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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

Online privacy

GCHQ Chief Criticises Tech Firms

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in GCHQ, Google, Online privacy, RIPA, Social Networking, Surveillance | 2 Comments

serversIn an unusual step the new head of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, has written an article  accusing technology companies of aiding terrorism and failing to help with investigations. The article is entirely vague in its criticisms of the tech companies, giving little detail of what information GCHQ is failing to receive from the tech companies.

The article in  the Financial Times states that “the largest US technology companies that dominate the web” were “in denial” about the roles they played in helping terror groups evade intelligence agencies. He went on to argue that these websites had become the “command and control networks of choice” for terrorists.

What is concerning is that there is no indication that the tech companies already assist law enforcement and intelligence agencies at all. When in fact there are official treaties (the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty) and voluntary schemes with individual companies. For instance, in August 2013 Facebook published its first transparency report. It showed that the UK requested data on 1,975 occasions, of these only 32% were rejected. As well as this in 2012 UK law enforcement bodies made the most requests for information from Skype, nearly double the amount made in Germany.

Clearly, if UK agencies want information about individuals that they believe pose a threat to national security there is a proper process to follow and if this process is followed the data will be released. What is more urgent is the need for greater Government transparency around the requests it makes. It should not be up US companies to publish data on how our law enforcement bodies use their powers.

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More RIPA Revelations

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in GCHQ, Online privacy, Privacy, RIPA, Surveillance | 2 Comments

Image3Yet more evidence has come to light to show that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) is woefully out of date.

It has been revealed that GCHQ, has the ability to request large amounts of un-analysed communications from foreign intelligence agencies without first obtaining a warrant. The documents, obtained in the course of a case brought before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), show that the use of a warrant was not necessary if it is “not technically feasible” for GCHQ to obtain one.

This is not the first revelation from the case, which was brought by a number of groups including Liberty and Privacy International. In June this year it was revealed that messages sent via platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are classed as “external communications” even if they have been sent between UK citizens. This means that there is no need to apply for a warrant before collecting the information.

As it stands the legislation being used to authorize surveillance was passed before the advent of social media, which revolutionized the way in which we communicate. When MPs were debating this bill they could not have been expected to anticipate the dramatic change in how we would communicate with each other after the launch of Facebook (2004) and Twitter (2006). As a result RIPA has not kept pace with technology and is now open to worrying interpretations.

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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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Mass Surveillance Policy Revealed by UK Intelligence

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Online privacy, PRISM, Surveillance | Leave a comment

Image3The Government’s top counter-terrorism official has been forced to reveal the Government’s secret policy which allows for the mass surveillance of every Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google user in the UK. It is the first time the Government has openly commented on how it thinks it can use the UK’s vague surveillance legal framework to indiscriminately intercept communications through its mass interception programme TEMPORA.

The information has been made public due to a legal challenge brought by Privacy International, Liberty, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Pakistani organisation Bytes for All, and five other national civil liberties organisations. The legal challenge follows revelations made by Edward Snowden about the UK’s global digital surveillance activities. Charles Farr is the government’s key witness in the case, which will be heard by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal between 14 and 18 July 2014. You can read Privacy International’s arguments here.

Big Brother Watch, Open Rights Group, English PEN also have a case challenging the UK government’s surveillance of our data at the European Court of Human Rights. You can keep track of the progress of the case at the dedicated Privacy not Prism campaign site.

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Support grows for surveillance transparency

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, GCHQ, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, Police, Research and reports, Surveillance, Technology | 10 Comments

commons dayLast November we launched our ‘Time for Transparency’ campaign, revealing new polling that showed 66% of people want more information about how surveillance powers are used, with 70% wanting companies like BT and EE to publish their own reports about the requests they receive, as companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft now regularly release.

Today we are publishing a paper detailing further proposals to improve transparency, following wide ranging discussions with companies, regulators and political figures, as well as discussions with people in the United States. The paper outlines how the Interception of Communications Commissioner should publish a breakdown of how individual agencies use powers to access communications information – currently just one total figure is published – as well as calling for clarification about whether British companies are handing over data ‘in bulk’ on thousands or millions of customers.

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GCHQ: Enemy of the Internet?

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Communications Data Bill, Freedom of Expression, GCHQ, Online privacy | 5 Comments

filesA report, by Reporters without Borders, has accused GCHQ and the NSA of being no better than their Chinese and Russian counterparts in terms of online censorship and surveillance.

The report entitled Enemies of the Internet is released to coincide with World Day Against Cyber-Censorship and comes on the same day that Sir Tim Berners-Lee has called for a Digital Bill of Rights to safeguard an “open, neutral” internet. It identifies specific government agencies such as GCHQ that have used the pretext of national security to move beyond their core duties and into the strategy of mass online surveillance that is prevalent today.

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Has GCHQ taken a photo from your webcam?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, GCHQ, Online privacy | 10 Comments

GCHQIf you use Yahoo! chat then the answer may well be yes.

Today’s remarkable revelation that GCHQ has been capturing images (a “surprising” number of which were of people who may not have been fully clothed)

As the Guardian reports:

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

Secretly intercepting and taking photographs from millions of people’s webcam chats is as creepy as it gets. We have CCTV on our streets and now we have GCHQ in our homes.

It is right that the security services can target people and tap their communications but they should not be doing it to millions of people. This is an indiscriminate and intimate intrusion on people’s privacy.

It is becoming increasingly obvious how badly the law has failed to keep pace with technology and how urgently we need a comprehensive review of surveillance law and oversight structures. As more people buy technology with built-in cameras, from Xbox Kinect to laptops and smart TVs, we need to be sure that the law does not allow for them to be routinely accessed when there is no suspicion of any wrongdoing.

Orwell’s 1984 was supposed to be a warning, not an instruction manual.

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.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

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

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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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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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