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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

Social Networking

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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British police are third highest users of Facebook data globally

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Communications Data Bill, Databases, Google, International, Internet freedom, Online privacy, Police, PRISM, Social Networking, Surveillance, United States | 5 Comments

facebook_logo-300x99Today Facebook has published it’s first transparency report, detailing law enforcement and national security requests from countries around the world. Britain requested data on 1,975 occasions, covering 2,337 users. In 32% of cases, Facebook declined to provide any data.

Thanks to the transparency reports of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter we continue to learn more about the scale of law enforcement being able to access information held by internet companies. Contrary to the claims by various politicians that the internet is a wild west, we know that Britain receives more data than any other country about Skype users, and Facebook’s data shows that the UK is the third highest user of Facebook data in the world, after the US and India.

In his introduction to the data, Colin Stretch, Facebook General Counsel says that “We strongly encourage all governments to provide greater transparency about their efforts aimed at keeping the public safe, and we will continue to be aggressive advocates for greater disclosure.”

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New research: Global attitudes to privacy online

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Data Protection, Google, Information Commissioner, International, Internet freedom, Online privacy, Privacy, Research and reports, Social Networking | 16 Comments

serversOur latest research looks at consumer attitudes towards online privacy, with the findings confounding presumptions that consumers – young or old – do not care about their privacy.

Undertaken by ComRes, it involved 10,354 interviews across nine countries (UK, Germany, France, Spain, India, Japan, South Korea, Brazil and Australia) and the key findings were:

  • Three quarters (79%) globally say they are concerned about their privacy online.
  • Two-fifths (41%) of consumers surveyed globally say that consumers are being harmed by big companies gathering large amounts of personal data for internal use.
  • Two out of three (65%) of consumers surveyed believe that national regulators should do more to force Google to comply with existing regulations concerning online privacy and the protection of personal data.

Online privacy is a global issue of real importance to people and the overwhelming message is that citizens do not feel their authorities are doing enough to the desire of large companies to collect vast amounts of data on them. You can read the full research below.

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PRISM, the NSA and internet privacy: questions for the UK

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Google, Information Commissioner, International, Online privacy, Social Networking, Surveillance, Technology, United States | 8 Comments

serversRecent days have seen a deluge of revelations about the US’ National Security Agency and a spy programme known as Prism, after 29 year old whistleblower Edward Snowden decided he had seen enough to justify going public with his concerns the scale of the surveillance apparatus being built by America.

There are clearly several issues of serious concern here. Clearly, the legalility of what the NSA Has been doing and whether Britain has been either complicit or unwittingly accessing material illegally obtained is at the fore.

The leaked Verizon order involved the collection of details about millions of American’s phone calls under the PATRIOT Act. Yet one of the Act’s authors, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., who was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks and wrote the Patriot Act, has questioned the NSA’s interpretation of their powers. He has written to US Attorney General Eric Holder saying “I do not believe the released [secret court] order is consistent with the requirements of the Patriot Act. How could the phone records of so many innocent Americans be relevant to an authorized investigation as required by the act?”

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The social media shaped hole in surveillance law

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Online privacy, Police, Privacy, RIPA, Social Networking, Surveillance, Technology | 4 Comments

facebook_logo-300x99Over the last decade there has been an increasing change in the nature of surveillance – particularly the ability to search online, through social networks and through semi-public sources of information, reinforcing the need for the law to be reformed to protect the public from unwarranted surveillance.

What needs to be made very clear is that just because information is on the internet, it does not necessarily follow that the police should collect and analyse it. It is essential that it the gathering of information is proportionate, necessary, balanced against the need of police to do their job, allows for a free and open internet and meets the public’s expectations of privacy.

Our recent report on the use of private investigators by public authorities highlighted how the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) is in fundamental need of reform to protect against unauthorised surveillance; whether that be acquiring data through social media websites or the use of private investigators undertaking surveillance without appropriate supervision and authorisation. As the Joint Committee on the draft Communications  Data Bill Warned, the “language of RIPA is out of date and should not be used as the basis on new legislation.”

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Study links Facebook ‘likes’ with personality traits

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Online privacy, Privacy, Social Networking, Technology | 4 Comments

facebook_logo-300x99Facebook’s ‘likes’ could reveal the sexuality, political leanings and even your intelligence with an accuracy of between 65-95%. The study, created by Cambridge University, should will ring alarm bells for anyone who thinks that privacy settings are the solution to protecting information online.

The study, which used 58,000 volunteers, looked at Facebook “likes” and demographic information alongside provided psychometric testing results which are able to reveal personality traits.

The information was then fed into an algorithm which proved to be 88% accurate for determining male sexuality, 95% accurate in distinguishing African-American from Caucasian-American and 85% for differentiating Republican from Democrat. Christians and Muslims were correctly classified in 82% of cases and relationship status and substance abuse was predicted with an accuracy between 65% and 73%. Bizarrely, some strong but random links were found, such as Curly Fries with high IQ.

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Heroic assumptions from the Home Office

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Data Protection, Databases, Information Commissioner, Internet freedom, Online privacy, Social Networking, Surveillance, Technology | 8 Comments

This week saw the publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report into the Draft Communications Data Bill. servers

While the report only looks at the way the intelligence and security agencies use communications data, and not the police, it offers further insights into the issue.

