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
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.
Over at the Daily Express, the very latest in "you couldn't make it up" nanny statism: plans are afoot to make every dog owner in Britain pay up to £600 a year for puppy insurance, as the government tries to clamp down on dangerous dogs. Doesn't matter if you've got a miniature schnauzer, doesn't matter if you've had harmless Rufus for a dozen years and all he does is snooze by the fire – according to this hare-brained scheme, you'd have to cough up to cover the costs of the nutter who breeds bazooka-bearing bulldogs.
We have managed to own dogs in this country for hundreds of years without any tax or insurance requirement.
There’s a reason why the saying is ‘One man and his dog’ and not ‘One man, his dog and his third-party liability’. This policy is absurd and completely disproportionate.
But I don't think it will actually happen. You can tax us to high heaven, you can authorise bullying policemen to push us from pillar to post – people in this country just take it. But any man who messes with the great British pet is a fool – they simply won't manage to enforce this one.
This essential part of many families will be happily uninsured long after this government is history.
In a story that echoes the exclusion of VentnorBlog from the Isle of Wight Coroners' Court (an issue with which, BTW, we are not finished), Tameside council has decided to have a formal Twitter accreditation programme; they have restricted those fortunate enough to make the approved Twitterers list to professional journalists, excluding bloggers. It's not just theoretical, either – they've already evicted the first blogger from Council proceedings.
In 2008, a school in Plymouth was forced to remove CCTV from toilets after very significant protests from pupils and parents. In November last year, CCTV footage of children changing into sports kits in school changing rooms was seized by the police in Salford. Plainly, it was wrong to record such footage and you would think that such drastic action in these and other similar cases would be heeded by others. But, ironically given their educational mission, it seems that some schools just won't learn.
It emerged this weekend that, without consulting parents, a school in Chelmsley Wood has put CCTV in pupils' toilets. The cameras have been fitted in both boys’ and girls’ toilets – in addition to the 26-plus surveillance cameras already in place at the school.
If you try hard, I reckon you might be able to guess how people have reacted.
This week Big Brother Watch and The Centre for Policy
Studies hosted an event to discuss state powers of entry. This topic was the
focus of our recent report ‘Barging In‘
which found that an estimated 20,000 council inspectors in Britain could enter
private property without having to apply for a warrant. The speakers on the
night were Big Brother Watch Director, Alex Deane; Barrister Harry Snook,
author of the 2006 CPS pamphlet ‘Crossing the Threshold‘;
Henry Porter, a novelist and columnist whose blog
is an essential resource for civil libertarians; and the Shadow Justice
Minister, Dominic Grieve QC MP.
was a great success with all four speakers making excellent contributions
on the assault on civil liberties and our private space. Dominic Grieve
announced, in a Big Brother Watch exclusive, key policies to be enacted if the
Conservatives win the General Election. The first, directly addressing the
theme of the evening, is that he wants to make it compulsory for state
inspectors to apply for a warrant from a JP before using power of entry into
the home. The second, which has attracted much interest
elsewhere, is that he wants to bring forward a Repeal Act to deal with the
enormous volume of unnecessary and confusing legislation enacted in the past 12
Both of these announcements are key policy proposals, to
which Big Brother Watch intends to hold a Conservative government. Henry Porter
has written a great write-up
of the event, and to watch the full speeches from each speaker please go to
Blogger evicted from court
Perry of VentnorBlog,
a well-established news blog on the Isle of Wight, was thrown out of a
coroner’s court on Tuesday. Coroner officer Richard Leedham said that he did
not wish him to be in the court – as a journalist or as a member of the public.VB
suggests that the exclusion was due to coverage of a past case, which the court
- whilst taking no formal action at all – had not liked. As Alex writes in his blogpost on the story,
so what? An adverse take by a newspaper to an Old Bailey decision doesn’t
see that title excluded from the Central Criminal Court.
The legality of this action is questioned and, in
conjunction with a leading barrister in this field, Big Brother Watch are
contemplating legal action in VentnorBlog’s support.
Next civil liberties event
We would like to draw your attention to ResPublica’s next
event: an evening speech by Damian Green MP, on the topic ‘Poor people need
civil liberties too’ at the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the
But Alex Deane, of civil liberties
campaign group Big Brother Watch, said the figures showed that actual
terrorism-related charges were rare and demonstrated the relatively-small
objective threat they posed.
“This shows that we
should not have allowed our whole way of life to be changed by intrusive
technology like ID cards and body scanners on account of
government-manufactured hysteria about terrorism,” he said.
A CAMPAIGN group set up to oppose
the “big brother” state has accused the city council of
“disgraceful fearmongering”. The Evening News revealed earlier this
week that around 100 frontline council workers, including support workers, are
being sent on anti-terrorist activity and being asked to report anything they
find that is suspicious.
Dylan Sharpe, director of Big Brother Watch, a new campaign
by The Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “This is disgraceful fearmongering that
erodes trust in society and encourages spying, snooping and suspicion.
“Perhaps most shocking of all is Edinburgh Council’s
decision to start the course with support workers. So, Edinburgh’s hard-pressed
social workers will now be searching for anything that looks vaguely