• Media Enquiries

    07505 448925(24hr)

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

Demolish the myth that safety, in and of itself, is an absolute good

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Media coverage | 8 Comments

In arguing against airport body scanners, I've been met with variations on an increasingly prevalent fallacy: "if it makes us a little safer, it's worth it"; "if it saves one life, stops one crime…" What a specious argument that is. It would "save one child" to ban the car, but we don't, because it would be disproportionate and we have to get on with normal life, even if we incur a slightly higher element of risk in doing so. Safety, in and of itself, is not an absolute good.

Society would be a lot safer if we had a night curfew, or banned alcohol, or were forced to wear elbow and knee pads. We don't encourage people to take wild risks, but we don't make (many) liberty-reducing and disproportionate motor laws, either. We should react to the threat of terrorism in the same way.

It's peculiar, the hoops we've obediently jumped through since 9/11. Belts off, jackets off, shoes off, no liquids, no gels, hop on one leg, bear the officiousness of the power-happy bureaucrat with good humour. And now, expose yourself at the airport in order to fly, even though there are real questions about whether the scanners work. And perversely, given the safety first agenda, these £100,000 machines may be dangerous. The Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety (which includes the European Commission, the IAEA, and the WHO) says passengers should be made aware of the health risks of airport body screenings; that governments must explain any decision to expose the public to higher levels of cancer-causing radiation; and that pregnant women and children should not be subject to scanning – authoritative guidance the government ignores.

People are understandably afraid of terrorism. But we didn't allow the IRA to change our way of life to anything like the same degree. Jettisoning liberty in the face of what is objectively a much smaller risk is both wrong and entirely disproportionate – an understandable but foolish overreaction from a government desperate to be seen to be doing something. President Obama said that systemic failures in sharing information already held by the security services allowed the "Christmas Bomber" to get on the Detroit flight. It's not some new, magic solution that's needed; just competent use of the current ones.

Alex Deane is director of Big Brother Watch

This article is reproduced from today's edition of the Independent

Alex Deane reviews ‘The Assault on Liberty’ by Dominic Raab

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Media coverage | 7 Comments

Alex is invited to appear on Epilogue – Press TV's book review programme – and joins host, Ken Livingstone, and Rodney Austin, a Human Rights Lecturer at University College London, to discuss 'The Assault on Liberty: What went wrong with rights' by Dominic Raab.

Dominic is a good friend of Big Brother Watch and his book is essential reading for anyone who cares about privacy and freedom in Britain. It is available on Amazon here: The Assault on Liberty.

Police want to break into your house…to teach you about crime

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 14 Comments

132678-police Police in Macclesfield are planning to pose as burglars and go from house-to-house in the early hours of the morning, testing whether windows and doors are locked, in a bid to show the importance of home safety, according to the Manchester Evening News.

As they report:

Code-named ‘Operation Golden’,the new initiative will work between 4pm and 2am, and householders who fall foul of their checks will be told: "If we had been burglars, by now you would have lost cash, valuables such as a laptop or an iPod, sentimental items such as jewellery and possibly the car off your drive!"

Inspector Gareth Woods, heading up the operation in Macclesfield, admits some people will not be happy about the early-hour wake-up call.

"If we’re told to get lost then that’s a risk we take. It’s a difficult balance to strike," he said.

"The bottom line is officers get a mixed reception when doing anything like this, but I would say to any of my officers that if they see an insecure car or house to let the owner know no matter what time of day or night.

"Most reasonable people will say thanks for letting them know and are grateful."

I think Inspector Woods might be slightly deluding himself. Certainly the odd few homeowners that are visited in the early evening and told their garage is unlocked might be civil; but if his officers are ringing doorbells at 3am to tell people their catflap is slightly ajar, he could well find the community turns against the project.

The more salient point, however, is that the vast majority of people know what constitutes good home safety and what does not. This is excessive nanny-statism – the police shouldn’t try to be social workers. Their job is to solve crimes and they should stick to that.

By Dylan Sharpe

School bans Valentine’s Day

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

According to the Daily Mail this morning:

Pupils have been banned from celebrating or sending Valentine's Day cards – to protect them from the emotional trauma of being dumped. The pupils have been warned that if any cards are found or exchanged in school, they will be confiscated.

Teachers at Ashcombe Primary School in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, believe children are not ‘emotionally mature’ enough to understand relationships.

