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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

We support John Pugh’s campaign against Royal Mail

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

John_pugh The Daily Mail have today written a substantial report on a battle currently being fought by Lib Dem MP, John Pugh.

His campaign is focussed on the 46 postmen that have been suspended, dismissed or have gone off work with stress from Royal Mail in his Southport constituency over the past three years.

Some of the stories are quite unbelievable.

A father of two, who had around ten years of unblemished service, is thought to have put his signature to a recorded delivery when a parcel firm arrived on the doorstep as he made his own rounds.

Concerned that the elderly householder would have to trek to the sorting office to collect the parcel when she got home, he signed for her.

But when she called his managers to thank him for his kindness, Royal Mail began disciplinary action against him. The postman was signed off work with stress and subsequently retired on the grounds of ill health.

Other cases included two postmen who were sacked on the spot for failing to wear a cycling helmet while delivering mail by pushbike and another who was dismissed after 25 years service when he was spotted leaving his van running and unlocked as he delivered mail to a farmhouse on a single-lane track. 

One postman was even suspended for leaving his Royal Mail issue cycle outside a shop while he spoke to a customer who was enquiring about how to have her mail redirected. He was later reinstated.

A female postwoman is also in the process of taking Royal Mail bosses to tribunal over allegations they forced her to work, despite having recently recovered from an operation, during freezing cold weather conditions.

As John Pugh makes clear in his statement, as shocking as these cases are, they don't come close to revealing the true extent of the emotional damage and stress caused to the families of those workers who have been so badly treated. 

Big Brother Watch does, of course, defend the right of the Royal Mail to dismiss those postmen and women who are not doing their jobs properly. But in the cases outlined by John Pugh, the common factor seems to be a slavish and officious adherence to unnecessary dictats imposed from above.

Therefore we lend our full support to John's campaign.

By Dylan Sharpe 

Is there NOTHING for which they won’t fine you?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Legal Action | 5 Comments

Nose blowing Over at the Daily Record, a remarkable story – a man is facing a criminal trial after he was "caught" blowing his nose behind the wheel of his car.

Michael Mancini was given a £60 fixed penalty notice after a policeman decided he was "not in control of his vehicle" when he wiped his nose with a tissue.

The policeman who handed out the ticket was [name and shame of the day] PC Stuart Gray – the same berk who issued a £50 fixed penalty to a man who accidentally dropped a £10 note in the street.

Mancini said that he had "made sure it was safe" to blow his nose before taking his hands off the wheel – he was in stationary traffic and had put his handbrake on when he committed the alleged offence in October last year. He refused to pay the fine and now faces a trial later this year.

 

As I've said elsewhere, British society is becoming so illiberal it's as if normal life is becoming unlawful.

 

By Alex Deane

Jeepers, creepers, where’d ya get them peepers

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

Only last week Alex mentioned the terrifying emergence of hyper-snooping site Internet Eyes, a scandalous project whereby users monitor random cameras across the country and report back on any suspicious activity.

Internet eyes If users successfully report a crime, they could be in for a cash reward of up to £1000. Hoorah, we think not. The devils had planned to charge businesses £20 per month to get us to monitor their CCTV; however, techradar.com are now reporting it is yet to go live because it's the subject of an investigation by the Information Commissioner's office (ICO), which believes it may be illegal.

The hideous project had aimed to sidestep the illegality of monitoring live CCTV by keeping users and camera locations anonymous but now the data protection watchdog has stepped in.

Such a scheme explicitly opens the floodgates for the realisation of an omnipresent totalitarian state in which the implication of your fellow man is rewarded.

We will keep you updated on the decision of the ICO and continue with our thoughtcrimes… 

By James Stannard

The DNA myth continues

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in DNA database | 5 Comments

Two points of interest on DNA retention emerged from the House of Commons yesterday. 

The first, alerted to us by the masterful blogger Dizzy, was the answer to the following parliamentary question by John Robertson, Labour MP for Glasgow North West:

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department in how many convictions for criminal offences evidence from the National DNA database played a material part in (a) 2005, (b) 2006, (c) 2007, (d) 2008 and (e) 2009.

The response from the Home Office is as follows:

Total DNA-related detections

Total recorded crime

2005-06

40,309

5,555,172

2006-07

41,148

5,427,558

2007-08

33,034

4,951,173

2008-09

32,209

4,702,468

As Dizzy rightly points out, this means that in the past few years, DNA evidence has played a part in just over half of one percent of crimes solved in the UK. While it would be very difficult to achieve, Big Brother Watch would love to know how many of those half a percent were from the DNA profiles of those never convicted of any crime – it is unlikely to be very many at all.

Which makes the second point of interest all the more relevant. As reported by Public Service, yesterday during evidence given to a committee considering the Crime and Security Bill, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde, said that:

"The retention of DNA is of critical value to serious crime investigation.

"From a professional police perspective, just because someone is not convicted of an offence, there are still very good professional reasons for why we need that information when dealing with serious crime."

Sadly, Hugh, the figures just don't stack up. Just like our Home Secretary, he's going to have to do much better if they are to continue ignoring the ruling of the ECHR and retaining the DNA of innocent people. 

By Dylan Sharpe

- – UPDATE – -

A commenter on this post has pointed us to this document from GeneWatch, which is a fantastic summary of the arguments against the retention of innocent DNA.