In the accompanying press statement, the Committee highlighted its scepticsm, saying: “…we consider that the Government needs to give more details on its proposals if the public and Parliament are to be convinced of the necessity of the Bill.”

The report itself contained some new insights into the legislation that would require details of of everyone’s emails, web use and social media messages to be recorded.

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Happy Data Privacy Day!

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Data Protection, Information Commissioner, Online privacy, Privacy, Social Networking, Technology | 3 Comments

Image3Happy Data Privacy Day! To mark the day the Market Research Society (MRS) has launched ‘Fair Data, a new ethical mark they claim will help members of the public to easily identify between those organisations which collect, use and retain personal data properly and ethically, and those that do not.

MRS hope that all organisations that collect and use personal data will be able to use the Fair Data mark which will become the instantly recognisable standard for an organisation that can be trusted to do the right think with all individuals’ data.

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New CPS prosecution guidelines for offences committed on social media

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom, Police, Social Networking | 4 Comments

Image3The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has published interim guidelines on when it is appropriate to prosecute people for communications they send on social media. If the objective was a return to common sense policing, issuing twenty-five pages of guidance has risked complicating the situation even more.

The necessity for the communication to be ‘grossly offensive’ or ‘obscene’ for a prosecution to be made is highlighted within the guidelines. However, there remains an urgent need to reform laws that pose a serious risk to freedom of speech after several ludicrous prosecutions in recent months.

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Two examples why we don’t need the draft Communications Data Bill

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Information Commissioner, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, Privacy, Social Networking | 6 Comments

This morning, The Sun carries an article making several claims about the draft Communications Data Bill that bear a striking resemblance to

“Mrs May says the new law would be a massive help in preventing another 7/7-style atrocity on Britain’s streets.”

However, the 7/7 inquest stated: “Post 7/7 enquiries revealed that between 22nd February and 15th June 2005 there were forty one telephone contacts between mobile phones attributed to Tanweer, Khan, and Lindsay and hydroponics outlets. It is unlikely these could have been detected by surveillance given the large number of untraceable “operational” phones used by the bombers and only attributed to them once their identities and details were known.”

“and could stop savage events like the gunning down of brave women police officers Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone in September”

How would data prevent such a cold-blooded act by someone wanted for another crime that had taken place a month earlier? The officers were responding to a routine report of a house burglary – are we now saying before responding to routine calls, police officers will be expected to check the website browsing, social media messages and emails of every individual in the vicinity?

“Anybody who is against this bill is putting politics before people’s lives.”

When Parliament rejected 90 day detention, Tony Blair said “People will believe parliament was deeply irresponsible” while Hazel Blears (then a Home Office minister) said “It is right that people question and probe these issues but the three-month period is what the police and security service say is necessary.”

The Coalition was rightly applauded for not accepting this rhetoric and highlighting there was no evidence to support the claims being made. The rhetoric of today’s article is groundhog day for anyone familiar with the New Labour playbook of how to get terrorism legislation passed.

Mrs May said: “Criminals, terrorists and paedophiles will want MPs to vote against this bill. Victims of crime, police and the public will want them to vote for it. It’s a question of whose side you’re on.”

This is very similar to Tony Blair’s words on 90 day detention: ”the police and those charged with fighting terrorism said the 90-day power was needed to make the country safe….. We believe this is right for our country. We believe it is necessary to protect our country from terrorism and I’m only sorry you don’t agree.”

The approach of presenting the bill as aimed at only terrorists, paedophiles and serious criminals is something the Joint Committee raised with the Home Secretary, noting the purposes of the Bill go much, much wider than these offences.Sir Paul Kennedy, the Interception of Communications Commissioner,  told MPs that the powers could be justified when investigating incidents such as fly tipping.

We have highlighted numerous ways that public safety could be improved without requiring blanket data retention on every one of our emails, social media messages and website visits.

It’s also worth noting that the two examples cited in the article could be addressed by alternative routes.

Example 1: “A MAJOR criminal investigation was launched into a website used as a secret portal for viewing more than 2,000 indecent images of children. Both were jailed. But others escaped because internet access companies had no record of who had used the IP addresses.”

Being involved in the production or distribution of child pornography is illegal. It is a serious crime. In this case, it would be proportionate to go to internet service providers and ask for the IP address of any computer accessing the website, and for data to be retained about that use. Those people could be identified and prosecuted without needing to record every website visit of every person.

Example 2: An online counsellor called police to tip them off that an emotional man was feared to be on the verge of suicide. Cops found out where he lived by tracing the IP address and raced round to his home. It was only by chance that the internet service provider had a record of the man’s address and police were able to help him.

What happened to terrorism, paedophiles and serious criminals? There is a wholly separate argument about whether the state should try and intervene in preventing suicides in such a way, but in this case it is about the ability to track in real-time the identity of a single individual when some identifying information – in this case an IP address – is already known. The powers to track an individual already exist – and in this case none of the data used was details of emails, website visits or social media messages, which the bill proposes to log for everyone for one year.