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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

Another school starts fingerprinting students

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

Childfingerprint Just before Christmas, Tory PPC Andrea Leadsom wrote a guest piece about her discovery that schools were regularly taking the fingerprints of their students as a means of identification.

In her post, she said that she would be writing to her local council to ask that they reject any attempts by schools in her area to introduce fingerprint scans.

However, today we have been called by a supporter in Hull who has flagged that a school in his local area has begun gathering fingerprints despite the objections of the council leader.

As reported by the Hull Daily Mail:

City council leader Carl Minns has criticised Hull Trinity House School for installing a biometric fingerprint system for pupils to get their school meals.

Councillor Minns says it goes against guidance issued to schools by the council.

The school, in Princes Dock Street, city centre, started using the system this week. Cllr Minns told the Mail: "My principal objection is on the grounds of information security.

"At some point the school will have to store a child's data on a computer and if it is subject to hacking or proper security is not there, then once the data is out there, it is out there for life and you can't get it back."

In recent days Big Brother Watch has been encouraging its supporters to bombard several misbehaving local councils, so it is refreshing to see a council leader showing such commonsense and concern for individual privacy.  

Councillor Carl Minns we applaud you for this stance and we will keep our readers updated on the progress of the council in getting Hull Trinity House School to reverse its position.

By Dylan Sharpe

This is not a joke

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

Playmobile Can there be anything more amusingly telling about the state of our surveillance society than the Playmobil Security Check Point?

By Alex Deane

Good for Google

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Mastering the Internet | 5 Comments

In the past, criticisms have been made (rightly, in my view) about the extent to whichGoogle Google has been willing to be complicit in China's repression of human rights activists and protestors, and suppression of free speech.  Well, no more. 

In a remarkably robust article, the Chief Legal Officer at Google has stated that

we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users' computers.

Moreover, he goes on to say that

We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech. In the last two decades, China's economic reform programs and its citizens' entrepreneurial flair have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty. Indeed, this great nation is at the heart of much economic progress and development in the world today.

We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that "we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China."

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

Emphasis added.

By Alex Deane

Local livestock owner threatened with imprisonment over 80th birthday present

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 11 Comments

It would appear that a new decade has brought no let-up in the torrent of overbearing and frankly ludicrous actions by our Big Brother state.

Alongside the binman reprimanded for picking up rubbish, and the businessman arrested for a non-offensive email that he didn't write, we now have a popular local livestock owner threatened with imprisonment for a poster wishing him a happy 80th birthday.

As reported at Burnham-On-Sea.com

The family of well-known local livestock owner Arthur Duckett introduced the poster over the Christmas period to wish him a happy 80th birthday.

It shows Mr Duckett and his huge steer, Field Marshall, with the caption "a little man with big bulls."

Mr Duckett received a letter from Council enforcement officer David Crowle, stating: "It is the council’s view that the adverts are detrimental to the amenity of the area and as such will seek their removal."

It asked whether Mr Duckett woud be prepared to take down the "hoardings" without the need for formal action and warned that failure to abide by regulations could lead to a £400 fine or two years' imprisonment.

Quite apart from the appalling treatment of a well-liked 80 year-old man, in forcing him to remove the poster the council is pandering to the most wretched, humourless people who are apparently incapable of appreciating a mild joke with only the slightest hint of anything that could be deemed offensive.

I have placed the poster below. If any of our readers find it offensive they can write as much in the comments, however Big Brother Watch strongly recommends that they grow up.

For those who are more offended by the treatment of Arthur Duckett, we encourage you to send an email to David Crowle at [email protected] explaining why Arthur should be allowed to keep his poster (or words to that effect!).

By Dylan Sharpe

Media Coverage – 13th January 2010

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Media coverage | Leave a comment

Daily Mail – Stop-and-search terror powers declared illegal by human rights court

Controversial anti-terror laws which let police stop and search without grounds for suspicion were yesterday ruled illegal by European judges.

Civil liberties campaigners heralded the human rights verdict as 'a great day for freedom in Britain'.

Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, said: 'Random stop and search powers were a shocking abuse of our historic, hard-won liberties.

'What this tremendous judgment cannot undo is the embarrassment and anguish felt by the many people abused for no good reason under this now unlawful power.'

Metro 13.01.10
Metro –
Random stop and search is illegal 

Daily Mail – Taxman using terror laws 15 times a day to spy on suspects

Alex Deane of the anti-surveillance pressure group Big Brother Watch said: 'The widespread abuse of the law by councils has shown us how carefully we must look at the way these powers are used.

'The extent of the use of RIPA by Revenue and Customs suggests that many individual taxpayers have been snooped on without their knowledge.'

