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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

Big Brother Watch Newsletter 19.03.10

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

Dear Supporter, 

This week Big Brother Watch has been
cast in the role of grim soothsayer, when our
warnings about the privacy problems
inherent in Google’s Street View system
were sadly proven correct. On Saturday, it
was revealed
that a young boy had been pictured by Google naked – with his
face blurred out – but his parents’ car numberplate clearly visible behind him.
This was followed up with
the news
that the murdered schoolgirl, Ashleigh Hall, had also been
photographed leaving her house just days before she was killed.


It is unfortunate, but these sort of mistakes were bound to
happen. People are not consulted before the Street View cameras arrive in their
town, yet Google relies on the public to point out where they have gone wrong after images are put in
the public domain. Google needs to take greater responsibility for people’s
personal privacy and introduce stronger safeguards to the system.



Freedom Vs Security Event


Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch, and Douglas
Murray, Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion, are set to reprise their
successful event that took place at Conservative Party Conference last year and
go head to head to debate “Freedom vs Security” at the launch of a
new series of regular monthly Free Spirits debates (organised by The Freedom
Association) in the heart of the Westminster Village.


The debate takes place on Wednesday 24th March 2010 from 18:00 – 21:00.

At the Marquis
of Granby pub, 41 Romney Street, LONDON, SW1P 3RF


For further information and to register to attend please click





Continuing our series of introductions to other
organisations fighting for liberty – and coming after
a week of new stories about the escalation of the ID card scheme
– we give
you a brief introduction to NO2ID, who have been exceptionally generous with
support and advice for Big Brother Watch from the very beginning.


NO2ID is a UK-wide, non-partisan
campaign focussed on the threat to liberty and privacy posed by the rapid
growth of the database state, of which “ID cards” are the most
visible part. They bring together individuals and organisations from all
sections of the community and seek to ensure that the case against ID cards and
the database state is forcefully put forward in the media, in the corridors of
power and at grassroots level.

The NO2ID campaign is an organisation of volunteers
supported by private donations. To protect your privacy they need your help.
Find out more about getting involved with NO2ID by going to their website here:



Blogs of the Week


As Body Scanners are introduced, more and more issues
– our most comprehensive analysis
yet of the huge number of problems surrounding the airport full-body scanner


karma lands restaurant boss in jail
– one man tries to defend his shop and
gets killed, the other tries to defend his restaurant and is arrested.


come on, come on…Do the locomotion
– Tom Shaw is thrown off a train for
writing ‘The Killers’ on a notepad. Whilst appalled at the action, it has meant
Big Brother Watch has spent the rest of the week thinking up other band names
that could get the train authorities riled…Boomtown Rats, The B52′s, Black
Rebel Motorcycle Club…why not add your own to the blog?



Media Coverage

Daily Express – Boy fined for dropping chips after attack

Campaign group Big
Brother Watch condemned the move and offered to take up the mother’s legal
battle. Alex Deane, its director, said: “This could only happen in a
target-driven, bureaucratic culture of overpowered jobsworths like ours today.
“The council has acted with no common sense or human feeling and should be

“It should drop the fine and
apologise and the petty warden who issued the fixed penalty notice should be
fired.” Last year Big Brother Watch gave legal advice to Vanessa Kelly, 26,
from Oldbury, West Midlands, who was fined £75 by a council worker for feeding
ducks with her 17-month-old son Harry. She forced the council to back down
after an outcry over the petty fine.

Daily Telegraph – Pensioners could be forced to show ID for bus travel

Alex Deane, a spokesman
for civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said: “Some people will
resent this so much that to avoid ID cards they will stop taking the bus -
perhaps that’s exactly the sort of budget saving Meg Hillier wants.

Daily Mail – Ashleigh Hall captured on Google Street View just weeks before
she was killed by Facebook predator

Alex Deane, director of
privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘For many, Google’s Street View
cameras are an upsetting invasion of privacy. ‘Coming only days after a naked
boy was also captured by their cameras, it is clear that Google needs to take
greater responsibility for people’s personal privacy and introduce stronger
safeguards to the system.’

Alex Deane interviewed by BBC
Radio Newcastle

Daily Mail – Warning – your child is unfit: Parents of pupils who fail
school fitness tests to get letters from health police

Dylan Sharpe, from campaign group
Big Brother Watch, said: ‘While it is important that children are fit and
healthy, these proposed annual tests are yet more Government interference and
yet more tests for a generation of children who are already constantly under

Alex Deane guests on The Riz
Khan show on al Jazeera English

Reading Post – ‘Chip and bin is a real intrusion’

A campaign group has
lifted the lid on the 68 local authorities which have installed microchips in
the refuse bins of their residents. One of the 68 featured by Big Brother Watch
is South Oxfordshire District Council, which has had the “chip and bin” scheme
on its recyclable waste bins since last summer.

Daily Mail – Arrested by the egg police – for selling this 100-year-old
chest of drawers

Alex Deane, director of
campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘The RSPB and Northumbria Police should
be ashamed of themselves. ‘Jim is a law-abiding man whose life and business
have been disrupted. They could have approached this case in a much more
commonsense way.’

