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
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
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
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
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 in 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 habits, ready for a political and public climate that is more amenable to bin microchips.
Research conducted by Big Brother Watch has revealed that 68 local councils in Britain have placed microchips in the bins of at least 2.6 million households. When a similar study was conducted 12 months ago, only 42 councils admitted to having placed microchips in their residents’ rubbish bins. Only one local authority has yet come forward to pilot one the Government’s “pay-as-you-throw” schemes in the year that they have been on offer, which strongly suggests that councils are preparing the technology at significant cost, ready for when the government announces a nationwide roll-out of charging for what the British public throw away.
Lifting the Lid analyses the privacy implications and cost to householders of installing a network of bin microchips, before providing a definitive list of those local authorities that have installed the intrusive technology.
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.”
To read the full report, which includes detailed information on every local authority, please click here.
An intriguing and worrying story over at Malaysia's The Star today – the country's Home Ministry wants to pool CCTV video feeds from many different sources to create a visual database,
to better monitor undesirable activities.
The Home Ministry wants to take footage from CCTV cameras run by agencies under the Transport Ministry and local authorities such as Kuala Lumpur City Hall, as well as private firms to monitor security and traffic flow, and use of all these CCTV feeds as well as their crime-spotting CCTV to counter crime.
The Ministers for Transport, Local Government, Federal Territories and Urban Wellbeing have all signed off on the plan.
My support for them has seen the Big Brother Watch mailbag swell with abuse, and we've had some pretty tasty phone calls, too (all pretty much along the lines of the charming comments left over at the Daily Mailwebsite). I suppose that this is bound to happen at some point with an organisation like ours, but it's the first time for us, so it's had a particular impact.
To state the obvious; I'm not supporting these women because they're Muslims. I don't care what they are. I would stand up for anyone in this situation. If the first people to refuse to be scanned said they were Jedi, or a made up religion like Scientology, then I'd be on their side. Because I don't think that anyone should be compelled to go through the scanners.
I note with interest that one of the women refused to go through the scanner for medical reasons – well, given that the government has made compulsory for fliers that which the best available guidance says is dangerous, I think that that should not be discounted.
But to my mind the main issue is the significant – and unjustifiable – intrusion into private lives, the extension yet again of power by the state over the life of the individual. I've made my position on this clear elsewhere and all I'd add is that, people still constantly say – "well, if it makes us a little safer, it's worth it" – "if it saves one life, stops one crime…" – I spend a lot of time pointing out just what a specious argument that is. Plainly, it would "save one child" to ban the motor car, or introduce a night curfew, but we don't, because it would be disproportionate and we have to get on with normal life, even if we incur a slightly higher element of risk in doing so. We don't encourage people to take wild risks with cars, but we don't make liberty-reducing and disproportionate laws, either. We should react to the threat of terrorism in just the same way. .
People are understandably afraid of terrorism. But as I've said before, we didn’t allow the IRA to impede our freedoms or change our way of life to anything like the degree we are changing now. Those upset by the prospect of undergoing these scans shouldn’t be forced to choose between their dignity and their flight. What kind of a free society does the Government think it is “protecting”, when it invades our privacy like this? When we are forced to expose ourselves at the airport in order to go on holiday, the terrorists have won.
Two Muslim women who refused to go through the full-body scanners at Manchester Airport have become the first people to be prevented from flying after raising objections to this intrusive new technology.
As you may have read, Big Brother Watch has offered to help them fight this decision in court should they wish to challenge the ruling.
As a result of this, a supporter has been in touch to highlight a very strange passage of text from the Department for Transport's January 2010 document, 'Interim Code of Practice for the Acceptable Use of Advanced Imaging Technology (Body Scanners) in an Aviation Security Environment' (available here).
The policy must include a requirement that the equipment is sited in such a way to ensure that the Security Officer(s) conducting analysis of the image (the screener) must not be able to see the person whose image they are viewing and the Security Officer(s) resolving any issues identified by the body scanner should not be able to see the image of the person being searched. A person selected for scanning may request that the screen reader is of the same sex as the person. (p.3)
Can anyone spot the catch-22?
In order to protect our privacy the DfT wants to prevent the 'screener' from being able to see the 'screenee'. Yet the DfT has also said that we are entitled to request that the screener is of our same gender.
In practice this is completely contradictory and simply can't work. Therefore I can only assume that if I, for example, was to make the request, the airport authorities would assure me that the screener was also male and it would be up to me to take them at their word.
So they're relying on our trust…bit late for that methinks.
Dominique Lazanski is an experienced digital consultant and a regular writer and commentator on Internet policy and regulation from a free market perspective. She has over 10 years of experience in Silicon Valley with spells at Yahoo! and Apple and has spent the last several years in London as a consultant to the music industry and media agencies.
