• Media Enquiries

    07505 448925(24hr)

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

Yet more abuse of police powers – caught on camera

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 21 Comments

Oxford_times A remarkable and disquieting piece of footage over at the Oxford Times site. Stephen Russell, in his late 50s, was on a trip to buy fish and chips in Kidlington High Street when he spotted police swarming around. He had his camera with him and took four photos because it was unusual to see so much action in the village.

An officer wrongly demanded the ex-RAF engineer delete the photos. Mr Russell rightly refused – it is not illegal to photograph police in a public place.

He was then searched using powers under Section 43 of the Terrorism Act,.

He recorded the incident. Go and watch the footage. It's simply astonishing. Amongst other things, the fool of a bullying, overbearing policeman said, to a law-abiding member of the public who had done nothing wrong

You are a stranger in Kidlington – tell me who you are – what is your reason for being here

On what possible basis was any of that asked? We don't live in a country in which the police can demand our papers, to state our business. Moreover, just look at the way this oaf treats a palpably honest and reasonable member of the public. The domineering "I'm in charge, you justify yourself to me" attitude is typical of the way that the police are working very hard to lose the confidence of the law-abiding majority, who no longer feel that they're on our side.

Moreover, what absurd bit of self-serving sophistry – total dishonesty, really – to use Terrorism Act powers to search this man. He was very, very obviously not a terrorist. It is behaviour like this that undermines belief in the government's terror agenda and shows that powers such as these can't be given to officers, because they abuse them. The officer should now be required to justify his use of Terrorism Act powers in this case and if he can't, then he should be disciplined.

Let me say this loud and clear, so that there's no mistaking it:

PC Steve Burchett, you are a disgrace.

Also,

1) how fortunate that Mr Russell was able to record this incident. Given the footage, the police should take is seriously – if he had not, it would no doubt have been a "one person's word against another" damp squib.

2) cases like this make me think, more and more, that there needs to be a right to photograph police officers enshrined in law. What do you think about that..?

By Alex Deane

Hat tip: Old Holborn, Simon Richards at the TFA

The steady creep of the Identity Card

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in ID cards | 1 Comment

As I forewarned yesterday, The Office of The Identity Commissioner has presented his First Annual Report to Parliament to very mercifully little fanfare.

300_Image_ID_card_pic The document, which can be viewed on his website, is a mostly unremarkable piece of work with very little insight into the government's plans for the Identity Register.

Despite this, it does reveal that in the past three months around 5,000 people have been issued with identity cards and the Commissioner's office has spent £565,000.
 
That's over a hundred quid a card. At this rate if the government fulfills its aim of getting the whole population onto the National Identity Register, Britain will go bankrupt before Portsmouth FC.

And that's without mentioning the fact that both the Conservatives and Lib Dems have pledged to scrap the entire project.

In other woeful privacy news, this morning Blackburn Council held a launch event for the roll-out of the ID card scheme in their town; with Councillor Suleman Khonat weakly toeing the party line and being the first in the birthplace of John Morley to sign-up to a lifetime of noxious intrusion.

Money is being frittered away on a scheme that is supposed to be voluntary, yet has more publicity churned out about it than most other government campaigns.

Expensive, intrusive and unnecessary…remind you of anything?

By Dylan Sharpe

CCTV cameras have minimal value in the fight against crime

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV | 1 Comment

Bruce-blog Over at CNN, a brilliant extended article by security expert Bruce Schneier (who blogs here):

Pervasive security cameras don't substantially reduce crime. This fact has been demonstrated repeatedly: in San Francisco, California, public housing; in a New York apartment complex; in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; in Washington; in study after study in both the U.S. and the U.K. Nor are they instrumental in solving many crimes after the fact.

There are exceptions, of course, and proponents of cameras can always cherry-pick examples to bolster their argument. These success stories are what convince us; our brains are wired to respond more strongly to anecdotes than to data. But the data are clear: CCTV cameras have minimal value in the fight against crime.

