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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

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

A small victory for common sense

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

Bumble bee man Last July Paul Winston pulled into a bus lane to open his window and free a bumble bee that was in danger of stinging him.

The local authority in charge of the route – Camden Council in North London – observed Mr Winston in the bus lane and issued him with a £60 fine.

Today, as reported by the Daily Telegraph:

After months of fighting Camden Council has now agreed to withdraw the ticket after independent adjudicators at the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service (PATAS) ruled in his favour.

He said: "I only stopped there for 57 seconds and I was just trying to get a bee out of my car. He added: "I had to go through the whole appeals process which took eight months just to get this ticket cancelled."

Not only was this case a complete waste of time and money on the Council's part, they also brought a law-abiding man into court on spurious reasons and labeled him a criminal.

Sadly this case happened before Big Brother Watch was created, so we weren't able to help Paul Winston in the same way we have given our support to Vanessa Kelly and Michael Mancini. But if you know of any similar cases of absurd council behaviour – please do get in touch.

By Dylan Sharpe

Be careful when exiting the country

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

Dropping into my inbox this morning – a Home Office press release proudly announcing:

The UK's latest weapon in the fight against terrorists, known criminals and would-be illegal migrants was opened today by the Home Secretary Alan Johnson.

The National Border Targeting Centre (NBTC) is the UK Border Agency's hi-tech hub where watch-list checks on passengers entering and leaving Britain will be carried out.

The unit, based in Manchester, will replace the smaller Joint Border Operations Centre (JBOC) at Heathrow as the operational hub for e-Borders, which electronically checks passenger data before they even set foot on a plane.

UK Border As the release explains, the NBTC used to be housed at Heathrow in a building bearing the suspiciously Orwellian title 'Status Park 4'. From there it used a 'terrorist detector' database which – tied into the airlines' ticketing network – made judgments about travel habits and passengers' friends and family to decide if they were a security risk.

As a Mail on Sunday article from last year found, as well as being intrusive the system is beset by flaws and inconsistencies:

All the information passengers give to travel agents, including home addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, passport details and the names of family members, is shared with an unknown number of Government agencies for 'analysis' and stored for up to ten years.

An internal Home Office document obtained by The Mail on Sunday reveals that during testing one 'potential suspect' turned out to be an airline passenger with a spinal injury flying into Britain with his nurse.

'Suspect' requests likely to cause innocent holidaymakers to get 'red flags' as potential terrorists include ordering a vegetarian meal, asking for an over-wing seat and travelling with a foreign-born husband or wife.

The system will also 'red flag' passengers buying a one-way ticket and making a last-minute reservation and those with a history of booking tickets and not showing up for the flights.

A previous history of travel to the Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iran will also trigger an alarm, as will those with a record of sponsoring an immigrant from any of these countries.

While there does need to be careful monitoring of the people travelling in and out of the country, this system is based on building a very intrusive picture of a passengers' travel history and the information they give to
airlines and travel agencies when booking a flight. It is then logged on a government database and held for a decade.

The e-Borders scheme represents a very real threat to our freedom of movement. As journalist Alan Pearce wrote in a post for this site last year, there are already plans to force us to apply for an 'Exit Visa' before leaving the country.

By Dylan Sharpe 

Big Brother Watch Newsletter 05.03.10

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

Dear Supporter,


Today Big Brother Watch released our third major piece of
research, this time into the local
councils installing technology to monitor what we throw away


the Lid
is an audit of
the number of councils who have placed microchips in their residents’ rubbish
bins, the cost of the scheme in the past year and how the data about
individuals and families could be used. Through Freedom of Information requests
sent to every single local council in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Big
Brother Watch has compiled a definitive list of those local authorities that
have created the infrastructure through which to monitor our waste habits.

