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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

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.

So come on, come on…Do the locomotion

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 10 Comments

We at Big Brother Watch have an eclectic taste in music, and when not at the grindstone we listen to our fair share of the latest poptastic hits.

Cheapthrills So, with our intuitive ear to the ground, we were alarmed to hear the case of Tom Shaw – a 25-year old band member aboard a South West Trains service.

Being a busy chap, Tom used the journey time to pen some ideas for future tracks his band could cover. As the train pulled in to Fareham station, Tom was approached by staff members and forced to leave the train.

Nonplussed, Tom asked for an explanation. Unbelievably, he was told that train security had become aware of him writing 'The Killers' on his list and had taken offence.

Throw away the key I hear you cry! If you plan to use a locomotive any time soon, make sure you delete Miss Dynamite, Guns N Roses, Slayer, Bombay Bicycle Club, Public Enemy and Massive Attack from your iPad; or face the wrath of our overbearing state.

South West Trains, you are a disgrace.

James 'headbanging' Stannard

Mystic Meg’s miracle cure

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in ID cards | 13 Comments

Identity card junkie Meg Hillier MP has once again been caught pushing the abhorrent pink plastic.

MegHillierID This time she has written a piece for Progress (the New Labour think tank) where she suggests ID cards could be the miracle cure for social exclusion.

The bulk of her argument focuses on the flimsy claim that:

Currently 80 per cent of the population have passports. That means 20 per cent are without access to the highest standard of identity verification.

Firstly, the majority of that 20% are not without access to the highest standard of identity verification, they simply do not have a passport. Secondly, we at Big Brother Watch do not think that the offer of a £30 ID card that has so far cost the taxpayer around £4.5 billion, and levies punitive fines at people who don't keep their details up-to-date, is the silver bullet to social exclusion.

It should be noted that many individuals may not want or need a passport. Hillier may enjoy playing the social exclusion card to her home crowd, but most will see it as another shallow smokescreen in the Government's quest for total surveillance of the general public.

On several occasions Meg suggests the importance of building an identity footprint. She presumably has a size 13 and leaves a trail of bank statements wherever she treads.

But, as always, Meg is on hand to provide us with some unintentional hilarity, writing:

My vision is of an identity service where government's role is limited to ensuring safety and security in providing the infrastructure…the technological possibilities are exciting.

On the same day that Kable reported:

Alan Johnson said in the last year five people had been disciplined or dismissed for falsifying records or manipulating Home Office systems…. Six people have been disciplined for unauthorised access to a database or letting someone else use their log-in.

Hmmm, safety and security. For all you technological thrill seekers, you must agree that is quite exhilarating. 

By James Stannard

Council bans ice cream vans from outside schools

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 7 Comments

Ice-cream-van Earlier this week I was quoted condemning government plans to introduce annual fitness tests for school children. On top of the fact the proposal creates yet more tests and government interference for young students, it also represents the latest in a long line of 'health-fascism' legislation that threatens our traditional way of life.

Today, the Daily Mail is reporting that Hillingdon Council has taken this corrosive trend one step further:

The jingle of the ice cream van tells schoolchildren summer is on the way.

But the traditional treat has been banned by one council, which claims they encourage unhealthy eating.

Bureaucrats at Hillingdon council have declared that vans which park outside schools will be impounded under new rules.

They claim they were forced to act because there is 'a need to encourage healthier eating habits in children'.

Firstly a congratulations to Hillingdon for identifying the raison d'etre of ice cream vans. But minus marks for the sort of boneheaded nanny-statism that is all too common today.

Kids like ice cream and should be allowed to eat it. It's up to parents to encourage them to eat more healthily – not local councils.

Then there's the idea of impounding the vehicles of small business owners for the crime of trying to sell to their target market. 

All in all, this is a complete stinker of a policy. Hillingdon: you are named and shamed.

By Dylan Sharpe

Korma karma lands restaurant boss in jail

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

'Here we go again' is a phrase that we find ourselves using all too often on this blog; and despairingly we must begin today’s business with those four rotten words. As you remember, back in December we wrote about the shameful case involving Munir Hussain.

Restaurant Now, the Saturday edition of the Telegraph has reported an equally bewildering and almost identical incident.

Sal Miah, 35, who owns a restaurant in East Sussex, heard a noise in his cellar and on closer inspection discovered two teenagers who had broken in to his property. They subsequently fled but he trailed them to a park and dragged them back to the restaurant.

He was pursued by a gang who were in cahoots with the two hoodlums and when they became aggressive and began intimidating diners, he pushed them away and locked the door. Needless to say, when the police arrived, the gang accused Mr Miah of attacking them and he was duly bundled into the back of a squad car. He was released after five hours in a cell and had his DNA, fingerprints and police photograph taken.

Cases such as this are appearing more and more frequent and such injustice only bolsters the idea of  Britain having a ‘broken society’.

Academics, MPs and political commentators often cite a society void of individual social responsibility. Such claims are unsurprising given the fact that now not only do we live in fear of mindless yobs, but also those appointed to protect us from such malevolence.

Only last month Grandfather Gurmail Singh was beaten to death with a hammer as he tried to defend his shop from four teenagers stealing cigarettes and chocolate.

If we cannot defend ourselves where the state fails, then it will be harder to deny that our society is well and truly 'broke’.

By James Stannard