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 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
Some excellent work from the Daily Telegraph this morning reveals that the Government is planning on handing out police powers to several more members of the public under a major expansion of its 'Community Safety Accreditation Scheme' (CSAS).
As the Telegraph reports:
Under CSAS, a chief constable can give employees of local authorities or private companies limited powers such as the right to hand out on-the-spot fines for offences including disorder, truancy and littering; stopping vehicles for roadside tests and confiscating alcohol.
They have their own uniform and badge and can demand names and addresses as well as take photographs of offenders.
The Government has quietly announced it plans to review the scheme with chief police officers to see how it can be expanded further.
A section buried in a recent Home Office neighbourhood policing strategy document read: "CSAS is a powerful way for the police to work with partners and to make the most out of other people whose job is to keep their neighbourhoods safe by giving them a limited range of powers to tackle ASB (anti-social behaviour).
"The Government and ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officer) will review CSAS to see how it can be expanded to more forces and organisations."
There are already 1,667 so-called "accredited persons" in England and Wales and a further 478 civilians have been given the power to stop vehicles to check for out-of-date tax discs. The vice-chair of the Police Federation has said that the scheme is growing "out of control" and it is deeply unpopular with rank and file police officers.
The fact is that councils are trying to plug a gap created by their wasteful spending and the excessive law-making of our present government. Town Halls are sending out civilians in police clothing to find people to fine for the litany of pathetic non-crimes we are now subject to.
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.
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.