Our research has found the following:

  • 68
    local authorities
    in Britain and Northern
    Ireland have installed microchips in the rubbish bins of at least 2.6 million households.
  • A previous
    FOI survey from March 2009 found that 42 local authorities had installed
    microchips in their residents’ bins, which equates to a 62 per cent rise in just 12 months.
  • Bristol
    is the only local council in Britain

    to agree to pilot one of the Government’s “pay-as-you-throw”
    schemes in the twelve months that they have been on offer, but several local councils are quietly
    installing the infrastructure
    with which to monitor our waste
    , ready for a political and public climate that is
    more amenable to bin microchips.

Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch, said:

“The number of local councils
placing microchips in bins is increasing, despite the fact that only one of
them has volunteered to trial the Government’s ‘pay-as-you-throw’ scheme.
Councils are waiting until the public aren’t watching to begin surveillance on
our waste habits, intruding into people’s private lives and introducing
punitive taxes on what we throw away. The British public doesn’t want this
technology, these fines or this intrusion. If local authorities have no
intention to monitor our waste then they should end the surreptitious
installation of these bin microchips.”

full report, with a detailed break-down of every one of the 68 councils that
have installed microchips in their bins, is available by clicking here
. Why
not take a look and see if your local council is on there?!



Open Rights Group


issue of attempts to regulate the internet and the government’s response to
file-sharing and downloading is one that Big Brother Watch is yet to tackle,
however there is some terrific work already going on in this field. The Open
Rights Group are currently mounting a strong
fight against Lord Mandelson’s Digital Economy Bill
; which includes, among
its provisions, granting the Government the power to disconnect people from the
internet if copyright files are downloaded without permission.


We urge anyone who cares about their freedom on the internet
to head over to the
Open Rights Group website
and sign up to their campaigns to stop
disconnection without trial and protecting our online privacy.



Calling all scientists!


A few weeks ago we put out a call for any physicists or
chemists sympathetic to the aims of Big Brother Watch and willing to help us
with some research into body scanners and trace swab kits. We renew this call
once again – if you are – or know of anyone – who can help, please get in touch
at [email protected].



Blogs of the Week


The CRB check is a poison in our
– an amazing map of every case of
child abuse in the country committed by someone holding a clean CRB check. The
really shocking part comes when one considers that this map was sent to us on
the day that the Royal College of Surgeons announced that surgeries were being
delayed because their members hadn’t been given the correct CRB check.


Think the ID card’s gone away? Think again
- a guest post from a ‘highly-skilled migrant’ who has been living in the UK
for 5 years. She has had to hand over her biometric details and sign-up for an
ID card or face deportation. The full roll-out remains just around the


Council prevents display of Christian poster
- A library in Sunderland stops a man putting up an advert
for a day of prayer in case it offends other people. Why not see if your own
council has this ludicrous legislation?



Media Coverage

BBC News (Video) – Warning of microchip bin council charges

BBC News – Warning of rise in microchips in council bins

Privacy campaigners claim
increasing numbers of councils are gearing up for “pay as you throw”
rubbish charges by installing microchips in wheelie bins.

The Big Brother Watch group
says its survey found 68 UK authorities with the technology at their disposal -
up from 42 last year – with chips in 2.6m bins.

Sky News – Councils Accused Over Big Brother Bin Tax

Daily Mail – Spy chips hidden in 2.5 MILLION dustbins: 60pc rise in
electronic bugs as council snoopers plan pay-as-you-throw tax

Yesterday, research by
the Big Brother Watch campaign group showed that the use of chipped bins has
quietly spread over the past year.

In March 2009, a survey
based on Freedom of Information inquiries showed there were 42 councils which
used bins with microchips. But the latest check, also based on FOI requests,
put the number of authorities with electronic bins at 68 – one in five of all
those that collect household rubbish.

