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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

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

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


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.


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