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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

Update on the Reform Clause 1 Campaign

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in ASBO, Civil Liberties | Leave a comment

reform clause 1Last year we warned that everyone from Christian street preachers to peaceful protesters will be subject to new draconian powers proposed by the Home Office which mean that individuals that are considered annoying can be driven from the streets. That is why we are supporting the Reform Clause 1 campaign.

The campaign is in full swing and tomorrow (Wednesday 8th) is a vital stage as the House of Lords will vote on an amendment to replace the “nuisance or annoyance” test in Clause 1 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill. This is an opportunity to defeat the Government’s plans and force them to think again.

At present Antisocial Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) can only be issued if a court is fully satisfied that someone has caused or threatened to cause “harassment, alarm or distress” to someone else and the order is therefore “necessary” to protect the victim. Under the new Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNA system), the courts will be able to impose sweeping curbs on people’s freedoms if they believe an individual is “capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”.

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NHS England’s wholly inadequate leaflet drop

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Data Protection, Databases, Medical Records, NHS | 6 Comments

3797160719_337b4742e7_bWhen you check your letterbox for mail this morning, make sure you take a second glance because you might just miss a leaflet from NHS England detailing serious changes to the way our medical records are shared.

Last year we campaigned to ensure that patients have the right to opt-out of these changes, however, despite this victory for patient privacy, NHS England has taken the decision that if patients do wish to opt-out of sharing their medical records then they must visit their GP to do so. Given GPs are already very busy, people should not have to see their GP to opt-out of the system. It should be possible to opt-out online or over the phone, and people who opted out of previous NHS IT projects, such as the Summary Care Records, should have their choice carried over for this system.

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More than One million pupils fingerprinted at school

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Biometrics, Privacy, Protection of Freedoms Bill, Research and reports | 40 Comments

7075085533_f656a28082_oAs the new school term gets underway, now is the time for parents to check if their children are among the hundreds of thousands of pupils who are using biometric technology.

Today we have published our latest report looking at the use of biometric technology in secondary schools and academies which, based on data from the 2012-13 academic year, makes clear that fingerprints were taken from more than one million pupils.

You can read the report here.


Our research, gathered from Freedom of Information Requests to more than 3,000 schools, shows that at the start of the academic year 2012-13:

  • An estimated 40% of schools in England are using biometric technology
  • An estimated 31% of schools did not consult parents before enrolling children into a biometric system prior to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 becoming law

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Merry Christmas and looking back on 2013

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | Leave a comment

This year Big Brother Watch has grown in stature and influence into one of Britain’s leading privacy and civil liberties campaign groupphotos – and we couldn’t have done it without your support. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

Over the year we won several campaign victories, including draft Communications Data Bill (aka the Snoopers’ Charter) blocked, with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales among those who spoke at our press conference following the victory. We also fought to ensure NHS patients are guaranteed an opt-out of new data sharing plans and, as we called for, the Government announced private investigators will now be regulated and CCTV cameras will not be used for parking enforcement.

Our campaigning on CCTV regulation led to the first Surveillance Camera Commissioner being appointed and we led the calls for him to be given greater powers, while also stopping Oxford and Southampton Councils from recording passenger’s conversations in taxis.Big Brother Watch Draft Communications Data Bill committee press conference

This year has been a fantastic year for Big Brother Watch’s media profile, with the team appearing in the national press 446 times (including 12 front pages),more than 70 national broadcast appearances along with 1689 regional press hits and 1588 international pieces of coverage. Not to mention more than 100 blog posts seen 1.5 million times on our website!

We published reports looking at a range of issues, from ’Democratic Value?’, which addressed the scale of the commercial use of the edited electoral register, and ‘Private Investigators’, which highlighted the growing use of private investigators by local and public authorities. Our ‘Global Attitudes to Privacy Online’ looked at consumer attitudes towards online privacy and involved more than 10,000 interviews across nine countries, while we also investigated the UK public’s views on Google, attitudes towards surveillance transparency and whether a debate on surveillance was in the public interest.mail_splash

Alongside the Open Rights Group, English PEN and German internet activist Constanze Kurz, we launched our fist legal case before the European Court of Human Rights, taking action against GCHQ following the revelations from whistle-blower Edward Snowden. We helped to establish MedConfidential, a public campaign to fight for confidentiality and consent in health and social care, and were part of the successful Reform Section 5 campaign, which secured a change to the law to ensure it is not a crime to use insulting language. We have also joined Reform Clause 1, a campaign to prevents new draconian powers which would mean that individuals that are considered ‘annoying’ can be driven from the streets and played a leading role in the coalition against the Lobbying Bill.

We contributed to events at all three major political party conferences discussing critical surveillance issues, speaking alongside leading political figures.

