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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


Eyes on the Olympics

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, Olympics, Privacy, Surveillance | 2 Comments

To enter you’ll have to go through airport-style security, or be fully accredited and security checked. Despite all this, Big Brother Watch has found that the Olympic village and Olympic park will have more CCTV cameras than Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and Edinburgh combined.

The Olympic Delivery Authority confirmed in a reply to our Freedom of Information request that there will be 1,851 public facing CCTV cameras on the Olympic Park and in the Olympic Village. (At a cost of approximately £1,000 per camera.) As our report ‘The Price of Privacy‘ found, the combined CCTV total for Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh is 1,728 cameras.

Of course the Olympics need to be secure but there is a danger of losing sight of all proportion in some of the current security arrangements, particularly around commercial issues. Nearly 2,000 extra CCTV cameras have been deployed in London for the games, more than several major British cities combined, while number plate scanning cameras will be in use across the capital.

The Olympic Games is set to be an historic event and security should be of the highest importance.  However, it would be a sad indictment of modern Britain if the lasting legacy of the Games is an unwarranted security and surveillance infrastructure.

Custard and punishment, Olympic style

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Olympics, Police | 1 Comment

Any other time of year you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a comedy sketch. But no, this is 2012. The place, London. (Apparently you’re not allowed to write ‘London 2012′. Oops)

The Guardian reports the latest piece of Olympic policing idiocy, this time an allegation of criminal damage because someone spilled some custard near Trafalgar Square. (Apparently those cleaning it up were also arrested.)

The paper details how six people were arrested after the performance of a play called ‘Greenwash Gold 2012 awards’ by police. Three actors, representing Dow Chemical, Rio Tinto and BP, had green custard poured over their heads. The custard spilled onto the floor and apparently the best thing 25 police officers had to do was to arrest those involved for criminal damage.

The former London 2012 “ethics tsar” Meredith Alexander was one of the organisers, and has accused police of an “Olympic-sized overreaction”.

Given we’re told London is at serious risk of a terrorist attack, we know that troops are being deployed to fill gaps in the security arrangements left by G4S and at a time when resources are clearly scarce, it is a downright absurd use of police time to pile in over some spilled custard.

It appears that as far as London 2012 is concerned, public safety and sensible policing are less important than shutting down protest and protecting sponsors from any criticism.

The Olympic pre-crime cover up

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Olympics, Police, Terrorism Legislation | 7 Comments

Some time ago, Big Brother Watch was contacted by a person who had just been visited by the police. Not because he was suspected of a crime or involved in one. The Police wanted to know what he was planning when the Olympic Torch Relay came to town. We’re told an 80 year old man was also visited.

This wasn’t based on any evidence something was being planned, nor had the individual been involved in anti-Olympic protests at other points on the torch relay. So we decided to find out how many others had been visited.

It turned out Devon and Cornwall visited 18 people, which seemed a surprisingly high number of people. So we decided to ask every other force in the country if they’d done the same.

On Monday this week we receieved six responses. Since then we’ve had a further ten. All the responses, with one exception, are  identical. We can only assume someone, somewhere has supplied the forces with the template response to our request, but the detail is quite remarkable for it’s tone and severity.

The forces claim that “Disclosure of the information requested would cause operational harm to [insert force name] and affect the force’s ability to fulfil the core function of law enforcement in the future”

Apparently it’s a secret that the police talk to people.

It goes on: “The release of information identifying the focus of policing activity in safeguarding public order and the prevention of terrorism could be used to the advantage of terrorists or criminal organisations.”

So anyone planning to protest during the Olympic torch relay is a terrorist now?

“To disclose intelligence, tactics and methods used to ensure the safety and security of the Olympic Torch Relay may make them ineffectual for future similar events and future Olympic Torch Relays which may pass through the United Kingdom.”

You’d be forgiven for thinking we’re making this up, but alas no.

The fact that police forces are devoting resources to pre-crime investigations about they Olympic torch relay demonstrates how utterly out of proportion the Olympic security operation has become. Rather than investigating crimes that have actually happened, the police are wasting their time questioning people about a potential protest, something that is neither a crime nor a security risk.

