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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

Rising number of CCTV cameras in schools

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, Privacy | 13 Comments

Classroom CCTV We will always give credit where credit is due on Big Brother Watch; so massive credit to Dr Emmeline Taylor from the University of Salford, who has conducted a fascinating survey into the number of schools installing CCTV systems.

Dr Taylor surveyed 24 comprehensives in the north west of England and discovered that 23 had installed more than 20 cameras.

As reported by the Daily Telegraph:

As many as 85 per cent of teachers have reported the use of CCTV in their schools and one-in-10 said cameras had even been placed in toilets.

According to the study, some schools are also using other techniques such as fingerprinting, metal detectors, electronic identity cards, eye scanners and facial recognition systems.

Research funded by Salford University said that schools were increasingly becoming a “hotbed for surveillance practices” in the UK as children were subjected to checks for often mundane reasons such as borrowing a book from a library or paying for lunch.

But Dr Emmeline Taylor also suggested many schools were collecting CCTV images illegally by failing to inform pupils and visitors that they were being monitored under the Data Protection Act.

Placed alongside Big Brother Watch's report from last December into council-controlled CCTV cameras – it is clear that the UK is witnessing a massive expansion in surveillance technology.

As Alex wrote last week when discussing the latest case of cameras being placed in school toilets: "Schools are immunising their pupils to surveillance. First they say the cameras aren’t switched on, then they say they’re only pointing at the sinks – pupils and parents get used to the presence of the technology and by the time the cameras are capturing intimate moments, nobody will complain."

Dr Taylor's survey is fascinating – not only for the data or the fact that schools are collecting images without informing pupils, teachers and parents – but also because she has found no evidence that the rise in cameras is providing schools with a solution to the problems (crime, bullying, smoking, truancy) the CCTV was supposed to fix. Her own conclusion perhaps sums it up best:

“The effectiveness of CCTV in preventing and detecting crime remains extremely dubious, and its impact upon more trivial behaviours such as playing truant has not been measured.

“CCTV is often attributed with numerous benefits that often there is no evidence to suggest that it can deliver on.”

By Dylan Sharpe

A new crime a day since 1997

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 9 Comments

House_of_Commons The number of new laws created under Labour has been the subject of many a newspaper report/book/study in recent years. Nevertheless, Kevin Dowling's brilliant article on this "legislative diarrhoea" (copyright: Chris Huhne) from yesterday's Sunday Times has some terrific new examples that I will share with you below:

Under laws introduced by Labour, if you have failed to nominate a keyholder who can switch off your alarm you are guilty of an offence. You could be liable for a fine of £1,000 and could have to appear in front of a magistrate if you fail to pay a fixed penalty on time.

This is just one of 4,300 offences created by the Labour government since 1997 — an avalanche of legislation. It equates to an average of 28 offences every month since Labour came to power and it is getting worse. Under Gordon Brown, the Liberal Democrats say, the creation of offences has risen to 33 a month.

The Nuclear Explosions (Prohibition and Inspections) Act of 1998 illustrates Labour’s approach. Even before MPs and civil servants spent hundreds of hours drafting and passing the law, common sense would have told most people that it was not a good idea to set off a nuclear bomb.

So far, so amusing. To quote Chris Huhne (again) "most crimes that people care about have been illegal for years. Cutting crime should be about catching and reforming criminals, not creating law.” But there is a much more corrosive element to all this law-making:

Some laws can have drastic side-effects as in the recent case of Philip Bowles, a 60-year-old businessman with no previous convictions who was charged with Vat offences.

Bowles protested that he was unable to mount a proper defence because his money had been seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and his tax records had been taken by administrators.

He was refused legal aid to hire a forensic accountant to examine his confiscated records. He was found guilty of switching a Vat liability between two companies and jailed for 3½ years.

The sad case of Mr Bowles is just one of many examples over the past 12 years of the state creating a criminal from an otherwise law-abiding man. This explosion in "non-crimes" represents a massive intrusion into our liberty and is one of the major reasons behind Big Brother Watch's establishment.

