• Media Enquiries

    07505 448925(24hr)

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

What would you do with £7 million?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV | 1 Comment

Bexley If you live in Bexley, don't worry, the decision's been made for you – more CCTV is the answer!

Of course, residents weren't offered a choice between cameras, or something else… get what you're given and be grateful, Bexley!

By Alex Deane

New IPS ID card blog – a grammar and truth vacuum

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in ID cards | 28 Comments

Following on from my blogpost on Friday – collating all the various ways in which the government continues to push ID cards at us – it has emerged that the Home Office has put together a blog titled 'Understanding the identity card'.

Some may remember the unintentionally hilarious 'I am Spartacus' video from the Identity & Passport Service that we featured on the site earlier this year; well it seems that despite being a dog's dinner in marketing terms, the IPS has decided to run with their friendly fingerprint idea and produce four more bizarre and deeply misleading videos explaining the project.

Safe The first of the four is handily titled 'Your details will be safe with us'. As you will see if you click the screenshot on the right, they proudly announce that details will be "completely safe". Later in the video the IPS goes so far as to say they have an "excellent track record".

Yet, in 2008 the government lost over 29 million personal records. Amongst the data lost were the details for 25 million child benefit claimants; the Ministry of Justice lost information affecting more than 45,000 people, in some cases revealing their criminal records and credit histories; and the Home Office lost the personal details of 3,000 seasonal agricultural workers – including their passport numbers – when two CDs went missing in the post.

Skipping the maddening 'It’s like having a passport in your pocket' – no, having a passport is like having a passport in your pocket – and 'They help protect your identity' – again, a passport is far better at this. As Toby Stevens, of the Enterprise Privacy Group, argued last year, "in the early days, private companies won't be aware of what an ID card is supposed to look like, nor will they have the equipment to check the cards electronically, so 'flash and dash' is inevitable."

We then come to 'It won't become your life history'. This infomercial begins by saying "identity cards are not designed to track your every move". But then later says "An entry will go on your record when your card is checked – with your permission – against the National Identity Register. This will happen when you do something big, like apply for a mortgage." Begging the question – how is this not tracking?

Life History

All in all, the videos are a disgrace. Yet, it is the 'blog' (which you might think bears a passing resemblance to another blog you are presently reading) with Home Office moderated comments, and this three sentence grammar-free buzz-phrase: The new identity card. Fits in your pocket. Does loads – that really irks me. 

The new identity card. Most people don't want it. The government has said they're not compulsory. But the Home Office keep spending time and money promoting them.

By Dylan Sharpe

Hat-tip: our friends at NO2ID

DNA mistake

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in DNA database | 3 Comments

Dna A man in Yokohama was wrongly served with an arrest warrant and had his home searched after police mixed up his DNA records with someone else's: he was involved in a hit-and-run accident in Yokohama in October 2007, and he wrongly became the subject of a warrant for an unrelated theft which took place two years later because a DNA sample from the hit-and-run was wrongly filed in the police database.

Luckily for him, they worked out the mistake. Such mistakes are not uncommon.

UPDATE: Explanation from the relevant police department: human error.

Sounds familiar.

By Alex Deane

BS, BT and CCTV

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV | 2 Comments

CCTV burning Disreputable wrongdoer BT has teamed up with Braintree council to create a working partnership worthy of the Chuckle Brothers.

The Halstead Gazette has reported how the embarrassingly drawn out installation of CCTV in the town has struck another obstacle. Although the four cameras have now been installed in the town, they have been fitted with the wrong type of cable boxes, courtesy of BT.

The Gazette reports:

Halstead town councillor Jackie Pell said: “There can’t be much more that can go wrong.”

Oh Jackie, as if you needed to further curse the system. Consider the following:

Cameras not being watched

Downtime (for all manner of reasons)

Cameras pointing in the wrong direction

Maintenance and replacement cost   

Grainy unreliable footage that often cannot be used in court   

The blight on the scenery   

Or the realisation 6 months down the line that you’ve wasted your money

Finally, another two fingers down the lens as the Southend Echo highlights that there are often just two people in their local control centre monitoring the 300 high-tech cameras watching Essex's finest.

The Echo reports that residents have demanded more staff to man the cameras; but we think they would have been better off spending the cash on diligent police officers.

By James Stannard

If you live in Monmouth…

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

Pay up.

Yes, OK, the CCTV was a failure – but you still owe thousands of pounds.

By Alex Deane

Don’t be fooled. The ID card has not gone away

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in ID cards | 12 Comments

Holding an identity card should be a personal choice for British citizens — just as it is now to obtain a passport. Accordingly, I want the introduction of identity cards for all British citizens to be voluntary

Alan Johnson, Home Secretary – 1st July 2009

We will reduce the information British citizens have to give for the new biometric passport to no more than that required for today's passport. And so conference, I can say to you today, in the next parliament there will be no compulsory ID cards for British citizens

Gordon Brown, Prime Minister – 29th September 2009

Following Alex's very well-received blogpost summing up our opposition to body scanners – and a number of new stories from this week – I thought it would be useful to provide a list of the numerous ways in which a government supposedly committed to 'personal choice' on identity has pushed, cajoled and coerced the nation into applying for an ID card.

