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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

Southwark in CCTV confession

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV | 4 Comments

A story in the South London Press this morning reveals that more than 85% of the CCTV cameras in the London borough of Southwark need replacing.

As reported:

Southwark council has more than 400 “old and outdated” cameras in need of an overhaul at a cost of millions, according to a council report.

“It will not be affordable or cost-effective to fund the cost of repairing or replacing all CCTV equipment that is at the end of its natural life, it says.

“Many cameras are irreparable, unused, redundant or no longer monitored. The council is in breach of legislation if cameras that are not in use or fit for purpose remain in situ.”

CCTV facing The Lib Dem/Tory led council are apparently now considering scaling down their CCTV coverage to a “small number” of cameras in town centres. But the question must be asked – how many other local authorities are operating cameras that are "irreparable, unused, redundant or no longer monitored" and, most importantly, illegal?

In addition, the council report reveals that Southwark's total number of cameras is around 460 – a full 300 more than the council told us they had when we put together our report into local authority CCTV last year. 

Sadly, we don't have a quote from a Southwark councillor proclaiming the benefits of their CCTV system, but a report, again in the South London Press, did spell out our concerns with council CCTV:

Big Brother Watch director Alex Deane said: “Councils are creating enormous networks of CCTV surveillance at great expense. But the evidence for the ability of CCTV to deter or solve crimes is sketchy at best.

“The quality of footage is frequently too poor to be used in courts and the cameras are often turned off to save money.

“Further, the control rooms are rarely manned 24 hours a day.”

Sound familiar, Southwark?

By Dylan Sharpe

Airport body scanners may be dangerous – and our government is ignoring that

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 8 Comments

Radiation_symbol_1 The Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety includes the European Commission, International Atomic Energy Agency, Nuclear Energy Agency and the World Health Organization. The Committee has written a report that states that

Air passengers should be made aware of the health risks of airport body screenings and governments must explain any decision to expose the public to higher levels of cancer-causing radiation

And

Pregnant women and children should not be subject to scanning

Sadly, by making scanning compulsory for all and by failing to publicise this guidance, the British Government is failing to do both of these things and is potentially jeopardising the health of vulnerable people as a result.

By Alex Deane

Blackburn Council: you can’t recycle hair, you have to put it in landfill instead

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

Haircut Over at the Blackburn Citizen, yet another depressing story about the overbearing health and safety state. 

A hairdresser called Jeff Stone has taken home the cut hair from his salon for 40 years, to use on his compost heap. The council has now said that this is against the law, because it is “trade waste”. He and other shop-keepers have been forced to pay the council £100 for trade waste sacks to be collected from his shop to comply with recycling guidelines, with the bags going into landfill rather than being used in the sensibly and environmentally useful disposal he has used for so long.

A Blackburn council spokesman said Mr Stone had been acting illegally because businesses had a legal duty to ensure their waste was not harming the environment:

“They cannot simply take it home, no matter what it is.”

Well, it's clearly not hurting the environment, but this is a Council determined not to let common sense get in the way. Moreover, listen to the sense of self-importance in that statement. Listen to the smug security of someone totally sure of his "right" to tell other people how to live, notwithstanding longstanding and entirely harmless precedent, notwithstanding quite how ridiculous the Council's demands. How did we let ourselves get into this kind of situation, in which people like this unnamed council spokesman not only think that their Council has this sort of power, whatever the (non)sense of the Council's position in a given situation, but in which said highhanded Council actually does have it?

In summary, in stopping this chap from taking the hair home and instead forcing him to pay to have it go into landfill, the council are forcing a change from something streamlined, free and useful to something bureaucratic, costly and useless. This is a typical jobsworthy absurdity, with the bureaucrats intruding where there's absolutely no need for them, and a typical bit of council revenue-raising via cod-environmentalism which actually harms the environment.

Whilst having to confess that I'm surprised that this works as compost, I think the council ought to leave this poor chap alone. It's not as if "trade waste" is a magic term with an absolute meaning. It's not spent nuclear fuel rods, it's hair, for the love of Pete…!

By Alex Deane

Hat-tip: RH

Album cover banned from tube for ‘looking like graffiti’

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

Bristol-based 'trip hop' pioneers, Massive Attack, have revealed that they were banned from advertising their new album Heligoland on the London Underground.

They were apparently told by Transport for London that the record cover bore too close of a resemblance to graffiti and were forced to go back to the drawing board. The image is below for you to decide.

According to the Daily Star:

Robert “3D” Del Naja, 45, who had to redesign his artwork for stations, said: “They won’t allow anything on the Tube that looks like street art.

“They want us to remove all drips and fuzz. It’s the most absurd censorship I’ve ever seen.”

Well, it's not quite the most absurd we've seen at Big Brother Watch, but it definitely comes close.

Massive-Attack-Heligoland

By Dylan Sharpe

Your data on 500,000 terminals across the EU

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

SIRENE-SIS It emerged this weekend that large amounts of confidential personal information held about British citizens is currently being stored on a giant computer network spanning the European Union, and can be accessed through more than 500,000 terminals. Once again, the two things that aren’t being given proper consideration are privacy and security. 

As reported over at the Guardian:

The figure was revealed in a Council of the European Union document examining proposals to establish a new agency which would manage much of the 27 EU member states' shared data. The sheer number of access points to the Schengen Information System (SIS) – has triggered concerns about the security of the data.