The Freedom Association highlights the fact that another school is about to start fingerprinting the children who attend it

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases | 12 Comments

TFA As Simon Richards puts it over at The Freedom Association - it's no food without fingerprints at St John's Secondary School in Epping.

Along with a guest post on the subject, We've expressed our feelings on this appalling policy before (and schemes like it) and I thought I'd take the opportunity to flag the very useful information available over at Pippa King's website – a useful resource for everyone, particularly any parent thinking about opposing such a policy…

If this is happening at your child's school, and you want help in opposing it, get in touch.

By Alex Deane

Roving CCTV – in declared locations

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

Over at the Waltham Forest Guardian, news thatSpy car_jpg_display Waltham Forest Council are going to announce the locations of their CCTV cars in advance.

As we've explained so many times before, we're deeply sceptical about CCTV – especially when it's revenue-raising.  CCTV cars are doubly irritating for motorists (particularly given the fact that their drivers often break the law themselves, as happened recently in Lambeth or previously in Bolton). But if you're going to have it, it's best done this way. 

On behalf of the Council, Councillor Bob Belam said that

“The aim is to make it safer for everyone, and also to keep the traffic moving because when somebody sits in a yellow box the traffic can tailback a long way.”

Cllr Belam added that the aim of the council's policy is “not to make money at the expense of motorists.”

So they announce the locations, to encourage compliance rather than trying to catch people out to raise revenue.  Good job (or at least, best of a bad job) Waltham Forest.

By Alex Deane

UPDATE: others don't agree.

We mustn’t discriminate against the unreliable

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

Jobcentre This absurd story has understandably been reported everywhere this morning:

Nicole Mamo, 48, wanted to post an advert for a £5.80-an-hour domestic cleaner on her local Jobcentre Plus website.

The text of the advert ended by stating that any applicants for the post ''must be very reliable and hard-working''.

But when Ms Mamo called the Jobcentre Plus in Thetford, Norfolk, the following day she was told that her advert would not be displayed instore.

A Jobcentre Plus worker claimed that the word ''reliable'' meant they could be sued for discriminating against unreliable workers (from the Daily Telegraph)

Unsurprisingly the DWP have refused to comment, which makes me suspect that rather than a general rule, this was one officious member of staff at the Jobcentre taking the law into their own hands.

Nevertheless, it says something about society today that those working in the public sector are so afraid to not be discriminatory they end up seeing discrimination in everything.

More to the point, it reinforces the need for people and politicians alike to give far greater scrutiny to things like Harriet Harman’s Equality Bill.

By Dylan Sharpe

John Gaunt’s case is an important test for freedom of speech

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

John-gaunt John Gaunt of talk radio fame is in court today for calling a local councillor a Nazi.

I believe in freedom of speech, for everyone, about everything.  Contentious issues are always likely to upset some people, but it is important that contentious issues are discussed.  So freedom of speech comes with the corollary that it is likely that some people will be offended. As per Toby Young. People in our society now, it seems to me, delight in the status of being offended, as if it gives them some sort of moral upper hand, the inviolable high ground in any dispute, rather than suggesting – as it does most of the time – that they're a bit thin-skinned. But even if they're genuinely upset and offended, I think that in almost all cases that's just part of the vicissitudes of life, and that we should get on with things rather than pandering to such concerns – because freedom of speech is too important a principle to be hostage to their feelings. 

I regret the chilling effect that will be felt in publishing and broadcasting even if Gaunt wins his case – and the prospect of him losing is an appalling prospect for those who cherish free speech in this country.  So we here at Big Brother Watch are rooting for John today.

As Shami Chakrabarti (whom I've recommended as an appointee to the Lords under the Tories over at Con Home) puts it – we fought the real Nazis so that we could be free.

So – sorry if you were miffed, Mr Councillor, but I'm with Gaunty on this one.

By Alex Deane

UPDATE: Gaunt wins round 1.  Good.

Privacy International deserves your support

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Legal Action, Mastering the Internet | Leave a comment

Privacy international Our friends at Privacy International are taking Virgin to the European Commission over their file snooping software.

I've expressed my doubts about the Virgin approach to privacy previously and you will see from this BBC report that PI are entirely in the right.

Big Brother Watch will be thinking about ways we can help in the fight against internet surveillance in the weeks and months to come. If you care about your privacy online, head over to PI and drop them a line.

By Alex Deane

BBW: Now offering all-purpose ANPR solutions to the Middle East

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

Below is a genuine email that Big Brother Watch received today to our general email account. The source is especially interesting given recent events.

We're not sure they quite get the point of Big Brother Watch…see what you think:

From: Xxxxx Xxxxx [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: 26 January 2010

To: [email protected]
Cc:
Subject: Fw: ANPR System
 

 

M/S Big Brother Watch

Dear Sirs,

 

A client is looking for 22 sets of ANPR cameras, each set includes two cameras connected to one computer, between them an open corridor (around 5 meters length)

In the Entry Gate; the first camera will take photo for the front face of the vehicle (including the front car no. plate) and the other will take the photo to the back face of the vehicle (including the rear car no. plate),  these two photos will go to the Database of the computer.

The first camera will be fixed and the second one will be movable depending on the length of the vehicle.

It'll be a complete solution including the software, the installation and the commissioning.

Best regards

Xxxxx Xxxxx

Xxxx Co.

Xxxxx Xxxx, Xxxxxxxxxx xxxxx

Xxxxx; Rep. of Yemen