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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

Council asks for ‘volunteers’ to watch the town’s CCTV network

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV | 5 Comments

CCTV symbol Minehead CCTV partnership, whose cameras watch the people of Minehead Town Council, West Somerset Council and Avon and Somerset Police, has placed a story in the local newspaper - the Somerset County Gazette - advertising for local people to become volunteers at the CCTV office, based in the town’s police station.

According to the report:

Acting area inspector Neil Dillon said: “CCTV is a valuable tool in deterring people from committing crimes as well as providing evidence that can be critical in tracking down criminals and bringing them to justice.

“We are inviting people with an interest in improving community safety to get involved. “The volunteers are valued members of a professional team, and we would love to hear from anyone who wishes to help.”

The volunteers would normally be asked to work between two and four hours, controlling the system and monitoring the images.

In their rush to ensure their control room is manned, the local authorities and police force involved have completely ignored the privacy implications of this policy.

They are asking local people who they claim will be 'trained' and 'vetted' - although almost certainly not to the same degree that professional CCTV operators are – to come down to the CCTV centre and spy on their neighbours.

People do not like being watched, least of all by members of the public who put themselves forward for the task. This is a bad idea and the offer should be withdrawn immediately.

By Dylan Sharpe  

Big Brother Watch Newsletter 19.02.10

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | Comments Off

Dear Supporter,

 

This week Big Brother Watch moved offices and as such we now have a new address and a new phone number. Our updated contact details are available on our website.

Last week, Con Coughlin wrote a piece for the Daily Telegraph effectively defending the use of torture and stating that British judges upholding the rule of law in the Binyam Mohammed case were Taliban sympathisers and would be equally to blame with Osama Bin Laden if London were to be bombed again. Big Brother Watch’s Alex Deane wrote a response on Conservative Home, defending liberty and opposing torture, which provoked responses in the Spectator, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal and a further piece from Coughlin himself. You can see our final word on the matter here.

 

Our nanny state and officious councils

 

The past seven days have seen a slew of stories involving baffling regulations and ludicrous decisions from health and safety officers in councils around the country. The absurdity began last weekend, when a 67 year-old man was prevented from getting a bus because he was carrying a pot of paint. This was followed by the news that a mother is facing a fine after a litter warden ‘caught’ her toddler dropping a piece of banana from his pushchair. Whilst relieved that the offending council was not Sandwell, we were reminded of our success with Vanessa Kelly and have offered our support to the unfortunate mother in question.

 

Continuing the theme, it emerged yesterday that Leicestershire County Council are currently in the process of banning swimming goggles, for the bizarre reason that they ‘reduce peripheral vision’. But the crowning glory in this sorry sequence comes courtesy of the chilling ‘National Child Measurement Programme’ – a government programme to catalogue the health of our nation’s youth and hold it on a database, ready to bombard parents if their children get overweight. If this level of snooping wasn’t bad enough, the rigid indicators of the scheme were revealed yesterday, when the parents of apparently healthy Lucy Davies were told that their 5 year-old daughter was fat and at risk of heart disease. 

The saddest feature of the nanny state is that it breeds jobsworths who think that everything’s their business; they think that they should play the role of parents and they think it’s fine to deny individual choice in more and more ways. On all counts, they’re wrong.

 

 

Blogs of the Week

 

Edinburgh Council send support workers on snooping classes - the disturbing news that Edinburgh City Council has decided that its social workers should be the first to be trained to see terrorism in everything. Instead of helping the most disadvantaged they will now be watching out for ‘empty bottles of bleach’…tragic

“Bomb threat” on Twitter…? Oh, please… - Paul Chambers, the man who tweeted his frustration at the closure of an airport and found himself in custody, goes to court today. Big Brother Watch is hoping that the court sees sense…

Interested in campaigning against body scanners? Click here - An Essex man’s grassroots movement starts piling up signatories on Facebook. Sign up and register your opposition to the full-body scanner.

Media Coverage

BBC Radio Derby - Dylan Sharpe interviewed by Shane O’Connor

East Coast FM - Alex Deane interviewed by Graeme Logan

Daily Echo – Neighbours to turn each other in for bin fines in Southampton

Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “The powers being granted to the Bin Stasi should be opposed by the people of Southampton. Bureaucrats everywhere are using the environment as an excuse to intrude on our lives and increase council revenue and it shouldn’t be allowed – especially when disproportionately applied to trivial and absurd ‘offences’ like leaving one’s bin in the wrong place.”

Tameside Reporter – Good ‘ID’ea or not?

Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch, said: “It was foolish to push forward with the scheme in the face of widsespread public opposition against ID cards. As a result there are only a few people who have them – and nobody even recognises what they are. We have managed to live our lives for centuries without ID cards – the suggestion that there is any pressing need for them now is absurd.”

The Times – Businesses are behind the big increase in human rights cases

Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch, said: “Human rights are vital, but the Human Rights Act is often used to achieve frivolous and greedy ends, for purposes nothing to do with proper human rights.

“The abuse of the Act is a tragedy that undermines the whole idea of human rights in the eyes of the public.”

Daily Mail – Police ground unmanned drone after aviation chiefs claim £40,000 gadget was used illegally to make landmark arrest

Dylan Sharpe, campaign director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘This intervention by the CAA is welcome and timely. People already feel that there is excessive surveillance in the UK without the police flying around CCTV cameras to catch us littering or parking in the wrong place.

‘Privacy problems, excessive cost, or unauthorised use of airspace – Britain would be better off with fewer surveillance cameras.’

Real Radio – Dylan Sharpe interviewed by Glen Hunt

Blackpool Gazette – Police use helicopter drone without permission

WATCH: Dominic Grieve QC MP speaks at ‘An Unwarranted Intrusion?’

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

An Unwarranted Intrusion?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Events | 6 Comments

Last night Big Brother Watch teamed up with The Centre for Policy Studies to host an event discussing the accumulation of entry powers by the state. 

Unwarranted Intrusion Research released by Big Brother Watch in December last year revealed that there are nearly 15,000 officers in local councils nationwide who can enter private property without requiring a warrant or police officer escort. You can read the full report Barging In by clicking here. This report built upon the 2006 Centre for Policy Studies pamphlet Crossing the Threshold by Harry Snook, which detailed the number of ways the State can enter a private home as of right.

To debate the power of entry at last night's event - chaired by Jill Kirby, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies - were:

• Dominic Grieve QC MP – Shadow Secretary of State for Justice
• Henry Porter – Novelist and Columnist
• Harry Snook – Author, Crossing the Threshold
• Alex Deane – Director, Big Brother Watch

We will be posting videos of each of the speeches from the event throughout the day and I would urge you to watch all four speakers. Each clip offers tremendous insights into the speaker's expertise and serve as a fantastic analysis of the erosion of liberty and how the current government has intruded into the public and private sphere.

Perhaps the most important development from the event, however, was Dominic Grieve's commitment to two key policies for a Conservative Government:

- The first was his announcement that he would like to see it compulsory for any state inspector to have to apply for a warrant from a JP before exercising power of entry.

- The second was his desire to introduce a 'Repeal Act' to get rid of some of the ridiculous and inappropriate legislation that permits state inspectors to enter our homes.

These two policy commitments from the Shadow Minister for Justice are absolutely critical if a Conservative Government is to restrict the power of the state over our private space. Big Brother Watch intends to keep a close eye on the progression of these commitments and will be ready to hold Dominic Grieve to account should the Tories win the next election. 

The videos of the speeches will be posted shortly.

By Dylan Sharpe

Calling all chemists… (and physicists!)

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | Leave a comment

Help wanted If you are

a) sympathetic to the aims of Big Brother Watch, and

b) a chemist or physicist, and

c) would be in a position to give us some pointers on body scanners or trace swab kits

Then Big Brother Watch would really like to hear from you.

By Alex Deane

‘Comprehensive’ CCTV system fails to capture shocking incident

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV | 11 Comments

CCTVfacingwall It has been revealed that a CCTV system in Teeside, described as 'comprehensive' by the local council, has been unable to capture a single image of the moments a local engineer was struck, crushed and crippled in a car crash.

As reported by the Gazette:

Teesside Crown Court heard that cameras were broken or facing the wrong way at the time of an alleged murderous attack on Kevin Harland.

The Crown say the ex-boxer was viciously assaulted, with a taxi driven into him then a sword-like weapon used to slash or stab his legs. Four men deny taking part in a plan to harm, injure or kill Mr Harland by running him over.

A statement of facts regarding CCTV was read to the jury yesterday. It said: “The police have not recovered any CCTV footage that captures any of the event on CCTV.”

The company that runs the CCTV cameras in the area have the slogan: “Any camera, anywhere, anytime.” Not, it would seem, in this case.

To put this event in context, the council controlling these cameras is Redcar and Cleveland. From the mid-90s until recently the council spent over £3 million on its CCTV network. In 2003, Judge Peter Fox, QC, who was working at Teeside County Court, called into a local radio programme during a debate on the latest £160,000 network expansion, to say the following:

"Whether it is street CCTV or shops or service stations the footage is almost always so poor as to be useless. Valuable resources are being wasted by police and lawyers. Cases are costing enormous sums of money poring over the footage which turns out to be completely useless."