He added: 'Readers of the Mail who see this news today might rightly wonder who has been watching them.'

The Independent – Police stop and search powers ruled illegal

24dash.com – UK police stop and search powers declared 'illegal'

An end to stop and search

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

Search As I've written over at CentreRight, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled today that the power to stop and search at random is unlawful.

I've covered this issue previously on this website and I point out once again that no successful prosecutions for terrorism offences ever resulted from these draconian stop and search powers in any case.  They failed to safeguard us from anything – they served only to intimidate, and to empower officials to intrude on us and our privacy without just cause – a terrible inversion of the proper relationship between the individual and the state,

So, today is a great day for freedom.  Random stop and search powers were an abuse of our historic, hard-won liberties and it is tremendous that it has come to an end. 

However, there are two notes of caution and regret that must be added.

First of all, this is the third occasion in very recent times that the European Court has had to tell the UK that we are behaving in a fundamentally illiberal and unjust way – together with the conviction of defendants solely or largely on the evidence of witnesses who do not attend trial for questioning, and the retention of samples from innocent people on the DNA database, this now shows a pattern of authoritarianism from our lawmakers that is to be lamented.

Secondly, let's not forget that this tremendous judgment cannot undo the embarrassment and anguish felt by the many people abused for no good reason under this now unlawful power.

By Alex Deane

Trial without jury

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Legal Action | Leave a comment

Empty jury box Four men accused of involvement in a £1.75 million hold-up at a Heathrow warehouse in February 2004 will be tried by a judge alone after the Court of Appeal ruled there was a danger of jury tampering.

On the one hand it is good that these men will face what will hopefully now be an effective trial, without the possibility of jury tampering.  But on the other hand, and I think more importantly, it is terrible that we have had to modify our justice system in the face of thuggery rather than find ways to circumvent such dangers without giving up the fundamental principle of trial by jury.

Most obviously, the jury could have been sequestered in a hotel or "safe house". After all, this is not a complex fraud case that would go on for many months. Even if it was to take a long time, I'd still think that sequestration was merited.  Jury service is an important civic duty, for which sacrifices are more than merited.

By Alex Deane

Hat tip: MS

The Berlin Fleshmob

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Body Scanners | Leave a comment

Barefaced cheek God Bless the Germans.

Protesting the imposition of full body scanners at airports (about which we've written before), a big bunch of our Germanic friends pitched up at Berlin airport in their undies.  Video here.

That is all.

By Alex Deane

Ghost watchers in the sky (and ghost parking tickets in your mail)

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

Tall camera cropped Over at both the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, a story about the use of CCTV to record alleged offences, for which parking tickets are issued months after the supposed event.  The AA points out that

because drivers are unaware of their alleged offence for some time afterwards.

'These tickets are very hard to challenge because drivers are in no position to check the roadside signs or whether the ticket was issued by mistake.'


the cameras cannot tell an illegally parked car from one with a disabled permit, or from a car that has been briefly stopped so the driver can consult a map.

As research from our friends at the TaxPayers' Alliance pointed out, an eye-watering £328 million was taken from the public in parking fines last year, at least some of which will have been raised in this way.

The reason that the state does this is that it works – and it works because we allow it to.  Back in September, I wrote over at Human Events about one of the strongest assets the bullying state has - the fact that the bureaucracy generally cares more about these issues than we do, so we – busy living lives and earning a living and so on – just pay up because "it's not worth the hassle".

But it doesn't have to be this way.  If you get a ticket like this, think about contesting it.  And get in touch with us.  If we can help you, we will.

By Alex Deane

Bradford Council – an example of good practice

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BradfordMDC Some readers of this blog point out that much of what we write is negative.  One might think that that's a reflection of the direction of policy on civil liberties issues in Britain today (and we have given praise where it's due more than once before), but nevertheless it's generally fair criticism.

Today, I'm pleased to point to Bradford Council as an example of good practice in our field.  As the Telegraph & Argus reports, Bradford has proudly reduced its use of RIPA surveillance;

“Since April 2007 a more robust approach has been adopted, ie notifying by letter persons against whom noise complaints are registered that they will be monitored by tape recording equipment installed in their next-door neighbours’ house or by officers listening. This changes what was covert surveillance into overt surveillance and therefore outside the scope of RIPA.”

Exactly.  Secret snooping isn't the only way to deal with these issues.  If it's ever right for it to be used for such problems, then it ought to be the last resort, rather than – as so often in this country now – the first tool used by overbearing councils.

So Big Brother Watch gives a hearty well done to Bradford Council – an example of a council doing its job proportionately whilst still protecting privacy.

By Alex Deane