If you are over 60 and want a bus passPensioners could be forced to carry identity cards to qualify for free bus travel

If you are poor and bank at RBS and LloydsMeg Hillier said companies might offer to buy the £30 cards
for people who wouldn’t pay for them otherwise

Or if you are just poorHome Office minister Meg Hillier argues ID cards can provide the foundation for fairer access to services and opportunities

If you work at an airportAll staff who work 'airside' are eligible to get a free card as part of the regional roll-out of the ID cards scheme

If you are aged 18-24 and live in London (and want to buy alcohol)Meg Hillier said People aged 18 to 24 will be able to spend £30 on a biometric photocard that can be used to prove their age when buying alcohol or age-restricted goods or to gain entry to a nightclub

If you are a Premiership footballer or 'skilled migrant'The Home Office said that from January 6 skilled migrants would have to apply for identity cards when their visas expired. This further roll-out of the plans was brought forward from April

If you are a civil servantPhil Woolas, the Immigration minister, faced ridicule last night after announcing that his own civil servants would be the first Britons to be issued with identity cards

When applying for a CRB checkMillions could be asked to provide ID card and fingerprint data to get a job under new systems being developed by the Home Office following a collapse in the accuracy of background checks

And finally…to prevent identity fraud and terrorismAlan Johnson: We need identity cards, and soon

And the areas this 'non-compulsory' scheme has been 'rolled out'…

Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Berwick and Northumberland – Identity cards could be introduced across the North-East by the end of the year, it has been revealed

Alan Johnson looking stupid Birmingham and WarwickIdentity cards are to be issued in Birmingham, the Home Office has announced

Lancashire – Identity cards are to be rolled out across Lancashire in the New Year

Cheshire – ID card scheme rolled out in Cheshire

London - London is about to see the roll-out of the latest stage of the government's identity card scheme

ManchesterResidents of Greater Manchester will be the first British citizens able to apply for a voluntary ID card

And…our friendly, neighbourhood Post OfficePost Office co-opted to hasten ID card rollout

This list is probably not comprehensive, BUT don't let anyone – Minister, politician, Joe Public – ever tell you the ID card scheme has gone away. The Government is trying every trick in the political playbook to press identity cards into the hands of a deeply skeptical general public.

We must not let them. Go to www.no2id.net to read more.

By Dylan Sharpe

Setting a bad example on DNA

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in DNA database | 8 Comments

Dna You have probably seen that Barack Obama is considering a national (rather than State-based) DNA database in the USA.

Which nation is being used as the cautionary tale in that debate?

We are.

By Alex Deane

How’d you like a state licence to spy on your neighbours?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV | 1 Comment

Snooping 1) Live in Brighton

2) Attend a police course

And you could be given access to the very latest in snooping equipment! 400 cameras at your disposal!

By Alex Deane

Opting out of the database state

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

A good post over at Old Holborn on the NHS Summary Care Record Database, and the database state more generally, is well worth reading.

By Alex Deane

As Body Scanners are introduced, more and more issues arise

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 29 Comments

Body scan Our position on body scanners has been made clear on this site several times. They're an intrusive and unnecessary over-reaction to a threat (the Christmas Bomber) which could and should have been picked up using the intelligence available at the time – competent use of existing resources, not throwing money at new ones to be run by the same people whose incompetence led to the problem in the first place.

Still, I thought the following bullet points might be of interest:

  • Hundreds of people in the USA have complained about them. The complaints range from concern about genitals being seen to the use of the devices on children, to anger over passengers not being told they could request a pat-down search instead [which doesn't even apply here in the UK], to potential health worries from the scans (which are debated here).
  • It's interesting that in the USA, Airport Directors make a virtue of the fact that you can opt for another form of search. Shouldn't we have the same choice here?
  • Authoritative confirmation has been obtained that they can store images.
  • Even putting aside the cost of the scanners themselves (which here in the UK has been put at £80,000-£100,000 each and is the subject of a Congressional budget request of $1 billion) the cost to the USA in additional staffing costs is an eye-watering additional $2.4 billion. The cost to the UK is not yet known.
  • All this expense, and yet the scanners had not been field-tested before their introduction.
  • Federal authorities in the USA are now suggesting that, in the long term, everyone will have to go through the scanners – no selection of some individuals, no other option.
  • Religious objections continue.
  • An interesting legislative suggestion by an American politician would mean that scanners are not used as the first line of security, instead only once a concern has arisen via another part of the system.
  • Scanners have caused long delays at airports. Totally unforeseeable…!
  • There are other more productive security steps going undone as a result of this focus on body scanners, like improving security at small airports.
  • In a world in which thousands of places are now demanding scanners… the EU still can't sell any. The proverbial in the brewery…
  • There are apparently four main types of scanners. We in Europe have the most revealing.
  • Beside the other points made about the fact that the scanners don't work, consider the prospect of bombs implanted under the skin of suicide bombers. In that last link and also in this one you'll see that MI5 has said there are credible fears that that is already being planned (it has been speculated about for some time). Easily done and renders all this false-sense-of-security-generating scanning equipment entirely useless.It's far from just theoretical, too – as the recent assassination attempt on a Saudi Arabian prince involved hiding explosives in a body cavity.
  • Pakistan's Parliamentary delegation to the USA ended their trip in a protest against the scanners.
  • The EU's position on body scanners is to be announced in June – i note that in 2008 the Parliament said that scanners were degrading and rejected them, so any change in their position will have to be explained. This is a big decision and Big Brother Watch will be watching.
  • Final word to the good people at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC):

“They are uniquely intrusive as they allow the government to photograph air travelers stripped naked regardless of suspicion” Marc Rotenberg, EPIC Executive Director

By Alex Deane

Note that I've used the American spelling for Centre as, well, that's
how EPIC spell it. It's not a typo :)

Related posts elsewhere: The Lift ("legal issues in the fight against terrorism"), an extended, good Washington Post piece and a brilliant article in The Age by the IPA's Chris Berg: New airport security measures are overkill, since the risk of terrorism is already so tiny.