• Media Enquiries

    07505 448925(24hr)

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

Apps can access your texts and calls

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home, Mobile Phones, Online privacy, Privacy, Social Networking | 7 Comments

As reported in The Sunday Times this weekend, Social media companies are using free smartphone apps that allow companies to spy on users’ text messages, intercept phone calls and track their location.  Unknowingly for many consumers, the terms and conditions associated with such apps give developers the right to access private information held in your device.

The Facebook app for Google’s Android smartphones have been downloaded more than 100million times, yet very few of its users are thought to be aware that they had agreed to give Facebook the right ‘to read SMS messages stored on your device or SIM card’.

Facebook have rebuked these claims, stating that the request for permission to read text messages was to allow the app to read and write data between itself and the phone’s SMS feature, rather than for the company to trawl individuals’ messages.

Read more

Your Facebook status is at risk if you fail to keep up repayments

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Online privacy, Social Networking, Technology | 3 Comments

Meet Lenddo.

The company claims to be “the first credit scoring service that uses your online social network to assess credit”and while only available in the Philippines, it raises some interesting questions.

When you use the site, the first thing Lenddo asks for is a Facebook account; once that’s logged in it also asks for things like Gmail and Twitter. The idea is that where traditional credit scoring isn’t available (in developing economies, for example) this provides a better way of assessing credit. It takes into account not just your content, but the people in your networks and their own financial track record.

And if you fail to keep up repayments then don’t expect to keep it quiet. In the T&Cs the site warns “if you fail to repay your loans or are late on repayments, we reserve the right to lower your credit score, notify members of your network and reduce the credit score of those who referred you.”

Apparently the company has already had enquiries from established banks and it would not be hard to see it becoming part of standard credit scoring. Suddenly your access to benefits, store cards and a mortgage might be affected by the actions of people who follow you on Twitter or you went to school with, but haven’t met since.

Once again, it reinforces that the best way to protect your privacy online is to control what goes online in the first place.  If the financial decisions of your friends online starts impacting your own ability to get credit, it would be a much more tangible reason to question the underlying motivation of social networks and how they value our privacy.

Five Billion Dollars of personal information

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in International, Online privacy, Privacy, Social Networking, Technology | 1 Comment

Facebook’s IPO is expected to be largest ever sale of shares by a US web company, with the business looking to raise raise $5bn. That would dwarf Google’s float in 2004, which raised $1.67bn.

The issue puts front and centre the commercial value of our personal information and raises some serious questions about the protection of privacy.

We’ve blogged previously on the latest functionality change, the ‘timeline’ and how it impacts on privacy. The company is under investigation in several countries for it’s data retention and storage policies, while others have highlighted the worrying amount of information the company gathers on people who do not even have a profile.

Facebook’s business is based on advertising, like most online companies. The number of ads on the site rose by 42% in 2011, while the price per ad grew by 18%. To increase the amount of money it can charge for ads, Facebook needs to convince advertisers that it is better able to target advertisements than alternative services. The more personal information about us Facebook has, the better Facebook can target advertisements, and the more it can charge for them.

So if investors start to see Facebook’s numbers sliding – and given that 2011 earnings were around $500m lower than analysts expected that isn’t too remote a possibility – the company may find itself forced to choose between user privacy and profit.

Read more

Euro MP quits saying ACTA is a secretive, un-democratic masquerade.

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Europe, International, Internet freedom, Online privacy, Technology, Web blocking | 6 Comments

In a remarkable resignation statement, the man responsible for the EU’s ACTA negotiations has resigned, blasting the document as secrative and un-democratic.

Kader Arif, rapporteur for ACTA in the European Parliament quit his role as rapporteur saying:

”I want to denounce in the strongest possible manner the entire process that led to the signature of this agreement: no inclusion of civil society organisations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, exclusion of the EU Parliament’s demands that were expressed on several occasions in our assembly.”

“As rapporteur of this text, I have faced never-before-seen manoeuvres from the right wing of this Parliament to impose a rushed calendar before public opinion could be alerted, thus depriving the Parliament of its right to expression and of the tools at its disposal to convey citizens’ legitimate demands.”

Read more

Putting you back in charge of your personal information

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Data Protection, Europe, Online privacy, Social Networking, Technology | 3 Comments

On the day that it has emerged that O2 has exposed it’s customers mobile numbers when browsing websites, the biggest shake-up of data protection laws since the creation of the internet is being proposed by the European Union.