At an event we hosted last month, Dominic Grieve – the Shadow Minister for Justice – said he was committed to introducing a Repeal Act in the first 100 days of a Conservative government; and you can tell from the choice quotes above that Chris Huhne, Lib Dem Home Affairs Spokesman, is similarly opposed to the government's approach. So one has to ask why our current leaders cannot see the gaping flaw in their catch-all approach to legislating?

By Dylan Sharpe 

How easy is it for someone to track you online..? Find out here…

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Online privacy | 7 Comments

500x_panopticlick We've all heard of cookies on our browsers, but just how easy is it for someone to track us online?

Even putting aside the issue of data retention by your ISP, the answer seems to be, "pretty easy". The good people over at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have produced Panopticlick (great name) which has sampled three quarters of a million (volunteer) browsers so far and each has unique characteristics which would enable the browser to be tracked.

Worth a look (and in recommending it, I note their bulletproof privacy policy…!). There are also some good tips on how to make it harder for your browser to be tracked online (with more here, too).

By Alex Deane

Hat tip: AT

Are you shy? Then you’re probably a terrorist

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Privacy | 12 Comments

Talksport … or so this advertisement for the Anti-Terrorist hotline on talkSPORT would have you believe.

The 40 second advert explicitly suggests that someone who

  • Keeps himself to himself
  • Draws his curtains
  • and pays with cash

is a potential or probable terrorist.

The advert is 40 seconds long and is a must-listen. It's borderline not work safe – not because there's anything rude in it, but because it will make you so angry you'll most likely punch the monitor.

Shame on you, talkSPORT and co.

By Alex Deane

(For more on whipping-up-an-entirely-unjustified fear-of-terrorists-frenzy, you might enjoy this post)

Hat tip: LWW

T-shirts: The latest bugbear of our overbearing state

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

Freedomtshirt When Lloyd Berks – a 38 year-old football coach from Bexley – walked into Gatwick Airport wearing a Levi Strauss T-shirt bearing the phrase 'Freedom or Death', with a picture of a skeleton dressed in armour beneath, the only reaction he might reasonably have expected would be a compliment from a fellow dedicated follower of fashion.

But no, as the Mail on Sunday explains:

Security officers decided it was 'threatening' and told the father of two, who was travelling with his partner and two young children, to turn the T-shirt inside out.

The embarrassed 38-year-old soccer coach obliged, opting to cover the garment with a cardigan.

But he has accused the airport of being over-zealous and attacking civil liberties.

The airport has subsequently apologised, but in truth this story is so beset with irony it could have been made up. If the fact that the slogan reads 'Freedom or Death' wasn't enough cause for amusement; let's not forget that that it is also the title of a famous speech on liberty and justice in 1913 by fearsome freedom campaigner, Emmeline Pankhurst.

This incident is a sad example of the terrorism paranoia which increasingly affects every part of public life. T-shirt slogans do not imply malicious intent and the pathetic security officers involved should have known better.
After the intrusion and embarrassment of bodyscanning, one wonders how much more difficult airports can make leaving the country.

By Dylan Sharpe

Health and safety strikes again

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 4 Comments

Cheese There are some things that are so much a part of our country that you think they're targets too big for our absurd political correctness culture and health and safety establishment to take on. You think of them in rhetorical terms – "They'll pull down Nelson's Column next – too aggressive" or "Everything's so wrapped up in cotton wool – they'll stop the cheese-chasers in Gloucester next"

Well, look out Nelson. Because they've just banned cheese-rolling.

By Alex Deane

Hat tip: TE / HE / Libertarian Alliance

Now teachers are being trained to spot terrorist pupils

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

Teacher-in-classroom A few weeks ago I wrote about Edinburgh Council's decision to start training their social workers to look for anything vaguely 'terroristy' – to the general consternation of many.