Judge Fox is spot on. But hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on cameras and equipment later, Mr Harland is the one left counting the cost.  

By Dylan Sharpe

The fight against Body Scanners continues

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 5 Comments

Body scan blurred face The Government has insisted that body scanners are to be compulsory for those selected at "random" to go through them, regardless of health concerns and moral or religious concerns (and, indeed, whether they work). Over at Flesh and Stone, Kathlyn Stone has written a good extended piece on the state of play with scanners in the USA.

I've pointed out before that the "Christmas Bomber" was able to board his flight because of systemic failure to use information the security services already had – that law enforcement needs to use the powers and information they've already got, rather than take on a whole new set of expensive, invasive powers in addition to them. Stone points this out in the US context vis a vis the $43 billion Department for Homeland Security getting more funds for 300 body scanners -

in a move that is starting to feel familiar, the government is throwing more money at the department that was created to prevent the sort of incompetence that it just displayed. 

On the privacy front, she writes:

the scans are more revealing than Janet Napolitano, the current Homeland Security chief, and Michael Chertoff, the first security czar who pushed for them, are letting on. The images are high resolution and crisp enough to reveal genitalia.

If you’re a vain person that travels a lot, you might want to start that diet and fitness program today because Transportation Security Administration staff are going to see you without your clothes on. On the other hand, if you look like you might have rolls of midriff fat, saggy breasts and small reproductive organs it might win you a pass-through wave by TSA staff. Not so fast if you’re a shapely woman or a buff-looking man.

Currently, U.S. citizens can opt-out of the scan and instead “receive an equal level of screening and undergo a pat-down procedure,” according to TSA’s website. What, exactly, is this alternative screening that’s on “an equal level” with being viewed without your clothes on?

I note of course that this is an option that we in the UK don't have.

Good piece. Check it out.

By Alex Deane

DNA from babies given to the US military

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in DNA database | 1 Comment

Babies We're constantly reassured that DNA samples taken by the state are secure and safe – nothing to see here, move on, don't cause a fuss.

Well, would you cause a fuss if you were the parent of one of the 800 newborn babies in Texas whose blood samples were sent to the U.S. military?

Supposedly, it wasn't for military use, oh no – it was for potential
use in a database for law enforcement purposes
.

Well, that's OK then.

And, in the winner of the weekly "well isn't that rather the point" award, when asked why the State's government had kept the programme a secret, Carrie Williams, a health department spokeswoman, said

"We don't publicize every agency initiative or
contract, and obviously this is a sensitive topic."

By Alex Deane

Out of the darkness, and into the… oh, dear.

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

Street light Q: You've heard that darkness can severely hamper CCTV coverage. What else can do so?

A: Light.

At least, it's so for CCTV in Sussex. As told over at the Argus

Glare from lamps is causing such poor picture quality that individuals
filmed committing a crime cannot be identified.

By Alex Deane

Photographer films his own wrongful arrest

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 11 Comments

Photography forbidden Dylan has written before about the absurd use of anti-terror powers to interfere with the activities of photographers (and I was interviewed on the subject before Christmas) which has led to a number of protests. The Guardian had a further piece on this front over the weekend, and the story there is complete with footage of the (unsurprisingly unimpressive, self-important, overbearing) police behaviour in stopping a law-abiding amateur photographer doing precisely nothing wrong. The page is also adorned with footage from other such photographer-bothering incidents.

We want to trust the police. We all want to feel that the police are on our side, on the side of law-abiding people and against criminals. Increasingly, polling – and the experiences we all have from day to day – show that the public does not feel like that. For my part, I increasingly feel that they pursue a political agenda and persecute normal people in order to meet objectively unimportant targets. Stories like this one reinforce that.

Take a look at the footage and read the account given by the – well, it's not going too far to say the "victims", is it? You can plainly see that the officers had to think for a while before drafting in a more senior officer who came up with the idea of using powers against "antisocial" behaviour to coerce the photographers to give their names (really nothing more than a cheap way around ruling against stop
and search without just cause
). When one quite rightly refused, he got to spend eight hours in custody – for no proper reason.

This is why the fight being fought by photographers, whilst important for freedom in and of itself, also has much wider implications for all of us in our relationship with the state. Because what this really adds up to is, "I don't like you, sunshine – you think you can assert your rights and walk away from me without justifying yourself to me – well, you can't."

I don't want to live in a country in which a policeman can stop you in the street and demand "your papers" without due cause.

Do you?

By Alex Deane