Half a million access points – that’s more than the population of Luxembourg. It goes without saying that the SIS system has already been subject to serious breaches of security. Statewatch, a civil liberties outfit that follows security related issues across the EU, claim that personal information was extracted from the system by an official in Belgium – and was subsequently sold to an organised criminal gang.

As EU business report, the official line, sounds all too familiar:

“The second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) will be a large-scale information system containing alerts on persons and objects.” “It is a communication infrastructure between the central system and the national systems providing an encrypted virtual network dedicated”.

In reference to the expansion of the SIS database, Tony Bunyan, director of Statewatch, endorses two principles with which we can all agree:   

"The greater the points of access, the greater the number of people who have access and the greater the chance that data will be misplaced, lost or illegally accessed." Furthermore, "the idea that mass databases can be totally secure and that privacy can be guaranteed is a fallacy."

Sound logic, Mr Bunyan.

By Edward Hockings

Nothing like a big sporting occasion…

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 4 Comments

Olympic security …to really bring out the authoritarianism in our authorities.

As reported in the Times this morning:

Police are planning to use an anti-terror law deemed unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights across the country during the London Olympics.

Senior officers are considering using Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 at every Underground and railway station nationwide.

This decision does, of course, completely ignore last month's European Court judgement, ruling random stop and search illegal. Remember: there has never been a successful conviction for terrorist offences resulting from the use of Section 44. 

But in terms of liberty in Britain today, it is the words of Mr Thomas, the Olympic National Transport Security Co-ordinator for the Home Office, that are really concerning:

“We are planning on the assumption that there will be a severe threat to the UK during the Games, on the basis that we can then scale down rather than quickly scale up.”

This should not be the default position of security in Britain. Given that the hyperbolic threat level in Britain hasn't fallen below 'severe' since it was first made public in August 2006, what chance is there that these illegal stop and searches will see any scaling back before, during or after the Games?

Any excuse for this government.

By Dylan Sharpe

Alex Deane argues against full-body scanners on BBC Breakfast

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners, Media coverage | 13 Comments

Wigan Council loses the data of 200 disabled residents

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

Wigan Well, the headline says it all, really – but here's the story. In sum:

Wigan Council believes a memory stick containing hundreds of confidential details fell out of an employee's pocket

To which I'd say, (1) This was back in January – shouldn't that be ex-employee? (2) Doesn't this say something to those who want more government databases?

You'll note that we have a "losing data" tag on the site. It's merited because it happens so often. 

By Alex Deane

Australia in landmark ruling on file-sharing

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

As Britain moves perilously towards a new culture of regulating the previously unregulated world of the internet, a landmark ruling was made yesterday by our antipodean counterparts. 

Global-broadband An Australian court ruled that the country's third-largest broadband operator cannot be held responsible for the actions of illegal file-sharers.

As reported over at the Guardian:

iiNet was being sued by more than 30 film and TV studios, including Village Roadshow, Universal, Sony and Warner Bros, for allowing its users to download copyrighted material. Sydney's federal court, however, ruled that the company cannot be held liable for the downloading habits of its customers. If iiNet had lost the case it would essentially have been required to police its users on behalf of copyright holders.

The politics of the internet is never going to be simple, but creating criminals out of people who are merely using the technology available to them is a massive infringement of liberty. Touching upon this, Michael Malone, iiNet's co-founder, said

"we've probably wasted a year. When iiNet, the internet industry and the rights holders could have been working together to find better models.” 

While this ruling will not directly impact upon British law, it will be encouraging news for UK based Internet Service Provider’s such as TalkTalk, who have publically opposed impending legalisation that will require ISP’s to not only police their customers – but to disconnect those suspected of ‘illegal’ filesharing. 

This is, I believe, a positive step towards recognising our right to privacy. Let’s hope the British courts follow Australia’s lead.

By Edward Hockings

Our surveillance state – intrusive and ineffective

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, ID cards | 2 Comments

BanksyCCTV Two stories have caught my eye this morning that provide a perfect summation of the current progress of Britain's surveillance state.

The first comes from the Daily Telegraph via Manchester:

Man can't prove ID with ID card

Darren McTeggart tried to use the £30 ID card to pick up a replacement credit card from a branch of Santander in Manchester, where the scheme was rolled out on a voluntary basis last year.

Mr McTeggart, one of the first people to get the card, said: “They said it was not on their list of approved ID.

“I sent an email to the head office, but they wouldn’t budge. The government has been pushing this card on TV and elsewhere so it beggars belief why the bank won’t accept it.”

The second comes courtesy of the Gloucester Citizen:

Broken CCTV missed vandal attack

Businessman Barry Clayton was left fuming when his shop window was smashed and he discovered a CCTV camera opposite was not working.

He said: “On Saturday night, one of our shop windows was kicked in. We had hoped that it might have been caught on camera. There would have been a really good chance of getting some evidence off it.

“But we’ve looked at the camera – which was just a few yards away high up on a wall – today and yesterday and it’s facing the wall that it’s mounted on. Its main field of vision will just be the cream-coloured wall that it’s on.”

So there we have it. Mr McTeggart presumably foolishly jumped at the chance to get an ID card because the government had told him that it was a much simpler and easier form of identification; while Mr Clayton had always assumed that the council CCTV camera opposite his shop would deter criminals but catch any who chanced an attack on his shop.

Intrusive and ineffective – Big Brother Watch's surveillance State of the Union.

By Dylan Sharpe