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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

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

Statesman

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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Feel free to annoy me

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in ASBO, Civil Liberties, Freedom of Expression | 3 Comments

reform clause 1We have previously 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 very happy to support the newly formed Reform Clause 1 campaign which was launched in Parliament yesterday.

The campaign warns that the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill will have a “chilling effect on free speech and expression”. We very much hope that this campaign will have the same amount of campaign success as the Reform Section 5 campaign that we backed earlier in the year.

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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Who decides what we can read?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom, Web blocking | 8 Comments

commons daySpeaking at the Internet Service Providers Association, Security Minister James Brokenshire said that an announcement on blocking extremist websites is ‘forthcoming.’

This follows the Prime Minister telling Parliament on October 23 that: “We have had repeated meetings of the extremism task force — it met again yesterday — setting out a whole series of steps that we will take to counter the extremist narrative, including by blocking online sites.”

Such an announcement has not been preceded by a public consultation, or any engagement with civil liberties and freedom of speech organisations. The threat the freedom of speech is only too clear.

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The punishment doesnt fit the crime when privacy is violated

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Data Protection, Information Commissioner | 2 Comments

keyboardPrivate Investigators who tricked companies and public services into handing over personal information have been found guilty of breaking data protection laws. Yet, despite committing thousands of offences in a single year, the individuals will only face a relatively small fine.

This case alone highlights that serious need for our courts to issue much tougher penalties for unlawfully obtaining or disclosing personal information, otherwise these cases will continue to occur.  In this case, the court heard that nearly 2000 offences were committed between April 1 2009 and May 12 2010 by investigators working for ICU Investigations Ltd, whose clients include Allianz Insurance Plc, Hove Council, Leeds Building Society and Dee Valley Water.

Currently, unlawfully obtaining personal data is punishable by a fine of up to £5000 in a magistrate’s court, or an unlimited fine at a crown court. Many people will be shocked to learn that people who have been caught illegally accessing other people’s medical records and personal information will face such minimal penalties. We have consistently warned about the vulnerability of our personal information and we support the ICO in wanting to see stiffer penalties introduced for section 55 breaches.

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The new ASBO is an assault on our liberty

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in ASBO, Civil Liberties | 12 Comments

iStock_000005413496Small[1]Are you a Christian preacher, busker or peaceful protester? Ever gotten the feeling that people find your presence annoying? Well, draconian new powers proposed by the Home Office could mean that you will be driven from the streets.

Controversial Antisocial Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) are set to be scrapped and replaced with a far wider reaching scheme called Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs), which are designed to be easier to obtain, require a lower evidential threshold and cover a wider range of behaviour.

We have previously warned that antisocial behaviour is a widespread problem for many communities and ASBOs have done little other than exacerbate tensions within communities and has failed to address the weaknesses within the legal system for dealing with perpetrators.

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Time for surveillance transparency

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Featured, Google, International, Internet freedom, Online privacy, Surveillance, Technology, United States | 9 Comments

cameras

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 ComRes on the public’s attitude to surveillance. Overwhelmingly they want more transparency about powers are being used.

  • 70% of British adults say British companies should publish reports on how often they receive requests for customer data from the police and security services.
  • 66% of British adults say that the Government should publish more data about how surveillance powers are used

 

Last year more than 570,000 data requests were made – up 15 percent from 2011 – by the police, security services, HMRC and various public bodies, including local councils and organisations like the Charity Commission, Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive. No breakdown of who is using the powers is made available, or what types of crime are being investigated.

Transparency is an essential part of ensuring surveillance powers are not abused and maintaining public confidence that they are being used proportionately. Much more information could be published without any risk to security.

British companies are not bound by secrecy laws from disclosing how many data requests they receive and they should follow the lead of companies like Microsoft and Google in publishing basic information about how many times they hand over customer data. We’re calling on companies like BT, Sky, Vodafone and EE to publish data about how many requests they receive from the police and security services in the same way that Google, Microsoft and Facebook do. Equally, Government can do much more.

Much more can be done to inform the debate. Already in the US much more data is published about how often surveillance powers are used and the Obama administration is moving to publish even more, including how many citizens are affected by requests and what sort of crimes are being investigated. It is possible to give the public a better understanding of how powers are being used without compromising security and it should be an urgent priority to explore what data could be made available.

Recently we wrote to the Prime Minister highlighting several pieces of information that have no security risks and should be public. They were:

  • The budget of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security committee
  • The number of data requests inspected by the Interception of Communications Commissioner to reach his error rate estimate
  • Figures on the use of surveillance powers broken down by agency, as opposed to the single UK figure currently published, including the scale of international intelligence sharing
  • The number of British citizens affected by such requests

Transparency is not a substitute for a proper legal framework and robust oversight. However, it is an important part of evaluating how the overall system is operating and at present far too much information is kept from the public on security grounds when in reality there is no security risk in publishing it. Such unnecessary secrecy only casts doubt upon what is happening.

UPDATE: BBW director, Nick Pickles, spoke to the BBC Sunday Politics (Yorkshire and Humberside) about surveillance transparency