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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

Did a US school use webcams in laptops to spy on students at school and at home?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Legal Action, Privacy | 8 Comments

Spy computer This one needs to be taken with a good pinch of the proverbial for the time being as it's based on the hitherto unsubstantiated claims made by students seeking compensation, but a remarkable story – laptops issued to students by a Philadelphia high school have webcams which can apparently be covertly activated by the schools' administrators.

It is believed that said administrators have used this facility to spy on students and even their families. The issue came to light when the claimant's child was apparently disciplined for "improper behavior in his home" and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence against him.

Here are the court papers filed by the claimants – they make quite remarkable reading.

If these claims are true, the ramifications for privacy everywhere are huge – and very bad.

By Alex Deane

Hat tip: Marchamont

School illegally fines parents for smoking students

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 5 Comments

A headteacher has bizarrely used the smoking ban to send fines to the parents of pupils caught smoking in the school playground.

School gates As reported today by the Evening Standard:

Margaret Peacock, head of Elliot School in Putney, wrongly claimed powers under the 2007 smoking ban to issue the £50 penalties.

Ms Peacock sent letters to the parents demanding the £50 and warned them that if they did not pay, the school's governors would face a £2,500 fine. In the letter, she wrote: “The law, which came into force on 1 July 2007, prohibits smoking on public property.

“Your child was part of a group of girls seen on CCTV who were involved in smoking on the school site and therefore a fixed penalty fine of £50 has been imposed.”

In what should be considered a victory for commonsense, Wandsworth local education authority has admitted the school was wrong and has demanded it refund the fines.

The children are damaging their health and shouldn't be smoking on school property, but equally the school had no right to start dishing out fines to their parents.

The school might need more money, but this is not the way to do it.

By Dylan Sharpe

Insult to injury – charging passengers for the privilege of going through body scanners..?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 4 Comments

Canadian_money Our Canadian friends are suffering from the blight of body scanners as much as we are. Over at the Calgary Herald, a perhaps predictable development – a furore over plans to charge passengers for the privilege of going through body scanners.

I have already outlined my objections to scanners on privacy and freedom grounds. But it may be that arguments on functionality, the health risks, costs and charges to passengers may be the things that kill them off.

By Alex Deane

Spy drones… for Joe Public

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

Quadrocopter Dylan has covered the police trial of remote controlled, unmanned CCTV spy drones (and the illegality of some such usage) previously. But have a look at this – just one example of similar hardware available to the public at low cost online. Not a fantastic battery life with current models, to be sure – but certainly enough to see over the neighbour's property, or the girl sunbathing at the end of the street.

Privacy, anyone?

By Alex Deane

Hat tip: WA

CCTV Synchronicity

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV | Leave a comment

Fail Great timing – on the day that the Ipswich Evening Star reports plans for a costly extension of Felixstowe's CCTV network, Australia's Tweed Daily News reports that their costly new system, installed with great fanfare a year ago, had a glitch in it which the supervisors knew about, but kept secret, which meant that footage couldn't be retained after a very short period of time had elapsed.

First time that emerged? When some poor chap's car was nicked – whilst parked right in front of said cameras.

As I have said several times before – the false sense of security created by this frequently failing technology should be considered whenever applications for more CCTV are made.

By Alex Deane

Goggles confiscated from children at swimming pools on elf ‘n’ safety grounds…

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 9 Comments

Goggles The headline says it all really. For more vein-poppingly irritating reportage, check out the Daily Mail's story about a council which bans swimming goggles because they're "dangerous".

If a parent wants their child to wear goggles whilst swimming, and the child wants to wear goggles whilst swimming, why on earth would some council minion think it’s his place to interfere?

I don’t really care if goggles help kids to swim or not. They should be able to decide for themselves. It’s the smug sense of self-importance these splashocrats exhibit in thinking they’ve got the right to blanket ban things and confiscate property from customers that gets me. The saddest feature of the nanny state is that it breeds jobsworths who think that everything’s their business; they think that they should play the role of parents and they think it's fine to deny individual choice in more and more ways. On all counts, they’re wrong.