And later, crucially, a paragraph which effectively reflects the approach of our report:

The important question isn't whether cameras solve past crime or deter
future crime; it's whether they're a good use of resources. They're
expensive, both in money and in their Orwellian effects on privacy and
civil liberties. Their inevitable misuse is another cost; police have
spied on naked women in their own homes, shared nude images, sold
best-of videos and even spied on national politicians. Though we might
be willing to accept these downsides for a real increase in security,
cameras don't provide that.

RTWT.

By Alex
Deane

P.S. also of interest – a useful article on drones and surveillance more generally over at Comment is Free

Body scanners – airport charges on the rise

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 10 Comments

Canada The Canadians levy a security fee for travellers at the airport. Guess what – it's going up as a result of the body scanners:

Fees now range from $5 to $16, depending on the length of a flight and
its destination.

At least the Canucks are honest enough to single it out and make the excess clear in a separate charge. Here in the UK, they'll just whack it on top of the price of the ticket.

Oh, and in Canada, you can opt for another form of search instead of the scanners – unlike here.

By Alex Deane

Want out of Google’s all-seeing eye?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Online privacy | 10 Comments

However meritorious Google Earth, and its urban counterpart Google StreetView – for those that enjoy the altogether different charms of privacy, do keep reading.

Assuming you do not want your abode to be nakedly featured on the all-seeing eye-view of our world, it is possible to remove it altogether. Google’s presence may be ubiquitous – but doesn’t the aphorism go something like 'too much of one thing can be bad for you'?

Opinion aside, here is a simple guide to removing all trace of your dominion, face, or number-plate: 

Here are the basics: When on the Google applications, go to the following link in the bottom left of the screen: 

Google SV3 

Once you have clicked on that, the following page contains a list. Click on the icon that best describes the problem: 

Google SV1

Finally – focus on the face, car, or house on the ‘Street Image’

They provide a detailed version of the street view image you reported, where you need to adjust the red box in 3D by moving your mouse and focus on the part of the image you are reporting. Like so: 

Google SV2

Submit it, and your privacy is restored.

By Edward Hockings

Why do councils object to residents picking up rubbish?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 8 Comments

Earlier this year we brought you the story of Albert Stewart, a binman in Ormskirk who had collected the rubbish next to the wheelie bins on his route and been disciplined by the local council.

Rubbish Volunteers Then we wrote about the hairdresser in Blackburn who, rather than send his waste hair to landfill, had decided to recycle it in his garden. Once again, his council gave him a ticking off for his ingenuity.

Today, from the Daily Mail, comes the story of the North Stifford Community Group, who decided their local area was looking a little scruffy and took it upon themselves to fill 43 bags of rubbish during three hours of hard work. Like the others, they also turned out to be a little too good at their job for the local council.

As the Mail reports:

A sniffy email was issued by Thurrock council after a three-man dustbin crew sent to collect the rubbish was unable to carry on with their usual round because their vehicle was full.

The complaint was all the more surprising as the council had approved the operation and provided the bin bags and litter-picking sticks.

Ashley Cobett, the council's cleansing manager, wrote: 'Please bear in mind that the weekend team have their regular work to do borough-wide and 43 bags and a sofa are a little excessive to collect.

'As this had filled up one of the vans they were unable to complete all of their work that day.

'I am happy to help voluntary organisations, but I would be very grateful if you would consider this for the future.'

When local councils are going to such extreme lengths as rubbish inspectors and bin microchips to keep our waste down, it beggars belief that they are at the same time reprimanding those who use their own initiative to make our streets a little cleaner. 

Councils really ought to learn not to criticise those who do something positive in their community, regardless of the negative consequences for the council services. 

Another story that symbolises why there is a steady decline in volunteerism.

By Dylan Sharpe

BT in the dock over snooping..?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Online privacy | 2 Comments

BT As readers may know, in 2006 British Telecom trialed Phorm technology, monitoring 18,000 broadband lines without customers' knowledge or consent.

They may be prosecuted under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

Good.