But this week Cornwall Council has taken the Minority Report approach to combating terrorism one step further.

As reported in the Daily Mail:

Teachers are being trained on how to spot pupils who might become terrorists when they leave school, it was revealed today.

Council chiefs believe the specialist training will allow secondary school staff to identify children who may grow up to become suicide bombers.

A £3,500 conference is being laid on in Cornwall designed to help teachers from across the county pick out would-be violent extremists.

A spokesman for the Department of Education confirmed the conference would be the first of its kind in Britain, but admitted a wider scheme offering guidance to teachers across the country was already in place.

If there are any teachers reading this that have received or seen any of this guidance, Big Brother Watch would love to take a look; not least because we'd be interested to see what the DCSF defines as the characteristics of a 12 year-old that mark it out as a potential terrorist.

Our primary concern is what happens next – Is the child loaded onto a terrorist database for life? Is their family placed under surveillance? 

Teachers should be concentrating on making sure the child is getting educated. This proposal encourages suspicion and mistrust in schools – the sort of thing that can lead to children becoming disillusioned, unhappy, perhaps look for an alternative source of learning…

By Dylan Sharpe

Big Brother Watch Newsletter 12.03.10

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


This week the Big Brother Watch
Guerrilla Sticker Campaign has entered the media, with Wycombe District
Council becoming the first local authority to object to a BBW
sticker being left on one of their lampposts. We are completely ready if
they come for us, although we expect the council to think twice before
trying to prosecute a liberty and freedom campaign group.

According to the report in the Bucks Free Press the original
sticker was removed after being publicised on our blog. But you can’t keep a good campaign down
Our support for
Jim Railton

Brother Watch has taken up the cause of Jim Railton – an auctioneer from
Northumberland. Last October, Jim
was given a wooden cabinet containing several 19th century eggs
to sell, valued at £30. Jim put it up for auction and a few days later
was arrested and charged with two offences
relating to the sale of bird eggs under the Wildlife and Countryside
Act 1981. 
Please do read our full account of this ridiculous
prosecution, but in the meantime – the RSPB and Northumberland Police:
consider yourselves named and shamed.
The Manifesto
Following our
introduction to the Open Rights Group in last week’s newsletter, this
week we are previewing the Manifesto Club – a
campaign against the hyperregulation of
everyday life. They support free movement across borders, free
expression and free association; and challenge booze bans, photo bans,
vetting and speech codes – all ways in which the state regulates
everyday life on the streets, in workplaces and in our private lives.
They released a tremendous report earlier this year into the pressures
placed on schools to add pupils to the ‘hate register’. Read more about the Manifesto Club here.
They have an event next Wednesday (17th) discussing the
visa-system that denies international speakers and artists the chance to
come to Britain and speak at events. Please click here for further information (please
note: this is not a Big Brother Watch event and any queries should be
sent directly to the Manifesto Club).
Blogs of the
Q: When is an optional opt out not an option..? -
A: When the government is uploading your confidential medical records
onto its enormous state database. The British Medical Association (who
are supposed to support this sort of thing) speaks up for our right to
CCTV in toilets – again
- another story about schools putting
CCTV in toilets and changing rooms. Since BBW got going we have been
genuinely shocked by the number of these stories. Will headteachers
everywhere please just stop!
That doggie in the window is about to become
considerably more expensive
– a simple government equation: a slew
of vicious dog-related incidents + a nice bit of media hype = a piece of
legislation that will hit everybody in the pocket.
Media Coverage

Daily Telegraph – Google Street View goes nationwide in Britain

Campaigner Alex Deane, director of Big
Brother Watch, is concerned about the privacy implications of Street
View after a number of people contacted him with their concerns. When
it arrives somewhere for the first time, those who are concerned about
being captured should check it to see if they or their property are now
on worldwide public view.