Daily Mail – Football coach told to turn ‘threatening’ Freedom or Death
T-shirt inside out by airport security guards

Dylan Sharpe, campaign
director of Big Brother Watch, said it was yet another example of how paranoid
we have been made by terrorism. ‘T-shirt slogans do not imply malicious intent
and the pathetic security officers should have known better. After the
intrusion and embarrassment of bodyscanning, one wonders how much more
difficult airports can make leaving the country.’

The lollipop lady cometh

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV | 8 Comments

Lollypop snooper Lollipop ladies are going to have CCTV in their sticks.

I have checked the date. It's not April 1.

It will soon be easier to list places and people that are not under constant government surveillance than places that are.The world's biggest network of cameras. Flying CCTV. CCTV in private homes. Now this.

As always, the latest creeping incursion into privacy, the latest extension of state snooping, is supposedly justified on specific need grounds, without reference to any wider privacy or principle. If one does try to question the principle, we're told, as always – nothing to hide, nothing to fear! Really..? If you've got nothing to hide… why do you have curtains?

By Alex Deane

Body scanners and health

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 2 Comments

Scanners sign Further to our recent coverage of the unsurprising privacy abuse of body scanners, two quick links on scanners and potential health risks (which I know Big Brother Watch regular commenter Alastair will appreciate!):

Aviation Online


By Alex Deane

50-60 per cent effective

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 10 Comments

Following on from my previous post on the airport full-body scanner; I have now had a read of the full Home Affairs Select Committee Document (courtesy of Privacy International) and found some additional gems that cast further doubt over the roll-out of the technology.

Taken from page 4 of the report:

Lord West (Home Office Security Minister) told us that these scanners were around 50–60% effective at detecting threats

And from page 6:

While body scanners can add another layer of security, they are appreciably slower than traditional archway metal detectors. To process every passenger through the equipment would therefore lead to long queues and increase the time passengers spend in airport terminals. Mr Baum told us that this is a problem in itself since it creates a target for suicide bombers within airport terminals and also creates “a lot of unhappy passengers who are perpetrating acts of air rage on board aircraft and they could one day bring down an aircraft”

And finally this little beauty from page 14:

The Government is correct not to publicise every measure that it is taking, but should do more to camouflage and hide the technical specifications of security equipment.

Breast_implant So, we won't know what they do; they will slow down our journeys with potentially dangerous consequences; and are only 50% effective. And, as if to highlight that last point, from the Daily Telegraph this morning:

Radical Islamist plastic surgeons could be carrying out implant operations in lawless areas of Pakistan, security sources are said to warned.

Explosives experts have reportedly said just five ounces of Pentaerythritol Tetrabitrate packed into a breast implant would be enough to blow a “considerable” hole in the side of a jumbo jet.

It would be virtually impossible for airport security scanners to detect the explosive if hidden inside a breast, medics have said.

On top of the privacy concerns, there is a big problem with becoming reliant on any one particular piece of technology. If airports assume that the body scanner is fail-safe, terrorists will simply adapt to get explosives through them.

By Dylan Sharpe

Oh, the irony

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 11 Comments

Bodyscan Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published a report warning the government that the introduction of body scanners at airports must be hastened in order to prevent unnecessary deaths.

As reported by the Daily Mail,

The cross-party group of MPs accused ministers of taking a ‘laissez-faire’ approach to security and said the government must be more proactive in preventing attacks using new technology.

Their report concludes: ‘The Government's position of adopting "proportionate" measures is a euphemism for adopting a wholly reactive stance and waiting for terrorists to demonstrate their new capabilities before implementing improved security measures.

Yet, overnight a story has emerged in The Sun that provides the perfect example of why the rush to install full-body scanners at airports up and down the country should be put on hold.

A Heathrow security man was quizzed by police after ogling a girl colleague "naked" in a new anti-terror body scanner.

Jo Margetson, 29, reported John Laker, 25, after he took her picture with the X-ray gadget and made a lewd comment. The pervy guard leered and told her: "I love those gigantic t**s."

She had entered the X-ray machine by mistake – and was horrified when Laker pressed a button to take a revealing photo.

Quelle surprise.

There needs to be much more thought given to the privacy and health concerns – how are those employed being trained and vetted and how dangerous is the radiation these machines produce?

As Alex wrote last week, body scanners are an intrusive and unnecessary over-reaction to a threat (the Christmas Day bomber) which could and should have been picked up using the intelligence available at the time.

Until they are put under the sort of rigorous testing that similar equipment has been subjected to, Big Brother Watch is campaigning for a complete suspension in the national roll-out of airport body scanners. 

By Dylan Sharpe

The view from Wycombe: Big Brother or the Big Society?

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

Here at Big Brother Watch we try to be even-handed. We praised Wycombe District Council several times for at least offering residents an opportunity to give their views on the area's (extensive) CCTV network, but were saddened by their apparent lack of interest in views the residents have expressed. Our most recent contact with the authorities there generated some heat as one of our volunteers stickered an omnibanning pole in the area as part of our Naming and Shaming campaign. Strangely and foolishly, "someone" from the Council gave a comment to the Bucks Free Press threatening us with prosecution, a threat that has yet to have any basis in reality – despite the pole being promptly re-stickered the next day.