I have been a resident of the UK since 2005, having emigrated here from the USA – my home country. At first I was a graduate student, then -according to the Home Office – a highly-skilled migrant worker. Recently I married a UK citizen and I had to renew my visa for the fourth time in 4 years. This time, the situation is different. No longer do I have a ‘vignette’ sticker in my passport. Instead, I have been compelled to have a UK ID card which holds my biometrics and visa. I have to carry both my passport and my ID when I travel in and out of the country.
This compulsion is due to changes to the UK Borders Act of 2007 ‘updating’ the original act. In 2009 a provision was added allowing the Secretary of State to demand an immigrant’s biometrics. From the convoluted and obtuse language contained in the updated text, it appears that if the Secretary of State requests a record of biometrics from an immigrant, say me, when I am at a random location, say an airport, then I need to give it to him. How do I give him a record of my biometrics? – by handing over my ID card.
The law states (though not clearly) that:
(6) Regulations under subsection (1)(b) may, in particular, require the production or other use of a biometric immigration document that is combined with another document; and section 16 of the Identity Cards Act 2006 (c. 15) (prohibition of requirement to produce ID card) is subject to this subsection.
Roughly translated: the Government seems to think that this means it's now OK to force ID cards on immigrants. This is troubling on so many levels, but there are two points in particular here. First, since the ID card is required for all non-EU immigrants, then it is a very small step to mandate them for all citizens and residents of the UK. Secondly, and more importantly, the revision of the UK Borders Act of 2007 provides for the Secretary of State to have more power to mandate laws directly, thereby bypassing the need for legislation to be passed by Parliament. We have already seen such power introduced in the Digital Economy Bill, but we are now experiencing that power through this backhanded introduction of compulsory ID Cards. These ever-increasing powers of the Secretary of State are far more dangerous and more widespread than we could ever have imagined. Perhaps the Secretary of State will be our real ‘big brother’!
Dylan Sharpe, campaign director of Big Brother Watch, added: “The judge should be ashamed. There is simply no justification for putting an electronic tag and a night-time curfew on a 66 year-old woman for this non-crime.
“There are many better ways of sorting out bad pet shops than lengthy prosecutions that waste time and taxpayers’ money.
“This decision criminalises someone who has never committed an offence before, yet serial offenders seem to get away with dozens of crimes before being punished so severely.”
talkSPORT – Dylan Sharpe interviewed by Adrian Goldberg
Dylan Sharpe, campaign director of Big Brother Watch, said: “It beggars belief that the government is to force young children through these body scanners.
“Only last week a security guard was exposed as having abused the technology. How many more cases like that do we need before the transport secretary admits that the operators have not had sufficient training and vetting to handle this technology?
“Security minister Lord West admits that the scanners are only 50-60% effective, so why risk giving perverts and those looking to make a fast buck the opportunity to spy on us?”
Dylan Sharpe, campaign director of Big Brother Watch, which is affiliated to the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “To spend £250,000 on an intrusive CCTV network when councils are trying to trim their spending and essential services are feeling the pinch is a disgraceful waste of money.
“When the Metropolitan Police have admitted that only one crime is solved for every 1,000 cameras, it is clear that this is money being wasted on CCTV which could have gone towards improving front-line policing.
“Questions need to be answered as to why St Edmundsbury has spent so much and placed so much faith in surveillance in comparison to the surrounding areas.”
LBC 97.3 FM – Dylan Sharpe interviewed by Nick Ferrari
Last week a survey by the privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch claimed that as many as 140,000 non-medical staff, including porters and housekeepers, already have access to patient files in England and that it would become even easier to access records when they are stored on the new NHS database.
Pressure groups yesterday warned the step was being taken without the consent or support of the public and risked transforming Scotland into a “surveillance state”.
Alex Deane, of Big Brother Watch, said: “It’s pretty scary that more and more police forces are considering using these.
“They invade our privacy and are being brought in without proper public consultation or support. We need a proper debate about the use of this type of surveillance and its effect on civil liberties before the police start to use these devices.”
Among those who replied, the University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust said those with access included 107 porters and 105 receptionists. At Cwm Taf NHS Trust the total included receptionists, housekeepers and domestic staff.
Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, said the Government needed to address the problem as a matter of urgency. He said: ‘The number of non-medical personnel with access to confidential medical records leaves the system wide open to abuse.’
Civil liberties campaigners were appalled about the increased powers. Alex Deane, a spokesman for Big Brother Watch, said: “This is a dreadful development. The post has always been regarded as near-sacrosanct in law.