Daily Express – Sneaky anti-terror cameras used in war on the motorist

Director of Big Brother Watch Alex Deane,
which campaigns against the surveillance society, said: “This confirms
what every driver will have suspected – that ANPR cameras are about
revenue raising, not law enforcement. This sneaky network is really
just another tax.”

Bucks Free Press – Council could prosecute over anti-CCTV stickers in
High Wycombe

COUNCIL chiefs said ‘big brother’ campaigners who leave
anti-CCTV  stickers on camera poles could be prosecuted. Wycombe
District Council commented after the Big Brother Watch group published a
photograph of one of its stickers on a pole in Frogmoor.

Daily Express – All dogs to be insured by law

Alex Deane, director of campaign group Big
Brother Watch, said: “We have managed to own dogs in this country for
hundreds of years without any tax policy. “There’s a reason why the
saying is ‘One man and his dog’ and not ‘One man, his dog and his
third-party liability’. I think this is absurd and completely

Daily Mail – How just 0.3% of solved crimes are due to DNA database

Alex Deane, director of campaigners Big
Brother Watch, said: ‘The case for further expansion of the database
has been exposed as being totally unjustified.’

Sky News – Parents Angry Over CCTV In School Toilets

Dylan Sharpe from Big Brother Watch told
Sky News: “Children are entitled to privacy like anyone else. We’re
raising a generation of children accustomed to being constantly watched
and monitored, whether cameras are switched on or not.”

Daily Telegraph – Hundreds more town hall staff to get police-style

Sharpe, campaign director of Big Brother Watch, said: “Those empowered
by these schemes don’t have anything near the proper training,
experience or respect to try and boss around members of the public.”

Sunday Express – Town Halls use terror laws to spy on staff

Alex Deane, of Big Brother Watch which
campaigns to protect civil liberties, said: “If councils do this with
their own staff, what are they like with the rest of us?”

Huffington Post – ‘Spy Chips’ Hidden In 2.6 Million Trashbins Aim To Tax
Those Who Toss Too Much

In a West End town, a dead end world

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 4 Comments

98230399pet-shop-boys-west-end-girls-jpg Over at West End Extra, an interesting story:

Cameras that have been turned off in the West End: 100.

Time cameras have been turned off: 12 months.

Reason they were turned off: never produced images good enough to actually be used (like the cover for the Pet Shop Boys' West End Girls, they were fuzzy…).

Cost of this cock-up: £500,000.

Further cost of restoring the network: another £330,000.

Purpose of cameras in the first place: generating parking fines.


By Alex Deane

Google Street View

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Online privacy | 18 Comments

Google logoYesterday, Google's Street View rolled out across the UK.

It's an impressive service and one can easily appreciate that there are many potentially beneficial uses. But for many, Google’s cameras – and the images they generate – are an upsetting invasion of privacy.

We’re never asked whether or not we’re comfortable with it coming to our street or even to our town.

"It's nothing you couldn't see walking along the street", the
company says, as if we all had panopticon eyes which permanently
recorded everything around us in glorious technicolour, for later review
at our leisure. In this time of catering for every conceivable minority interest, I suppose it's nice when a company does something for burglars.

When it arrives somewhere for the first time, those who are concerned
about being captured should check it to see if they or their property
are now on worldwide public view. They almost certainly are. We've been commenting on this all week and many have been in touch with us about their concerns. It ought to be easier for those who dislike the idea of being in perpetual public view to opt out. Particularly, I think that there is a generational disconnect in play here, with those most likely to be upset by Street View being those least likely to know how to go about how to get themselves off the site.

In this context, it was reassuring to receive from Google yesterday an undertaking that they will remove from the site the home of anyone who doesn't know how to use the internet but writes them a letter instead. (And it's pleasing that, unlike councils and national Government, Google at least cares enough about public opinion to enter into a dialogue with critics.)  Still, the burden's all on us to do something about it, having had our privacy infringed upon without notice or consent beforehand.

For those who do use the net and are troubled by this, we've published a step-by-step guide on opting out of Street View.

By Alex Deane