Daily Express – ‘Spy’ microchips in bins of 3 million homes

The Guardian – Microchips in our bins herald pay as you throw tax

Daily Telegraph – Number of councils installing microchips in bins jumps by 50pc
in 12 months

Metro – 2.6million UK homes now have microchipped bins

Associated Press – Waste watchers? UK group fears trash bin spies

BBC Radio 5

BBC Radio 4 – Today

BBC Radio 2 – Jeremy

BBC Radio 5Live -
Alex Deane interviewed by Victoria Derbyshire

Manchester Evening
News – Muslim woman barred from flight for refusing ‘naked’ scan

Daily Mail – Muslim women barred from flight for refusing ‘naked’ full-body

Alex Deane, director of
campaign group Big Brother Watch, said the organisation would represent the
women if they wished to challenge the decision in court.

He said: “People shouldn’t have
to sacrifice their health, their faith, their dignity, or their privacy in
order to fly. People with health and religious concerns shouldn’t be forced to
go through these scanners if they have good reason not to. Foolishly, the
government has ignored both issues and ignored privacy concerns to boot – they
are in the wrong on this.”

The Sun – Muslim
Women In Airport Scan Snub

How much more control can we stomach?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in ID cards | 5 Comments

We're not the biggest fans of Meg Hillier MP here at Big Brother Watch Towers. The most compliant of the spineless drones that float around the Home Office, she staggers from embarrassing mistake to unintentionally hilarious error; but this latest idea really takes the biscuit. 

1984Hillier Yesterday, the parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Home Office, in a break between her relentless promotion of the National Identity Register in the North of England, floated the creation of an online ID card.

As The Northern Echo reports:

A Government minister has said identity cards for young people could be one way of keeping children safe on the internet.

Ms Hillier, who is also responsible for the national identity card scheme, said in Belgium, youngsters had identity cards.

She added: “Children have to prove they are children before they go on social networking sites.

“This isn’t Home Office policy, but there are various technical mechanisms. 

Not content with pushing the identity card scheme at a deeply sceptical population, Hillier is now trying to move people-tracking and ID surveillance online. 

The danger posed by paedophiles impersonating children on the internet is real – but it is one that can be countered with tough parenting rules for youngsters online rather than a catch-all policy that harms law-abiding people and leads to more surveillance and more government control. Children know not to get into cars with strangers because they have been taught to understand the risks – it is time parents treated chatting to strangers online with the same warnings.

But why let parents do the work when the government can interfere, eh?

By Dylan Sharpe

Q: When is an optional opt out not an option..?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases | 15 Comments

A: When we're talking about your confidential medical records.

Medical-records Most of you will already be aware of the Government's £11 billion 'Connecting for Health' scheme; which includes – among its several provisions – a plan to upload all of our medical records onto an enormous central database, accessible by seemingly anyone in the NHS.

These 'summary care records' are supposed to first be requested by your local GP, who offers you the opportunity to opt out.


From the Daily Telegraph this morning:

The British Medical Association claims that records have been placed on the system without patients’ knowledge or consent.

It follows allegations that the Government wanted to complete the project before the Conservatives had a chance to cancel it.

In a letter to ministers published today, the BMA urges the Government to suspend the scheme. Hamish Meldrum, its chairman, writes: "The breakneck speed with which this programme is being implemented is of huge concern.

"Patients’ right to opt out is crucial, and it is extremely alarming that records are apparently being created without them being aware of it.

"If the process continues to be rushed, not only will the rights of patients be damaged, but the limited confidence of the public and the medical profession in NHS IT will be further eroded."

The first point to note is that it is the BMA making this complaint: a body representing the very people whose lives these summary care records would apparently make much easier. But then, the BMA are far more concerned with the rights of the patient, unlike the politicians ramming this project through.

Medical records look set to be a big battleground at the forthcoming election and it is extremely important that our rights to privacy and concerns over the creation of yet another leaky state database are not ignored.

Big Brother Watch is currently conducting research into the security of our medical records, which we hope to release in the near future. In the meantime, if one of these letters lands on your doormat, we advise you to take-up the offer and opt out.

By Dylan Sharpe