“The last time our mail was opened by the authorities without notice, our country was fighting a World War. I hardly think that the situation produced by the government’s tobacco tax compares.
“Once the principle of opening our mail has been accepted, what else will the Government use as an excuse to pry into our post?”
And after details emerged of the Heathrow incident yesterday, Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “When privacy-invading machines like these are installed at our airports, abuses like this are inevitable.”
While the councils say that these are in place as a means to reward households recycling heavily, big brother watch believe that it is an infringement on privacy and could be used as a tool to monitor what people are throwing out.
Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “For many, Google’s Street View cameras are an upsetting invasion of privacy. People are not consulted before it arrives in their town and yet Google relies on the public to point out where they’ve gone wrong.
“Google needs to take greater responsibility for people’s personal privacy and introduce stronger safeguards to prevent a repeat of this incident.”
Alex Deane, of anti-surveillance pressure group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘The Government seems determined to stamp out volunteering in this country.
‘This database of nine million people is an intrusive and absurd initiative which will do irreparable damage to scouting, disability care, sports activities and a range of other charitable and volunteer organisations.’
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 ashamed.
“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.
BBC Surrey and Sussex – Alex Deane interviewed by Danny Pike
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.
“Many people affected by this measure remember being coerced to carry their ID card during the War and the times of austerity which followed it.
“The end of that compulsory regime was a national relief and some of our supporters have expressed sadness that this bullying surveillance is coming back into fashion.”
Alex Deane, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘For many, Google’s Street View cameras are an upsetting invasion of privacy.
‘People are not consulted before it arrives in their town and yet Google relies on the public to point out where they have gone wrong.
‘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.’
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 assessment.’
A recently report published by Big Brother Watch, which promotes itself as a non-partisan organisation against intrusions in privacy, claims there has been a 62 per cent increase in the number of UK councils investing in the bins over the last year.
Dylan Sharpe, campaign director of Big Brother Watch, said it was yet another example of how paranoid we have been made by terrorism.
‘This 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 should have known better. After the intrusion and embarrassment of bodyscanning, one wonders how much more difficult airports can make leaving the country.’
But Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, a campaign group, said: “The DCSF has an unjustifiable, disproportionately aggressive approach to this non-issue.
“How can they justify including in their absurdly heavy-handed recommendations for apprehending parents who just want the best for their children, building a bureaucratic surveillance system to watch families and encouraging communities to spy on each other?”
Now an organisation called Big Brother Watch (I wonder if they have alarms and security cameras at their headquarters?) is leading an offensive against the latest focus for the country’s increasingly paranoid masses – microchipped wheelie bins!
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.”
Former shadow home secretary David Davis said the report called into question the Government’s claims about the effectiveness of the database. ‘The Prime Minister is clearly wrong and is yet again guilty of publishing bogus statistics,’ he added.
Alex Deane, director of campaigners Big Brother Watch, said: ‘The case for further expansion of the database has been exposed as being totally unjustified.’
“This is yet more surveillance and continuous data-grabbing by government who want to have as much information on us as it can possibly have,” said Dylan Sharpe, a campaigner with privacy rights group Big Brother Watch. Opposition lawmaker Nick Herbert said the proposal risked “penalizing millions of law-abiding dog owners with the blunt instrument of a dog tax.”
Dylan 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.”
LBC 97.3FM – Alex Deane interviewed by David Mellor
THREE Scots councils have fitted household bins with electronic microchips which can track rubbish. Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “Councils are waiting until the public aren’t watching to begin surveillance on our waste habits.”
Privacy campaigners warned this week that 68 local councils now have microchip technology at their disposal – up from 42 last year – and 2.6 million bins across the nation already have the chips in place. According to the campaign group Big Brother Watch, this amounts to a “surreptitious” attempt to monitor our “waste habits” and intrude into our “private lives”. It will also lead to the possible introduction of “punitive taxes” for people who throw away large volumes of rubbish.
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.
But civil liberties campaigners suggested the incident could form the basis of a legal test case to challenge the use of the Rapiscan device at airports.
Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, said his 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.”
However, civil liberties campaigners say the incident could form the basis of a legal test case to challenge the use of the Rapiscan device in airports.
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.”
There is undoubtedly a potential benefit to law enforcement from the retention of DNA samples taken from innocent people; in some cases, it will be a significant benefit. That, in and of itself, is no more than persuasive. It would be potentially helpful to law enforcement to have many things. A night curfew, for example, or a ban on alcohol.
Both of these things would assist with the maintenance of general order tremendously – certainly, more than the retention of DNA samples from innocent people. Both such policies would drive down crime. And yet this government has not enacted them. Does this mean that Gordon Brown is “soft on rapists”?