ThClaude MORAES, Constanze KURZ, Dominique Guibert, Nick PICKLESe team have attended countless events at universities around the country, including the Cambridge Union, and hosted a film screening of ‘Terms and Conditions May Apply’ for supporters and wider stakeholders. We also traveled further afield for speaking engagements, including the European Parliament’s LIBE Committee in Brussels and the Public Voice: “Our Data, Our Lives” conference in Warsaw.

Looking ahead to the New Year we have another ground-breaking piece of research on the use of biometrics in schools, as well as new work on ANPR, CCTV’s impact on crime and prosecutions for social media speech. We’ll also continue to hold to account the Government and ensure that the debate about surveillance started by Edward Snowden leads to meaningful change at home and abroad and will continue our campaign for greater surveillance transparency.


Have a very Merry Christmas, a very happy New Year and thank you for your continued support of Big Brother Watch.


Google users do battle in court

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 3 Comments

4249731778_c071fcb365_oA group of internet users has come face to face with Google in the High Court this week in order to ensure that legal action, launched by the group, can take place in the UK.

The group, Safari Users Against Google’s Secret Tracking, has accused Google of bypassing security settings on the Safari internet browser in order to track their online browsing and to target them with personalised advertisements. However, Google is claiming that because it is based in the US the court has no jurisdiction to try the claims relating to UK claimants.

The entire situation is plainly absurd. The primary reason that the group has been required to take legal action in the first place is due to gross failings by the regulators to protect UK internet users. If this was the first time the allegations had been made Google’s position would potentially be understandable, however they have already been fined $22.5m by the Federal Trade Commission and paid $17m to US states in compensation.

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Is this the end of CCTV cars?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV, CCTV cars, Councils | 2 Comments

Image20The Government has announced plans to possibly ban CCTV parking cameras, meaning that only traffic wardens will be able to film vehicles breaking the rules.

The Department for Transport is absolutely right to launch a consultation as to whether CCTV parking cameras should be banned. Rather than focusing on specific parking infringements councils have taken the brazen approach of using CCTV cars to indiscriminately spy on drivers.

Back in 2010 we reported on the rise of Drive By Spies, with 31 councils operating CCTV cars at the time. That number has now risen to more than 100.

This goes to the heart of what Big Brother Watch has been campaigning on – the public are never told that this is part of the deal when they accept greater CCTV surveillance. The rhetoric is always about violent crime, anti-social behaviour and catching criminals. Would the public be as accepting if they had the full facts about how cameras are used?

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We must stop the ‘chilling effect’ of the Lobbying Bill

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 1 Comment

commons dayToday the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement has published its action plan to protect democracy from the ‘chilling effect’ of Lobbying Bill. We wholeheartedly support the recommendations presented in the report (which you can read here) and call on Ministers to support the findings of the Commission.

As present, the Lobbying Bill would drastically reduce the amount campaigners can legally spend campaigning on issues on which parties disagree in the year before an election and massively increase the regulatory burden. At the same time it would increase the number of activities which would be monitored.

The Commission warns that Part 2 of the Bill is so broadly drafted it would restrict campaigning in the whole year before an election. Parliamentary candidates only have to account for their spending in the few months before an election.

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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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GP surgery manager prosecuted for illegally accessing thousands of patients’ medical records

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 2 Comments

filesAs the year comes to an end, the successful prosecution of a former GP surgery manager for serious data breaches reminds us why we remain deeply concerned about lax attitudes towards our medical data. We have consistently argued that patients should have more control over their medical records and proper punishments should be issued to those who abuse their access to this information.

In September we wrote about the concerns of many GP’s about the new NHS care.data system. Patients have had zero direct communication from the NHS about the program, with patient information posters are wholly uninformative and have only been displayed in GP surgeries, rather than being sent directly to patients. It is very simple; any change to how medical data is used should mean that we are notified to the highest standards, with an easy opt-out process.

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A (brief) recent history of security and the free press

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Databases, Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, PRISM, Privacy, Surveillance, Terrorism Legislation, United States | 2 Comments


Today, the editor of the Guardian gives evidence to the Home Affairs select committee, as part of the committee’s work on counter terrorism.

Perhaps that might give the committee to question why Parliament learned of much of GCHQ’s activity from the newspaper, rather than from Ministers. Indeed, it seems on current evidence that will remain the case – as the Lords found on the 20th November, when they were told they could not even be informed which law authorised Project Tempora.

Lord Richard: My Lords, of course the Minister cannot go into details on these very sensitive matters. We all accept that. However, for the life of me, I do not see why she cannot answer a straightforward Question about which Minister authorised the project and why the existence of the project was not disclosed to the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill. These are not sensitive issues. They are pure matters of fact, surely capable of being answered.

Baroness Warsi: It is interesting that the noble Lord interprets it in that way but I think he would also accept that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on intelligence matters, which includes any comments on the project.

We have been repeatedly assured that it would be unacceptable for a central database of communications to be built – both by those in Government and those seeking to be.

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