The secret Olympics?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Internet freedom, Olympics | 10 Comments

In a remarkable – if not bizarre – twist to the Olympic Story, Amateur Photographer reports that it will be against Olympic rules to tweet, share on Facebook or in any way share your photos of the event.

Quite how this will be policed is beyond comprehension and one would hope police officers are not going to be expected to pursue anyone seen posting photos on Instagram.

The London 2012 conditions state: ‘Images, video and sound recordings of the Games taken by a Ticket Holder cannot be used for any purpose other than for private and domestic purposes and a Ticket Holder may not license, broadcast or publish video and/or sound recordings, including on social networking websites and the internet more generally, and may not exploit images, video and/or sound recordings for commercial purposes under any circumstances, whether on the internet or otherwise, or make them available to third parties for commercial purposes.’

Coming after moves to restrict public demonstrations, photographers being interrogated on public footpaths and concern around heavy-handed commercial restrictions on what logos you can wear inside the Olympic village, this is yet another worrying development.

Rather than being the celebration organisers promised, London 2012 is rapidly risking becoming one of the most intimidating and restrictive events seen for decades. We’ll be writing to the Organising Committee and the Secretary of State to ask for confirmation that no action will be taken against someone simply sharing photos of the events they attend on social media.

Perhaps it’s all a secret marketing ploy to boost sales of nigheen eighty four. It was set in London, after all.

Caught on camera: the Olympic legacy

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Body Scanners, CCTV, Civil Liberties, Olympics, Police, Surveillance | 9 Comments

The Guardian has today reported on growing concerns over the effects that the 2012 Olympic Games security strategy will have on the UK.  Londoners have long anticipated a summer of visible, increased security – but what assurances are being made that the security will disappear when the athletes go home?

Scanners, biometric ID cards, number-plate and facial-recognition CCTV systems, disease tracking systems, new police control centres and checkpoints have all been planned as part of the Olympic security strategy.  In addition, Londoners and Olympic tourists can look forward to seeing an aircraft carrier that will permanently be docked on the Thames; surface-to-air missile systems will scan the skies; unmanned drones that will hover above the stadiums; RAF Typhoon Eurofighters; a thousand armed US diplomatic and FBI agents; and 55 dog teams will patrol an Olympic zone partitioned off from the wider city by an 11-mile, 5,000-volt electronic fence.

Although there is still four months to go until the Games begin, some of the surveillance strategy has already begun.  The London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG) last year confirmed that it would operate security checks on vehicles entering the Westfield Shopping Centre due to its close proximity to the Olympic Park.  The vehicle screening began in September 2011 and is planned to continue for a full year.

In December Big Brother Watch also warned about “lazy policing” that included lumping public order issues, such as the Occupy movement, with serious national security concerns which would only undermine the public faith in the police and risks trivialising some very real threats to the UK.

Londoners and the UK as a whole need reassurances from LOCOG that the security strategy will not get out of hand.  There needs to be clear and transparent mechanisms in place which highlight how data that is collected, from biometrics, scanners and CCTV cameras, will be used and stored and for how long.

The Olympic Games is set to be an amazing event that will bring hundreds of thousands of tourists and the sporting elite to the UK.  The security of all involved should be of the upmost importance; however it would be an indictment on this country for the lasting memory of the Games to be one of biometric ID and unprecedented levels of surveillance.

I’m an occupier, not a terorrist

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Olympics, Police, Terrorism Legislation | 4 Comments

Whatever you may think of the Occupy movement and their methods, it’s fair to say they’re not Al Qaeda.

Not unless you’re City of London police that is.

In a new briefing on domestic terrorism and extremism threats to City businesses, the force has listed the Occupy movement alongside threats posed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), Al Qaeda and Belarusian terrorists. You can read the letter for yourself by clicking on the image to the right of this post.

This kind of lazy policing, lumping public order issues in with serious national security concerns, only undermines the public’s faith in the police and risks trivialising some very real threats to the UK. Furthermore, it only further antagonises the protestors at a time when dialogue about clearing the camp was begining to seem possible.