Last week we brought you the news that in advance of his first annual report, Sir Joseph Pilling – the UK Identity Commissioner – had given an interview to our old friend on the Manchester Evening News, Angela Epstein. As you will see from my blogpost, I was somewhat unhappy with the easy ride Pilling was afforded.
Q: You admit yourself in the report that you didn't know that much about the subject when you were picked for the job. Why do you think they picked you?
A: Who wants to drop what they're doing to take on a role that is only going to last for a matter of months? They were forced to have somebody as the ID commissioner, because by law they couldn't issue a card until they had a commissioner.
They solved the problem by coming to somebody like me, who wasn't actually looking for a job and didn't mind if the job actually continued or not. I'm so old and so past it that I didn't apply for the job and wouldn't have been willing to do it on a full-time basis, because I've got other things that I am committed to.
I think one of the great joys of retirement is you have time to spend poking around in things you didn't have time for when you were working.
An old man who has chosen to spend his retirement presiding over the most intrusive and expensive system allowing our government to control its population ever conceived in Britain.
Do have a read of the full interview and realise just how much peril we are in!
There seems now to be weekly cases of companies and councils getting cold feet when it comes to religious symbols in public places. We have already covered the work of Liberty and Nadia Eweida – the woman reprimanded by BA for wearing a cross to work – but this latest one is beyond belief.
A poster advertising a day of international Christian prayer was banned from a library – in case it offended people of other religions.
Staff said council policy prevented them from displaying the poster for Women’s World Day of Prayer.
The only religious symbol on the poster in question was the Women’s World Day of Prayer international logo.
The design comprises arrows from the four points of the compass, four figures kneeling in prayer, the Celtic cross and a circle representing the world and unity through all diversity.
Sunderland Council says it is reviewing its guidelines in light of the row.
If you click on the link to the Mail article, you will find that their reporter has gathered the testimonies of leaders of all faiths in the city who think that the decision is absurd. I'm willing to bet that if anyone was to go out and take a snap poll of residents of all faiths in Sunderland, they too would be appalled.
Therefore, it is just the council (who have admitted their error, but will not be the only local authority in the country with these rules) who have objected. So, it is time for some Big Brother Watch homework.
Calling civil libertarians of all faiths: find a local church, mosque, temple, synagogue and any other place of worship (atheists can join in too); find a coming day of prayer or similar; create a poster; and try and place it up in your local library. If they refuse on the grounds of council regulations, name and shame them on our blog or write to us at [email protected].
We already have iris and fingerprint scanning but noses could be an even better method of identification, says a study from the University of Bath, UK.
The researchers scanned noses in 3D and characterised them by tip, ridge profile and the nasion, or area between the eyes.
Since they are hard to conceal, the study says, noses would work well for identification in covert surveillance.
The researchers say noses have been overlooked in the growing field of biometrics, studies into ways of identifying distinguishing traits in people.
Is it a matter of time before we find ourselves having to hand over our nose measurements when applying for passports? And will our friendly neighbourhood policeman soon be equipped with an NID – nasal identification device – to aid detection and prove our identity?
Probably not, but perhaps more pertinently, what is the driving force behind all these studies to harness biometric data? If it were purely scientific, I wouldn't be quite so concerned. It's the creeping fear that the government is trying to (in the words of Sir David Varney – permanent secretary at the Treasury) build a "single source of truth on the citizen" that worries.
Nick Hogan, a former pub landlord, has become the first person to be jailed
in connection with the smoking ban. He was sentenced to six months in prison for
refusing to pay a fine imposed under the legislation.
As the Daily Mailreports it, he openly flouted the law and then refused to pay his fines and I accept of course that that's the ultimate recourse for people who refuse to pay fines. But it's a question of proportion.
During my time in the criminal justice system I regularly saw people with several or many previous convictions who, on being convicted of a further violent offence (or offences), were given shorter sentences than this (or, frequently, non-custodial sentences). This chap will find himself in prison alongside hardened criminals, for allowing grown adults to do as they wish, something which in some cases they have been doing for most of their lives, something which in most contexts is perfectly legal and, until recently, was perfectly legal in this context too.
Particularly at a time when so many pubs are closing, and prisons are rammed, is a six month sentence really appropriate, and/or a good use of custodial space?
Coda 2: for many people who have been smokers for decades, as a part of their relaxation after a hard day's work, whether it be in pubs, in bingo halls or in working men's clubs, smoking is an innate
part of their social life – the complete banning of this activity seems peculiarly cruel and thoughtless in relation to such people, don't you think? You might wish to visit here or here if so.