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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

BBC radio presenter sacked for criticising council fine…on facebook

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

I understand that the BBC has to be impartial, but this story is taking it far too far:

Gareth_evans Gareth Evans was sacked after allegedly threatening to criticise his local council on air over a minor parking ticket row involving his heavily pregnant wife.

Evans, 39, a popular DJ at BBC Radio Sheffield, detailed the dispute on Facebook, revealing how his wife Joanna was given a £25 ticket for parking badly in an 'empty' town centre car park during a shopping trip.

When parking her Land Rover, she slightly straddled another bay to ensure she had sufficient room to get out. She returned later to find a fixed penalty notice on her windscreen.

Mr Evans wrote on Facebook about his family's 'war' with the council and their failed attempt to have the fine overturned.

But a senior official at Bassetlaw Council in Nottinghamshire was so concerned about comments that he wrote to BBC management.

It is hard to know who has acted more irresponsibly in this case: Bassetlaw Council for issuing a ridiculous fine to a pregnant woman, or the BBC in Sheffield for sacking someone for such a minor and inoffensive comment.

What is certain, is that the person who has been made to suffer most – Gareth Evans – doesn’t deserve this treatment whatsoever.

It makes for a telling picture of Britain today: a council desperate to rake in money by fining people who are not breaking any law, and a state broadcaster too scared to defend its own staff.

By Dylan Sharpe

When the police come-a-calling

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

It was announced today that Bexley police are to visit every home in the borough in an effort to reduce crime and raise awareness.

Police officer As reported over at the Evening Standard:

Safer Neighbourhood Teams are planning to visit every home in Bexley in a year. Officers will knock on doors and introduce themselves to residents to ask if they have problems with crime or anti-social behaviour.

Summing up this enterprise, Inspector Toby Noar said: “We want to give every resident the chance to speak directly to police on issues that concern them."

While at first glance I couldn’t help but feel that this was a bona fide attempt to restore a sense of community and order in our fragmented society – waking from my naive slumbers, an image came to mind of our Safer Neighbourhood Teams gracing one’s abode with biscuits, tea and a reassuring presence – then demanding a sample of their host's saliva! 

Before you accuse me of naked cynicism, there is, I believe, a sinister undercurrent to most government-related practices these days. In some cases, it’s just outright complacency; in others, an alarming lack of decency; and at times, it’s frankly unsettling.

One thing is certain, there is a definite pattern of proposals or practices which are introduced under the guise of an ‘apparently’ much needed piece of legislation, and before we know it, have transformed into something highly dubious and intrusive.  

As an example, one only need think of the response of Anton Setchell, national co-ordinator for domestic extremism for Acpo, to questions about the collection of innocent people’s DNA:

"Just because you have no criminal record does not mean that you are not of interest to the police," he said. "Everyone who has got a criminal record did not have one once."

While Big Brother Watch fully endorses the efforts of Bexley's Safer Neighbourhood Teams to get to know the people they are protecting, we hope they aren't taking lessons from Mr Setchell.

By Edward Hockings 

Big Brother Watch Newsletter 22.01.10

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

Dear Supporter,


 


This week Big Brother Watch celebrated our official launch in Central London. 150 people from across politics, the media, civil liberties and beyond, gathered in the elegant surroundings of Vanilla to listen to two titans of privacy and freedom – David Davis MP and Tony Benn – welcome Big Brother Watch to the growing number of groups dedicated to defending liberty in the UK.


 


The speeches are now available to view on our YouTube channel or you can go to them directly by clicking on the links below. A more complete round-up of the night is available on our blog and it was also covered by the Evening Standard, StandpointBurning our Money and on several other blogs and websites.


 


Speech by David Davis MP


Speech by Tony Benn


Speech by Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch


 


 


Coming Up – An Unwarranted Intrusion


 


Now that Big Brother Watch is officially launched, we intend to be involved with far more events discussing the need to fight intrusions on our privacy, particularly as the country approaches a general election. Next on the list we are pleased to announce an event we are hosting with The Centre for Policy Studies on the accumulation of entry powers by the state.