Girl-with-heart This is an outrageous overreaction by the headmaster, Peter Turner, to a bit of harmless fun.

He claims his pupils are not "mature enough emotionally and socially to understand the commitment involved in having or being a boyfriend or girlfriend". Which may or may not be true, but:

a) who is the school to decide on its students' personal lives?

b) since when did sending a Valentine's Day card automatically mean 'commitment'; and

c) one can only assume that Mr Turner has had a particularly tragic, Jennifer Aniston-esque love life, which he now wishes to project on the relationships of his young charges.

Hey! Teacher! Leave those kids alone!

By Dylan Sharpe

Body scanners and printed images..?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | 3 Comments

220px-Shah_rukh_khan_wiki1 Whilst he couldn't manage to make our debate on the subject, Lord Adonis blithely guaranteed that images taken of people in airport body scanners would be immediately destroyed after they were taken.

The claim is rather undermined by the experience of Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan, who during an appearance on the Jonathan Ross show claimed that he was presented by airport security staff with printed images from his scan, which he promptly autographed.

I've got to give this an "if true" caveat, because (i) he may have been joking; (ii) the airport has issued a denial; (iii) it just seems so stupid of the system's designers to have the capacity to print the images out, so stupid of the managers to break the brand-new and vital promise of non-retention of the images, so stupid of the staff on the counter to expose their printing of the image in this case, etcetera. But let's not say that that rules anything out with our overlords…

[And a couple of codas: (i) Given the government's appalling record on data loss, one always viewed the guarantees of security for these images with skepticism. But even if the images were instantly destroyed, their creation would still violate the unamended laws against the creation of indecent images of children - destroying such images is no defence, as the prosecution guidelines make clear. (ii) Nobody seems to have any answers on the health issues I recently raised.]

By Alex Deane

Hat tip: too many to mention

Bridlington off-licence starts fingerprinting customers

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

Alex Deane warns viewers of BBC Look North not to hand over their biometric data to an off-licence in Bridlington that has started taking the fingerprints of its customers.

Read the full BBC report here.

Schoolgirl punished for scratched Oyster card

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

Oystercard As reported in the Evening Standard, an 11 year-old girl has had her free tube travel pass withdrawn after an inspector noted that the photo had been 'scratched'.

According to the Standard:

Elliz McKenzie, of East Dulwich, had her card confiscated by a TfL ticket inspector who noticed that her photo card, which entitles 11 to 15-year-olds to free travel to school and is worth up to £360, had been scratched and was therefore “in breach of the Oyster card behaviour code”.

The card had been accidentally damaged by the schoolgirl's baby cousin.

TfL said the card would be returned if Elliz carried out six hours of volunteer work, which could include cleaning graffiti or picking up litter. 

This is yet another massive overreaction by London Underground (having bizarrely banned an album poster earlier this week) that is set to unfairly punish a young girl. 

The 'Oyster card behaviour code' is intended to ensure good behaviour by the under-16's on buses and tube trains, rather than give free license for officious inspectors to vicitimise young travellers.

Big Brother Watch intends to contact Elliz and Mrs McKenzie and offer our support in getting this ridiculous decision overturned.

By Dylan Sharpe

If you’d like to express your displeasure to Blackburn Council…

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 3 Comments

Nameandshame A number of people got in touch with us after I wrote about Blackburn Council's absurd bullying of the barber who uses cut hair as compost, insisting that you can't recycle hair, you have to put it in landfill instead. People wanted to know who they might complain to. Well, the answer is the (Orwellian, dystopian) Cleansing Department and their details are

Davyfield Road
Roman Rd Ind Est
tel:  (01254) 585921
fax: (01254) 585083
[email protected]

by Alex Deane

Alan Johnson, pick on someone your own size

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

Mosquito In a debate yesterday, Alan Johnson rejected calls to ban the "mosquito", a device which emits high-pitched noises designed to cause discomfort to young people.

These machines are quite wrong. Imagine the outcry if a similar system existed to keep away pensioners or middle-aged people, or something else as arbitrary as age, such as race.

Johnson thinks he can justify them by claiming they are “good at dispersing young people”.  That’s no justification for anything. Cattle prods and water cannons disperse people – it doesn’t make them “good”.

Failure to keep law and order and to educate children to behave properly shouldn’t be papered over with illiberal and borderline-cruel technology.

By Alex Deane

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