In response, Steve Baker, the Conservative PPC for Wycombe, got in touch with Big Brother Watch with an article he's written about the issue. The article is below.

If you'd like to write a guest post for us, get in touch. Particularly, as we've given a Tory a free kick here (in response to us kicking the Tory Council), any comment from any other party in Wycombe would be looked at with interest.

Steve bakerIn the last few days, we have had a round of guerrilla stickering in Wycombe. There was the sticker of the week. Then there was talk of prosecution at the Bucks Free Press. Finally, the sticker returned.

Now, it is a good photograph. As a totem for the surveillance society, it is superb. Perhaps some even find it superficially funny to see all-round "CCTV in operation" signs, a draconian alcohol prohibition, an exhortation not to urinate or defecate in the street and, as if in some final act of absurdity, a restriction on feeding the birds.

But why? Why was it thought necessary to watch, to prohibit and to spell out a requirement of common decency?

I have learned that this area of the town, Frogmoor, once accommodated an outreach to those with drinking problems and related issues. As a result, people from a wide area came to Frogmoor to drink rowdily. Intoxicated people terrorised the area and, as you might expect from the sign, urinated and defecated in the street. Feeding the large flock of pigeons surely finished off the job horribly.

If you actually had to live with that, it wouldn't be funny.

Read more

Westminster Lifestyle Survey

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Privacy | 3 Comments

Whilst my walk home from work takes me past the Home Office and countless CCTV cameras, it is not often that one returns home to find the Big Brother state staring up from the doormat. Yet, that is exactly what happened last night when I stepped inside my front door and found the 'Westminster Lifestyle Survey' waiting patiently for my return.

Title The stated purpose of the document is to 'paint a clearer picture of the daily lives of our local community' which, although intrusive, could be seen as having some utility in terms of local service provision. But it is hard not to be shocked by the intrusiveness of some of the questions.

Eating Smoking The survey successfully nails each of the 'big hitters' in terms of interfering, nannying government. If you click on the thumbnails to the right you will see a few of the pages residents are encouraged to answer.

There is, of course, a 'what you eat' and 'smoking and drinking' questionnaire; the more concerning AboutYou HowYouFeel 'how do you feel?' and then the terrific 'About You', which not only requires you hand over all the standard information, but also your estimated household income and 'working status'.

NHS Westminster skillfully plays to its intended audience by offering a £10 high-street shopping voucher to the first 100 people to return the document completed, and claim that any personal information is kept 'strictly confidential'. 

There are several questions that come to mind. Why, for instance, does the survey require a name, address and financial income? – if it were simply for targeting local services it would not matter who was responding.

But the overall impression one gets reading this survey is that it is all about building a profile for each person in the area, so that they can be targeted and sold-to at every opportunity. The state wants to know what we eat, drink, smoke and feel because it already knows where we go, how much we spend and what our interests are.

Privacy is a foreign country.

By Dylan Sharpe

Crunch time

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

Biscuits An interesting report over at the Express about a recently apprehended criminal mastermind.

The "crime": eating some biscuits in the office.

The method of detection: workplace CCTV

The punishment: dismissal, criminal prosecution and conviction, £150 fine, £7 compensation.

Now apparently he should have realised that the biscuits weren't communal, but belonged to a colleague. So he shouldn't have eaten the biscuits. Naughty. And this felony would not have been solved but for the surveillance, so it must be justified! Right? Right..?

It's true. This culprit wouldn't have been nabbed, the wretched crime would have gone unsolved, but for the cameras. But in the end, it's a question of what sort of society we want to live in. One in which companies use CCTV to snoop on their own employees' biscuit consumption (and the police and courts take them seriously) is, I suggest, a society in which something is very wrong.

It's another demonstration of the fact that our Big Brother culture
isn't driven solely by the state – we'd be running a campaign with one eye firmly closed if we thought that.

By Alex Deane

Idaho bill – first step in limiting the use of body scanners

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

IDAHO1 In a previous post I mentioned an interesting legislative proposal to limit the use of body scanners, effectively removing them from the first line of screening, meaning that they'd only be used if alternative methods triggered some sort of need.

Last week, Idaho's lower house passed the bill.

The bill now goes to the Idaho Senate. We'll keep you posted.

By Alex Deane

ANPR, elsewhere

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

Philippines.jpg Since Big Brother Watch began, we've catalogued the ways in which Britain "leads" the international field in snooping and surveillance.

Unhappily, I'm increasingly aware that others are following our example. Day after day I hear about other nations ramping up their CCTV capacity, building DNA databases, etcetera.

Today's no different – I've learned that authorities in the Philippines are proposing to build their own Automatic Numberplate Recognition System to go with their CCTV.

Because revenue-raising via pseudo-crime fighting tools isn't a uniquely British disease.

By Alex Deane