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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

France sets Google deadline for privacy changes

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Europe, Google, Information Commissioner | 1 Comment

2226178289_a6d36a48dd_oThe French data protection authority, CNIL, has today announced that Data Protection Authorities from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom have respectively launched enforcement actions against Google.

The statement read:

“From February to October 2012, the Article 29 Working Party (“WP29”) investigated into Google’s privacy policy with the aim of checking whether it met the requirements of the European data protection legislation. On the basis of its findings, published on 16 October 2012, the WP29 asked Google to implement its recommendations within four months.

After this period has expired, Google has not implemented any significant compliance measures.”

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Judge slams police force’s approach to CRB as “fundementally flawed”

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Civil Liberties, Data Protection, Databases, Information Commissioner, Police | 4 Comments

iStock_000016822421MediumA Judge has called South Yorkshire Police’s approach to CRB disclosure “fundamentally flawed” after the force decided to disclose the fact that a teacher had been involved in legal proceedings, despite the fact that the individual was not convicted of an offence.

The ‘old’ CRB system has seen lives ruined and this case is a very clear example of over reliance on a flawed system. After being found not guilty, it is abhorrent that South Yorkshire Police took the legal system into their own hands and used CRB disclosure as a means of issuing their own punishment. There must clearly be a system that ensures children and vulnerable adults are protected, however this must be balanced against unjust intrusion into people’s lives. If something cannot be proven in court then it is not right for the police to disclose details that imply guilt.

The case involves a former teacher, found not guilty of sexually molesting pupils, who has taken South Yorkshire Police to court as they continued to insist on listing the allegations on his enhanced criminal record certificate, which employers can see – effectively destroying his career in the classroom.

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The Government says NO to blanket pub snooping

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV, Councils, Privacy, Surveillance | 1 Comment


Having recently posted about local councils reducing the number of CCTV cameras in their local area it seems that the Government has taken the additional step to ensure that pub landlords aren’t forced into using CCTV when it is not necessary to do so.

Concerns were raised by pub landlords and the public that council licensing authorities have been making CCTV a legal condition of every pub license. To tackle the problem, the Government has announced that the blanket use of surveillance in pubs will end, with a new stricter code of practice being in place that will strike a proper balance between privacy and security.

Community Pubs Minister, Brandon Lewis MP, commented that:

“CCTV has a role to play in stopping and deterring crime in anti-social behaviour hotspots. But well-run community pubs that don’t have a public order problem shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush.

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You do have the right to record council meetings

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Civil Liberties, Councils, Home | 5 Comments

filesIn positive step towards transparency Eric Pickles MP, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, has published new guidance which explicitly states that Councils should allow the public to overly film and council meetings.

DCLG was forced to publish the guidance after a string of councils had prevented individuals from recording council meetings on health and safety and legal grounds. The guidance will only apply to English councils, but it certainly creates a serious precedent for councils in Wales.

Public access to meetings is a key part of holding local councils and public bodies to account and it’s wholly wrong for people not being able to film or tweet in public meetings for spurious legal reasons.

Whether through Freedom of Information law, filming council meetings or publishing data, transparency is a critical check on those in power and an essential part of defending our liberties.

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The fight against the snoopers charter rages on

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Communications Data Bill | 2 Comments

i paperIt seems that the fight against the ‘snoopers charter’ rages on. In a letter to The Times, signed by Jack Straw, David Blunkett, Alan Johnson, Lord Baker, Lord King and Lord Carlile, called for the ‘snoopers charter’ to be revived. The intention of the letter seems to be to put increasing pressure on Nick Clegg to drop his opposition to the draft Bill

In the letter, the group state that “coalition niceties must not get in the way of giving our security services the capabilities they need to stay one step ahead of those that seek to destroy our society”.

It should be remembered that several of the signatories to this letter argued that ID Cards, 90 day detention without trial and a million innocent people on the DNA database were all necessary to keep us safe. Fortunately the Government did not succumb to their scaremongering on those issues, and nor should it on the question of whether in modern Britain we want the state to be undertaking blanket monitoring of our emails, web browsing and social media messages .

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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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Press comment: NSA spying, GCHQ and Prism

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Information Commissioner, International, Internet freedom, Surveillance, United States | 5 Comments

Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “There are legal processes to request information about British citizens using American services and if they are being circumvented by using these NSA spying arrangements then that would be a very serious issue.  

“The wider legal authority of the surveillance that the US Government has been undertaking is being disputed by very senior figures and it is essential that questions are asked at the highest levels to ensure British citizens have seen their privacy intruded upon without adherence to the proper legal process or any suspicion of wrongdoing.”

“If British citizens have had their emails and social media messages seized by the US Government without any justification or legal authority, serious questions must be asked at the highest levels.

“The revelations call into question the integrity of cloud services that are used by millions of non-US citizens every day, while setting a dangerous precedent that less-democratic regimes around the world may rush to copy. How many Members of Parliament, business leaders and key security figures use US-based services that may have been compromised?

“Surveillance without suspicion is an affront to a free society and it is essential that we get to the bottom of the NSA and US Government has being doing and how British citizens may have seen their privacy compromised on a vast scale.”

Who decides what we can see online?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom | 7 Comments

commons dayToday, along with the Open Rights Group, English PEN and Index on Censorship, we have signed a letter to Culture Secretary Maria Miller highlighting our concerns about the current debate around ‘blocking’ internet content.

It is absolutely right to pursue the removal of illegal content from the internet, but moving to a system where legal content is blocked poses a clear and significant risk to freedom of speech. The triviality of circumventing blocks aside, such a policy risks blocking legitimate websites and setting a dangerous international precedent. After all, who gets to decide what legal content is deemed to be unfit for the British public?

If content is illegal, pursue it, remove it and prosecute those who are responsible. If content is legal, then having a political, non-judicial process to decide what should be blocked is not the right way forward.

The letter is reproduced below.

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Kids and the cloud – who is protecting their privacy?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Child protection, Information Commissioner, Online privacy | 2 Comments

serversNew research for the Ponemon Institute for SafeGov.org highlights some critical issues in the increasing use of cloud-based services to store and process the confidential personal information of people using public services.

On the one hand, schools are not immune from the need to modernise how they operate and reduce costs. According to the research, a strong majority of schools expect to deploy cloud email and document services in the foreseeable future. The data shows that the ease of administering the system and lower costs are key drivers to move to cloud, while just 11% of respondents say the move will help protect student privacy. One in four already use cloud email for students and one in five do so for staff.

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New CRB changes a “common sense approach”

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 8 Comments

iStock_000016822421MediumWe have long called for changes to the CRB system having seen lives ruined by over reliance on a flawed system. Following from a Court of Appeal ruling in January, this week the Home Office announced a shakeup of the CRB system which will see a much more common sense approach to a system that was ruining people’s lives.

The Home Office announced that the changes, which are due to become law in the next few weeks, would “ensure a balance between ensuring that children and vulnerable groups are protected and avoiding intrusion into people’s lives.”

As detailed below, the rumours of burglars having their conviction erased from the checks will only happen (if the offence is commented when over the age of 18) if 11 years has elapsed since the date of conviction, and it the person’s only offence and if it did not result in a custodial sentence.

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