By Alex Deane

Healthy 5 year-old branded ‘fat’ by Government programme

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 18 Comments

Lucy Davies Five-year-old Lucy Davies is 3ft 9ins tall and weighs 3st 9lbs. You will see from the picture beside this post that no-one in their right mind would ever describe her as 'fat'.  No-one, except the Government's creepy and Orwellian – 'National Child Measurement Programme'.

As reported by the Daily Mail:

Sports mad, always full of energy and certainly not fat, five-year-old Lucy Davies' parents had no concern about her health.

But when she was examined at school as part of a Government initiative to turn the rising tide of obesity, they were shocked to be told that she was 'overweight and unhealthy.'

They said Lucy may have an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer as her body mass index (BMI) was outside recommended guidelines by just one per cent.

Among its objectives, the NCMP, list the following:

- help local areas to understand the prevalence of child obesity in their area, and help inform local planning and delivery of services for children;

- gather population-level surveillance data to allow analysis of trends in growth patterns and obesity;

- enable primary care trusts and local authorities to use the data from the NCMP to set local goals

This is an outrageous invasion of privacy and demonstrates a complete absence of commonsense from the Department of Health.

The government is measuring the key physical details of young children and adding them to an enormous and insecure government database, ready to hawk unnecessary schemes and advertising at worried parents. 

Parents know if their children are healthy or not. This sort of nannying intrusion is more likely to cause needless distress to parents and kids, than it is to help raise awareness of health issues.

By Dylan Sharpe

“Bomb threat” on Twitter…? Oh, please…

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 16 Comments

RHADS_Terminal_at_Dusk As reported over at the Doncaster Free Press, a man has been charged with a criminal offence for posting a remark about Robin Hood airport on Twitter. Dylan's covered this issue before.

Plainly, the po-faced policemen of South Yorkshire need to learn a bit of common sense and discretion. Someone joking about terrorism on Twitter might be an idiot but he’s clearly not a terrorist.

Treating this man as if he is a terrorist undermines faith in the law, and encourages the already widespread belief that the bureaucrats are going wildly over the top with their authoritarian response to the current situation.

After all, the police show no effort to understand of the context of his Tweet (i.e. he was stuck in the snow) which is obviously crucial to determining whether it was a joke in poor taste, or something remotely serious. It is plain from the context of this post here on Big Brother Watch that I am commenting on this story rather than seriously announcing any intent, but will I get a knock on the door for just writing I am going to blow up Robin Hood airport here?

By Alex Deane

Interested in campaigning against body scanners? Click here

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 7 Comments

Facebook scanners campaign Big Brother Watch has been very lucky in the welcome extended to us by those interested in fighting the big brother state, from great organisations like The Freedom Association, No2ID and Privacy International, the Manifesto Club and No CCTV, to commentators like Henry Porter, to courageous individual campaigners like Jenny Paton, Pippa King and Heather Brooke with her tremendous Your Right to Know campaign (who has, I see, created a film called ‘On Expenses’ which will be broadcast on BBC4 next Tuesday February 23rd at 9pm).

When a new issue like body scanners at airports, comes up, a new constituency of irritated people springs up and just as we were welcomed by the existing campaigns and campaigners I want to try to help the tremendous grassroots movement on this subject which has sprung up on Facebook – read about it here and join up here. I have.

By Alex Deane

Edinburgh Council send support workers on snooping classes

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 6 Comments

Spying Edinburgh City Council has begun sending staff on courses designed to train them to look out for anything that might resemble 'terrorist activity'.

According to the Edinburgh Evening News:

Staff sources say that the sessions have included being told how to spot anything suspicious, and being asked to report anything – no matter how trivial – to police, such as quantities of empty bottles of bleach.

Support workers who visit a range of clients in their own home including vulnerable groups, people with addictions and elderly people, have been among the first to get the training.

Concierges, community safety teams and other front-line staff across the council are also to be sent on the sessions, which are hosted by police as part of the Home Office's counter-terrorism strategy.

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 working with the elderly and infirm, physically disabled, and those with mental health and learning disabilities, as well people with drug and alcohol addictions and the homeless'.

So, instead of prioritising the most disadvantaged in society, Edinburgh's hard-pressed social workers will now be searching for anything that looks vaguely 'terrorist', even something as benign as empty bottles of bleach. 

A sad state of affairs.

By Dylan Sharpe