In the UK, the current Data Protection Act – the main piece of legislation protecting how and why our personal information can be collected, and what can be done with it – was written before Google had launched. An overhaul is long overdue, restoring the balance in favour of the consumer and protecting our privacy.

Today’s proposals will put forward several key new rules, many of which we at Big Brother Watch have previously called for. A broad ‘right to be forgotten’ will mean when you leave a service, for example Facebook or Gmail, you have the right to insist that all your data is deleted once your account is closed.Furthermore, the changes will mean you must be given easier access to the data held on you, and should have the right to move it to another provider if you decide to switch.

Read more

Going offline to defend privacy and freedom online

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, International, Internet freedom, Online privacy, United States, Web blocking | 1 Comment

On January 18 2011, Wikipedia will voluntarily shut its website down for twelve hours, in protest at two pieces of legislation being considered in the US – SOPA and PIPA. Big Brother Watch will be doing the same.

Yes, it may appear a futile gesture. But we believe this is too important an issue to carry on as normal. Like many UK websites, several of our online services are run via the United States. As a result, our website falls under US law. It is grossly naive to think that legislation currently being considered in the US, which in the opinion of many constitutes a fundamental attack on freedom online, would not impact on businesses and individuals in the UK.

As the White House’s response to the massive public outcry against the proposals says, “we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber security risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” In their current form, the laws being considered in the US undoubtedly fall foul of each of those criteria.

Read more

Facebook Timeline and the seven day figleaf

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in International, Online privacy, Social Networking | 4 Comments

Facebook’s new ‘Timeline Function’ begins it’s worldwide roll out today. Users are recieving a notification of the switch, and are invited to read a blog on the Facebook website about what it means.

After it was announced in September, we highlighted how the proposals would mean information currently hidden to strangers would become publicly visible, and in response to widespread concern Facebook’s roll out now includes a 7 day review period for users.

The period will allow people to review what will be made public, on a post-by-post basis, and after the 7 day period has elapsed the switch over will be automatic. So tough if you’ve not had time to go through every piece of activity individually, it’s now public.

Facebook’s attitude to privacy remains making as much information as possible about you visible, and commercially exploitable. Why, as is currently the case, can users simply tick one box stating nothing can be visible to people who are not their ‘friends’?

The seven day period is a token gesture to privacy and a grossly inefficient way for users to control what information is publicly visible. Timeline will hijack the personal information of people who had previously said it should be private and Facebook continues to show no remorse for this exploitative agenda.

Selling Personal Data

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Data Protection, Home, Online privacy | 5 Comments

According to the ICO yesterday, a former gambling industry worker has plead guilty to committing three offences under section 55 of the Data Protection Act.  For these offences, Marc Ben-Ezra was handed a three year conditional discharge and £1,700 fine in addition to just over £800 pounds in court fees.  This is his penance for selling more than 65,000 individuals’ personal data for a profit of around £25,000.

This case is a particularly blaring example of where the laws surrounding data protection are lacking.  Not only was Mr Ben-Ezra able to obtain and remove personal data from his place of work, but he was able to make a profit from doing so-even after his sentence for pleading guilty was handed down.   Read more

Big Brother babysitting is no substitute for parenting

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Internet freedom, Online privacy, Social Networking, Web blocking | Leave a comment

Last week, I was sent an article which suggested that the US’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) operations (or vehicle searches) was as effective a response to terrorism  as flying billion-dollar B-2 stealth bombers above shopping malls were in eliminating bear attacks. I commented how in Britain, we were slightly more measured in our response to problems.

And then I heard about Lewisham East Labour MP Heidi Alexander’s Private Members Bill.

I don’t recall the exact moment when the vogue solution to social problems became censoring the internet. Or when it became acceptable for members of the British political establishment to call for technology to replace parenting. But clearly, there is a growing body of opinion that sees Big Brother as the new babysitter of choice.

Read more

The end of freedom online as we know it?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Internet freedom, Online privacy, Web blocking | 1 Comment

Writing on The Commentator, I highlight the links between a recent court case where BT was ordered to block a file sharing website with the growing calls for wider censorship of the internet.

“As the legal question of protecting intellectual property and enforcing the criminal law becomes burred with the moral questions posed by the likes of Claire Perry, the future of British access – private access – to a free internet becomes ever less certain.

This week, the great and the good of the internet world gathered in London to discuss the impending doom that an explosion in cybercrime entails. Yet perhaps the greatest threat lies from within, and a perfect storm of security, child protection and sexualisation and copyright enforcement we may be sleepwalking into the end of freedom online as we know it.”