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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

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

WATCH: Harry Snook speaks at ‘An Unwarranted Intrusion?’

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

Council asks for ‘volunteers’ to watch the town’s CCTV network

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

CCTV symbol Minehead CCTV partnership, whose cameras watch the people of Minehead Town Council, West Somerset Council and Avon and Somerset Police, has placed a story in the local newspaper - the Somerset County Gazette - advertising for local people to become volunteers at the CCTV office, based in the town’s police station.

According to the report:

Acting area inspector Neil Dillon said: “CCTV is a valuable tool in deterring people from committing crimes as well as providing evidence that can be critical in tracking down criminals and bringing them to justice.

“We are inviting people with an interest in improving community safety to get involved. “The volunteers are valued members of a professional team, and we would love to hear from anyone who wishes to help.”

The volunteers would normally be asked to work between two and four hours, controlling the system and monitoring the images.

In their rush to ensure their control room is manned, the local authorities and police force involved have completely ignored the privacy implications of this policy.

They are asking local people who they claim will be 'trained' and 'vetted' - although almost certainly not to the same degree that professional CCTV operators are – to come down to the CCTV centre and spy on their neighbours.

People do not like being watched, least of all by members of the public who put themselves forward for the task. This is a bad idea and the offer should be withdrawn immediately.

By Dylan Sharpe  

Big Brother Watch Newsletter 19.02.10

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

Dear Supporter,

 

This week Big Brother Watch moved offices and as such we now have a new address and a new phone number. Our updated contact details are available on our website.

Last week, Con Coughlin wrote a piece for the Daily Telegraph effectively defending the use of torture and stating that British judges upholding the rule of law in the Binyam Mohammed case were Taliban sympathisers and would be equally to blame with Osama Bin Laden if London were to be bombed again. Big Brother Watch’s Alex Deane wrote a response on Conservative Home, defending liberty and opposing torture, which provoked responses in the Spectator, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal and a further piece from Coughlin himself. You can see our final word on the matter here.

 

Our nanny state and officious councils

 

The past seven days have seen a slew of stories involving baffling regulations and ludicrous decisions from health and safety officers in councils around the country. The absurdity began last weekend, when a 67 year-old man was prevented from getting a bus because he was carrying a pot of paint. This was followed by the news that a mother is facing a fine after a litter warden ‘caught’ her toddler dropping a piece of banana from his pushchair. Whilst relieved that the offending council was not Sandwell, we were reminded of our success with Vanessa Kelly and have offered our support to the unfortunate mother in question.

 

Continuing the theme, it emerged yesterday that Leicestershire County Council are currently in the process of banning swimming goggles, for the bizarre reason that they ‘reduce peripheral vision’. But the crowning glory in this sorry sequence comes courtesy of the chilling ‘National Child Measurement Programme’ – a government programme to catalogue the health of our nation’s youth and hold it on a database, ready to bombard parents if their children get overweight. If this level of snooping wasn’t bad enough, the rigid indicators of the scheme were revealed yesterday, when the parents of apparently healthy Lucy Davies were told that their 5 year-old daughter was fat and at risk of heart disease. 

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.

 

 

Blogs of the Week

 

Edinburgh Council send support workers on snooping classes - the disturbing news that Edinburgh City Council has decided that its social workers should be the first to be trained to see terrorism in everything. Instead of helping the most disadvantaged they will now be watching out for ‘empty bottles of bleach’…tragic

“Bomb threat” on Twitter…? Oh, please… - Paul Chambers, the man who tweeted his frustration at the closure of an airport and found himself in custody, goes to court today. Big Brother Watch is hoping that the court sees sense…

Interested in campaigning against body scanners? Click here - An Essex man’s grassroots movement starts piling up signatories on Facebook. Sign up and register your opposition to the full-body scanner.

Media Coverage

BBC Radio Derby - Dylan Sharpe interviewed by Shane O’Connor

East Coast FM - Alex Deane interviewed by Graeme Logan

Daily Echo – Neighbours to turn each other in for bin fines in Southampton

Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “The powers being granted to the Bin Stasi should be opposed by the people of Southampton. Bureaucrats everywhere are using the environment as an excuse to intrude on our lives and increase council revenue and it shouldn’t be allowed – especially when disproportionately applied to trivial and absurd ‘offences’ like leaving one’s bin in the wrong place.”

Tameside Reporter – Good ‘ID’ea or not?

Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch, said: “It was foolish to push forward with the scheme in the face of widsespread public opposition against ID cards. As a result there are only a few people who have them – and nobody even recognises what they are. We have managed to live our lives for centuries without ID cards – the suggestion that there is any pressing need for them now is absurd.”

The Times – Businesses are behind the big increase in human rights cases

Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch, said: “Human rights are vital, but the Human Rights Act is often used to achieve frivolous and greedy ends, for purposes nothing to do with proper human rights.

“The abuse of the Act is a tragedy that undermines the whole idea of human rights in the eyes of the public.”

Daily Mail – Police ground unmanned drone after aviation chiefs claim £40,000 gadget was used illegally to make landmark arrest

Dylan Sharpe, campaign director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘This intervention by the CAA is welcome and timely. People already feel that there is excessive surveillance in the UK without the police flying around CCTV cameras to catch us littering or parking in the wrong place.

‘Privacy problems, excessive cost, or unauthorised use of airspace – Britain would be better off with fewer surveillance cameras.’

Real Radio – Dylan Sharpe interviewed by Glen Hunt

Blackpool Gazette – Police use helicopter drone without permission

WATCH: Dominic Grieve QC MP speaks at ‘An Unwarranted Intrusion?’

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

An Unwarranted Intrusion?

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

Last night Big Brother Watch teamed up with The Centre for Policy Studies to host an event discussing the accumulation of entry powers by the state. 

Unwarranted Intrusion Research released by Big Brother Watch in December last year revealed that there are nearly 15,000 officers in local councils nationwide who can enter private property without requiring a warrant or police officer escort. You can read the full report Barging In by clicking here. This report built upon the 2006 Centre for Policy Studies pamphlet Crossing the Threshold by Harry Snook, which detailed the number of ways the State can enter a private home as of right.

To debate the power of entry at last night's event - chaired by Jill Kirby, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies - were:

• Dominic Grieve QC MP – Shadow Secretary of State for Justice
• Henry Porter – Novelist and Columnist
• Harry Snook – Author, Crossing the Threshold
• Alex Deane – Director, Big Brother Watch

We will be posting videos of each of the speeches from the event throughout the day and I would urge you to watch all four speakers. Each clip offers tremendous insights into the speaker's expertise and serve as a fantastic analysis of the erosion of liberty and how the current government has intruded into the public and private sphere.

Perhaps the most important development from the event, however, was Dominic Grieve's commitment to two key policies for a Conservative Government:

- The first was his announcement that he would like to see it compulsory for any state inspector to have to apply for a warrant from a JP before exercising power of entry.

- The second was his desire to introduce a 'Repeal Act' to get rid of some of the ridiculous and inappropriate legislation that permits state inspectors to enter our homes.

These two policy commitments from the Shadow Minister for Justice are absolutely critical if a Conservative Government is to restrict the power of the state over our private space. Big Brother Watch intends to keep a close eye on the progression of these commitments and will be ready to hold Dominic Grieve to account should the Tories win the next election. 

The videos of the speeches will be posted shortly.

By Dylan Sharpe