By Alex
Deane

P.S. Massive credit to https://nodpi.org/ for relentlessly pushing this one over four years, despite notable reluctance from prosecuting agencies to touch it…

Blogger evicted from court whilst print journalist remains

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Legal Action | 6 Comments

Nameandshame Many people now obtain their news from the internet. This method of communication has allowed a remarkable explosion of free speech, of providers of information (usually providing content which can be obtained for free) and a muliplicity of choice in what one reads. It is to be applauded.

That's not how the authorities feel in some parts of this country, it seems. Simon Perry of VentnorBlog, a well-established news blog on the Isle of Wight, was thrown out of a coroner’s court on Tuesday (you can read his account here).

Name and shame time: acting on behalf of the Coroner, John Matthews, 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.

But the Isle of Wight County Press was allowed to stay.

Leedham told Journalism.co.uk that the court "would not be making a comment, but that a statement had been made by the coroner after VentnorBlog had left the room." Well, how helpful! What was it?!

The case concerns the death of a woman on the Island in September 2008; the coroner court case has been postponed twice. VB wrote that it had been “led to believe that circumstances surrounding her death may be of public interest”.

VB apparently gathers that the exclusion was due to their coverage of a past case, which the court – whilst taking no formal action at all – had not liked. Well, so what?  An adverse take by a newspaper to an Old Bailey decision doesn't see that title excluded from the Central Criminal Court – why should a blog be treated differently?

As it happens, Perry is a member of the National Union of Journalists, but I don't think that that matters. Absent particular, specific, exceptional circumstances, the principle is the same, for journalists or the public – justice should not only be done, it should be seen to be done. We have open justice in this country.

The daughter of the woman concerned said she was glad the VB was ejected, and wished that no media were able to watch the case. I sympathise with her for her loss and on an emotional level understand her point of view but I'm afraid that objectively her opinions don't matter one bit. Many people would rather news providers were excluded from covering things of public interest – it would be a disaster for open, civil society if that desire held any weight.

As one of VB’s followers said,  “Ventnor blog seems our one source of reliable info on the Island.” Perhaps that's what is disliked…

Perry said,

access to a coroner’s inquest is a basic and important right for the public and press. Without it there are no checks on people’s deaths. As no notes are published from the inquest, the only way that it can be understood and reported is by people / press attending.

I have worked in the court system for some time and I know how important it is for people to have access to proceedings, to find out what is going on in our justice system. On the evidence available it's my view that this decision is a disgrace and I hope that VB does not let the matter lie. Cue the NUJ, perhaps..?

By Alex Deane

The ID card ‘tsar’ gets royalty treatment from the pro-ID hack

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in ID cards | 3 Comments

Sir Joseph Pilling Angela Epstein is not one of Big Brother Watch's favourite people. For those unaware, she is a reporter on the Manchester Evening News and wrote one of the most crass and ill-informed articles on the ID card project last year for her newspaper (which, incredibly, included the line: ‘I personally can’t see what there is to lose if you’re a law abiding citizen with nothing to hide’).

Her latest transgression is to be honoured with an interview with the so-called ID card 'tsar' Sir Joseph Pilling – also known as the Orwellian 'National Identity Commissioner' – and give him a ride so easy, that she completely ignores the following comment:

“I am personally neutral – and I do understand why those who haven`t
followed every aspect of the debate may find it difficult to see why we
are having them, particularly since they are voluntary.”

Well, Sir Jo, I have followed every aspect of this debate and I not only find it difficult to see why ID cards are still around, I find them incredibly intrusive, morally reprehensible and hugely over-expensive.

What is more they may currently be voluntary but, as even Ms Epstein's article makes clear:

From 2011, British citizens aged 16 or over who apply for a passport will automatically be registered on the national identity database, which contains personal details including fingerprints and facial scans.

So, despite explicitly stating that the scheme isn't voluntary (and ignoring the condescension), Epstein ends by letting Pilling restate the fact he is neutral, before tickling his chin and calling him a proud northerner.

The National Identity Commissioner's 3 month interim report on ID cards is presented to Parliament today. We await the results with interest.

By Dylan Sharpe

WATCH: Alex Deane speaks at ‘An Unwarranted Intrusion?’

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