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
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.
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.
the Lidis 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:
local authorities in Britain and Northern
Ireland have installed microchips in the rubbish bins of at least 2.6 million households.
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.
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 infrastructurewith which to monitor our waste
habits, 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.”
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
society – 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?
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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?
A: When we're talking about your confidential 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.
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.
Lord Selsdon's Bill limiting powers of entry by bureaucrats to private property is progressing. in the Lords – it is but the latest of his many admirable efforts to restrict the remarkably wide-ranging powers available to many officials up and down the country for a multiplicity of reasons. Big Brother Watch is proud to support him in his work and I am on the steering committee he's setting up to assist with the Bill and the aftermath.
You'll remember our recent research and event on this issue (which the great Lord S attended!).
We'll keep you posted on the progress of the Bill.
Our government won't listen, of course, as they're determined to have body scanners whatever the science and whatever the consequences – but I note that Martin Scheinin, the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism, has said the scanners are more of a political response to terrorist attacks than a carefully designed security measure. Interestingly, he also said that technologies that intrude into privacy tend to be ineffective in preventing terrorism. Finally, Scheinin said this:
Full body scanners are ineffective in detecting a genuine terrorist threat if they do not reveal dangerous substances in body cavities, body folds or hand luggage. They may also give a false feeling of security and allow the real terrorists to adapt their tactics to the technology in use.
US software company Cryptohippie have released a new piece of research (it is available to read by clicking here) addressing the extent to which states are electronically monitoring their citizens and ranking the results to produce a Premier League table of intrusive governments. The findings are typically depressing.
The research was conducted using 17 different criteria ranging from Border Issues (Inspections at borders, searching computers, demanding decryption of data) to Enforcement Ability (The state’s ability to use overwhelming force to seize anyone they want,whenever they want). Each criterion was assigned a value of between 1 and 5. A value of 1 indicating minimal development of electronic police state abilities in that area and a value of 5 representing full operation.
A similar report was released in 2008 and it would appear little has changed in the rankings. However more notably the raw scores, almost without exception, for each of the 52 states surveyed have increased.
If you click the image you can take a closer look at the mapped results (red indicates advanced electronic police states). It is clear to see the main offenders are Russia, China, the US, the UK but it should be noted that Spain has leapt a massive 22 places up the ranks.
We at Big Brother Watch think it is disheartening to see the UK sporting the deep red typically associated with Russia and China. Quite frequently we are reminded of the tyrannical regimes in China and North Korea yet in terms of electronic policing we are rotten eggs in the same basket. Despite the UK being leapfrogged for 5th place by the US (a statistic we would question given things like RIPA and the Digital Economy Bill), Alan Johnson et al should be crimson faced.
You probably haven't seen this story before, but you've seen a dozen like it – overzealous, over-the-top prosecution of law-abiding person by authorities which chase politically correct agendas rather than target criminals.
Jim Railton is an auctioneer. He was given a lot to sell – a little wooden cabinet with some 19th century eggs in it. It was valued at £30. He put it up for sale.
He was arrested and treated like a criminal – he is now charged with two offences relating to the sale of bird eggs under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (an Act some 90 years younger than the eggs…). As Jim says,
"in retrospect, we should have just smashed the eggs. They are antique birds eggs, and all of common species, and had old paper copperplate hand-written labels on them. It was a little oak chest, which we judged to be circa 1900.
We sell butterflies, shells, taxidermy – in fact just the type of things that come from people’s attics. To be arrested for offering to sell this little chest seems absurd, and a complete waste of police time. They have interviewed me twice, taken my fingerprints, swabbed me for DNA, had RSPB specialist inspectors visit Berwick to look at the eggs…"
Name and shame time – ridiculous attitude from the RSPB, who aggressively pursued this and caused the prosecution to come about. Even worse from Northumbria Police, who really ought to know better. Let's presume for a moment that they were right that this is an issue (which, of course, it's not, but play along…) – consider all the steps they could have taken before getting to this stage: (a) a friendly telephone call pointing out he'd unintentionally breached this rule; (b) a letter setting out a warning; (c) an in-person visit from a constable (we're already in OTT territory); (d) forbidding the sale; (e) summoning him for interview. But no; our masters really want to get this guy – because he's a law-abiding normal person who has strayed over a line – i.e. the favourite target for the authorities in modern Britain.
In the circumstances, Jim is understandably having a think about what to do next – get it all over with, or fight these ridiculous charges. Big Brother Watch has talked with him about assisting him in this unpleasantness which is of course disrupting his business and personal life; we begin by letting you know about it and calling for your help. For starters, you might like to visit their website and, if in the neighbourhood, support the business…
We are proud to support Jim in this ridiculous case. We have had some success with cases in the past and this is a prime example of the kind of overbearing, politically correct absurdity we were created to fight.
The past 24 hours have seen some interesting developments on this topic, all of which add fuel to the argument that anyone who has their DNA taken and is later found to be innocent should be entitled to expect, rather than have to request its removal from the database.
The first story, from the Daily Mail, reveals that just 0.3% of solved crimes are due to the DNA database.
The research shows that – despite the massive expansion in the Government database – only 3,666 crimes are detected every year with links to an existing DNA profile.
That is one in every 1,300 of the 4.9million crimes carried out, and just one in 350, or 0.3 per cent, of the 1.3million crimes solved by police, according to the home affairs select committee.
This research may have influenced the House of Commons' Home Affairs Select Committee, who yesterday said the following about the Government's current policy on DNA
"The current situation of indefinite retention of the DNA profiles of
those arrested but not convicted is impossible to defend in light of the
judgment of the European Court of Human Rights and unacceptable in
principle," the committee says in a report
published on 8 March 2010.
Crucially, in their recommendations the Committee stated that "DNA alone is unlikely to result in a conviction for crime." This is particularly significant given the Prime Minister's speech last week, in which he accused opponents of retaining innocent DNA of 'helping rapists'.
Finally, from the Metro this morning, comes the news that the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust are struggling for organ and blood donations because people fear that their DNA profile will be added to the database.
All three stories are yet further evidence of why the Government's present policy on DNA retention is completely wrong. DNA is rarely crucial in solving crimes. The current length of time we retain profiles is anti-liberty and breaking the ECHR judgement. And the database is causing real and tangible damage to the Afro-Caribbean community because of its prejudice against young black males.