You may not regard the Occupy movement as a high point of democratic protest, but it is still a peaceful protest and Britain is still a democracy. As our Research Director Maria Fort recently warned, against the backdrop of the London 2012 Olympics this kind of police hostility towards people exercising their democratic rights is not healthy or conducive to a free society.

I hope the force quickly retracts this ridiculous and counter-productive statement and focuses on the real threats facing London.



Restricting Public Demonstrations at London Olympics

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Home, Olympics | 5 Comments

In the wake of the Occupy movement, student protests and TUC rallies in London over the past year, the Home Office has ordered officials to draft plans for avoiding public protests during the London 2012 Olympics.  Such protests can be seen as both a security threat and an embarrassment to the host country.  Understandably, Government officials are keen to avoid tarnishing the much-awaited events of the coming summer with angry crowds or vocal protesters.

However, the means by which they intend to do so are disappointing at best.

We at Big Brother Watch understand that the realities of events such as the Olympics mean security concerns are much greater than usual.  As huge numbers of people swarm to one of the most global and symbolic events in the world, police and security will be confronted with major challenges requiring intensive training and quick and reasoned decision-making.  The reality is that any demonstration or protest can pose a very real threat to safety in London and the Olympic village for athletes, spectators and Londoners alike.  Terrorism threats and civil action can create chaos and public disturbance, which we have seen first-hand over the last year during protests against the cuts and the UK riots.  It is, therefore, hugely important to be aware of these risks and realities and to provide adequate security to ensure the events go off without a hitch.

Nevertheless, it is not necessary to do so by limiting the rights to free speech and a peaceful protest.

However justified the concerns for security, by taking this kind of action, the government, also appear to be keen on curbing free speech.  Regardless of the time or place, intentionally limiting the public’s right to protest is uncalled for and will inevitably be met with resistance.  Civil liberties campaigners will be quick to say that inhibiting such rights is a clear violation of the law and such a move will surely not be appreciated by lawyers, activists, or anyone interested in free speech, come to think of it.

Sheffield University professor Colin Hay said in response to these moves that if you attempt to limit the rights of individuals to a peaceful protest, then you invariably give them a reason to protest.  I’m inclined to agree and sympathetic to those who would feel slighted by these moves.

Rolling back civil liberties in the name of good PR or because security is shamefully unable to protect the public from or prevent security threats is simply unacceptable.  I’ve quoted him countless times, but I think this story warrants consultation of the brilliant statement of Benjamin Franklin: “Those who can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary security deserve neither.”

Children to be banned from Olympic shooting events

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Olympics | 1 Comment

Under Boris Johnson’s Olympic ticket giveaway scheme, 125,000 tickets will be given away to London schoolchildren.  However, they will not include tickets to the shooting events as some have said it would ‘glorify guns’.

Participants in the sport, however, say this would be an opportunity to see guns and shooting in a different way.  Rather than associating them with crime, it would be an opportunity to associate them with training, responsibility and hard work.  David Penn, the secretary of the British Shooting Sports Council, said of the plan, “There is no link between Olympic-level shooting and crime.  It’s like saying that a thief would use a Formula One car as a getaway car.”

Yet again, the nanny state feels the need to rear its ugly head.  Instead of using the Olympics as an opportunity for children to see how professionals treat their weapons, how they train, proper safety protocol and showing that they are not toys, Boris and the supporters of this scheme would rather come to the ridiculous conclusion that shooting event would encourage violence.  On that logic, they should also withhold fencing as it encourages waving pointy objects, or wresting because it encourages fighting.

This is an outrageous slight to the hard-working Olympic athletes all so that some London politicians can promote their own anti-gun agendas. Unfortunately after the proposal to ban the public bringing in their own water to the Olympics, nothing is shocking that this approach has been taken, and it’s depressing that there really are no limits to the nanny state mentality.

UPDATE: The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) have released the following statement:

“Shooting tickets are included in the Ticketshare programme. The Ticketshare programme includes a range of groups – schools, BOA/BPA and Tickets for Troops. There are a small number of shooting tickets in the Ticketshare programme, and we planned to issue the tickets where the demand was greatest. Our initial consultation with schools suggested that there wasn’t a demand for shooting tickets. However, if schools request shooting tickets, we will provide them, subject to availability”