 


23rd February 2010 – 6.15 for 6.30pm – 55 Tufton Street, SW1, London


• Dominic Grieve QC MP – Shadow Secretary of State for Justice
• Henry Porter – Novelist and Columnist
• Harry Snook – Author, Crossing the Threshold: 266 ways the State can enter your home
• Alex Deane, Director – Big Brother Watch


Chaired by Jill Kirby – Director, Centre for Policy Studies


 


As we reported in the first newsletter of the year, research from Big Brother Watch 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. 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 – there were 266 distinct powers of entry then, and 1,043 now.


Our panel of speakers will discuss the implications of this for civil liberties and whether action is needed to rebalance power in the relationship between the state and the citizen.


The event will be held on Tuesday 23 February at 6.15 for 6.30pm, at 55 Tufton Street, SW1. Please email [email protected] or ring 020 7222 4488 if you would like to attend.


 


 


Sticker Campaign


 


We have seen a tremendous upsurge in the number of stickers being requested and pictures being sent in; so much so that we have now given the gallery a major revamp. Our favourite picture from this week is on the right (a worryingly Orwellian piece of advertising from the Metropolitan Police sent in by anon).


 


If you want your image featured either on the blog (like this one) or in the newsletter, request your free stickers by emailing [email protected] and send us your photos to the same address.


 


 


Blogs of the Week


 


ANPR cameras are being used to target innocent motorists - sensational documents leaked to the Independent on Sunday reveal that Automatic Number-Plate Recognition cameras are being used by certain police forces to target members of the public in order to meet government performance targets and raise revenue. A national scandal largely ignored.


 


Body scanners – an expensive waste of time? - Austrian physicist smuggles a metal knife, a detonator, and a large quantity of crystal explosives through a new full-body scanner to prove that not only are these new machines unnecessarily intrusive, they also don’t work.


 


Man arrested under terrorism act for Twitter joke - man planning Dublin trip ‘tweets’ empty threat upon hearing an aiport has closed due to snow. Police arrest him and he is subsequently suspended from his job. Do we really think Al Qaeda would announce their next target on Twitter…anyone?


 


 


Media Coverage  



WATCH – Alex Deane interviewed by BBC Politics Show South East about the Big Brother Watch CCTV report ‘Big Brother Is Watching’.

Daily Telegraph – Magistrates’ details sent to prisoners


Alex Deane, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “This kind of error is unforgivably stupid. Not only is it irresponsible, but there’s no conceivable excuse for this kind of administrative incompetence.


“Even worse, it makes it less likely that people will serve as magistrates in the future.”


Independent – Magistrates’ information sent to jail workshop


Evening Standard – Big Benn feels the long arm of the law


BBC Radio Newcastle – Alex Deane interviewed by John Harle


Daily Telegraph – Airport body scanners could ‘breach human rights’


Dylan Sharpe, campaign director of Big Brother Watch, said: “The EHRC is completely right to question the use of full-body scanners in airports.


“They are another intrusion into our privacy in the name of protection, yet we know that they are not fail-safe and could see airport authorities becoming reliant on a deeply flawed method of detection.”


Press and Journal – Concern over use of body scanners


BBC News – Body scanners risk right to privacy, says UK watchdog


Sky News – Watchdog Warns About Airport Body Scanners


Dylan Sharpe, campaign director of Big Brother Watch, added: “The EHRC is completely right to question the use of full-body scanners in airports. We know that they are not fail-safe and could see airport authorities becoming reliant on a deeply flawed method of detection.


Surrey Mirror – Council staff’s power of entry


Romford Recorder – Surprise of Town Hall entry powers


 


 


Four Ways to Help Big Brother Watch
 
1. Forward this newsletter to a friend to let them know about our work, and encourage them to sign up to the mailing list 
 
2. Please do send us your own examples of the Big Brother state or any stories you have seen in your local paper – our contact details are available here 
 
3. Donate to the campaign here  


 

4. Join our facebook group, subscribe to our YouTube channel or sign up to our twitter feed

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