability. After a trail period in 2008, the Government  decided that this technology doesn’t work, and is barely any more reliable than flipping a coin. An academic study described the technology as being little better than astronomy at detecting fraud.

Considering that both the Government and Academics have ruled out the reliability of the technology it is clear that Southwark Council are wasting people’s money on an illiberal and unproven technology without remorse and is a disgrace.  The Council’s approach to dealing with benefit cheats stinks of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and perhaps it would be more useful to introduce more rigorous checks and testing before benefits are handed out.

This once again demonstrates how quickly councils will jump to ridiculous, dodgy technology to treat their residents as suspects who cannot be trusted. In the interests of equality I hope the same technology will be rolled out in council meetings and the public given access to the results.