This week we bring you the news that Vanessa Kelly – the young mother given a £75 fixed penalty notice for feeding the ducks with her son – has scored a terrific victory in her battle with Sandwell Council. On Wednesday evening, the new leader of the council announced that he would be revoking the fine handed out to Vanessa and six other people for thowing bread to the ducks in Smethwick Hall Park.
As we wrote in the newsletter last week (previous newsletters are now available to view here) Big Brother Watch contacted Miss Kelly soon after we heard of her fine to offer our assistance, which she gratefully accepted (Alex Deane wrote exclusively in the Daily Telegraph that day about the whole affair and Big Brother Watch’s support), so we are delighted to see that Sandwell Council have been forced into this humiliating u-turn. However the Council still intends to fine people who feed ducks in the park and claim the problem is not with the bye-law but their signage in the area.
Feeding birds is not a crime and people who do it are not criminals. Until Sandwell and other councils around the country stop trying to criminalise everyday pursuits, there will be more cases just like Vanessa’s. So Big Brother Watch is asking for any details of similar ridiculous fines placed on perfectly normal behaviour from across the UK. We want to build up a catalogue of petty council officialdom and name and shame the worst offenders. Your support, as ever, is much appreciated.
Three reasons to despise databases
Some of the most overbearing and intrusive policies of recent years have involved the collation and maintenance of huge government databases. DNA retention, Contactpoint and the ID card scheme have all required the state to gather, and have access to, vast amounts of our personal data. Yet we are told that if we have nothing to hide we have nothing to fear. Three stories this week have shown why we should always be wary when handing over our personal details.
1. You never know how it might be used – A high-flying lawyer who was wrongly accused of forging a signature and had her DNA taken by the police, is sacked when a routine check by her law firm revealed she was on the national database.
2. You never know who has access to it – T-Mobile employees decide to make some extra cash by flogging customer mobile phone details to the highest bidder.
3. What happens if the database fails? – A private company offering DNA health assessments files for bankruptcy, leaving a question mark over who owns all the data.
While two of the above stories come from the private sector, the point remains that databases are open to abuse, and data loss - particularly within central and local government - is chronic. The message is clear: don’t hand over more than you absolutely have to!
Guerrilla Sticker Campaign
It has been a week since the Big Brother Watch Guerrilla Sticker Action kicked off and we have already sent out over 7,000 stickers to the very furthest reaches of the UK and beyond to Austria, Spain and even Mississippi. But sadly we’re yet to receive any photos!
So, all those that have got their stickers – get snapping and get sending. If you haven’t asked for any stickers yet, email your name and address to [email protected] together with the number of stickers you would like us to send and we will post them in an envelope to that address; completely free of charge.
The chance to name, shame, and take a photo of our Big Brother State awaits!
Blogs of the Week
Imprisonment looming for man who does the right thing - fascinating case of a man who finds a shotgun - calls the police who tell him to bring it to the station – arrives at the police station and is arrested for posession of a firearm. Not only that, we later find that the police officer who allowed the man involved to walk into a criminal conviction is currently facing charges of misconduct. BBW is following this case closely and hope to be able to provide an update soon.
The dark ages - In our fifth guest post, investigative journalist Declan Wilkes runs us through a selection of the most intrusive and overbearing bills that have come before Parliament in the past few years and what to watch out for in the Queen’s Speech.
Seen, heard and constantly under surveillance - Salford Council are reprimanded for putting CCTV throughout their schools while in America they are giving parents access to 24-hour surveillance of their offspring in the classroom. Is there really any difference and, more importantly, are we in danger of anaesthetising future generations to CCTV cameras?
Daily Telegraph - Chief prosecutor backs state snooping plans
Dylan Sharpe, campaign director of Big Brother Watch, said: “It is not the government’s job to monitor our private communications. If the authorities suspect there is something going on they can do as they have always done and apply for a warrant from the courts. The DPP should also watch he doesn’t become a cheerleader for a government policy that the British people feel deeply uncomfortable about.”
City Talk 103.5FM – Dylan Sharpe interviewed by Peter McDowall
Daily Express – CCTV in homes to spy on neighbours
But Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “People accept these cameras into their homes because they are afraid. The council might be installing them with the best intentions, but the end result is a culture of fear and mistrust driven by a failure by the borough and the police to have proper law enforcement in this area.
Metro – CCTV cameras placed inside homes
talkSPORT – Dylan Sharpe interviewed by Ian Collins on the late show
BBC Look North – Dylan Sharpe interviewed by Harry Gration
LBC 97.3FM – Alex Deane interviewed by James Whale on Drivetime
BBC News London – ‘Hidden CCTV’ installed in homes
Anti-CCTV group Big Brother Watch said the cameras would create a “culture of fear and mistrust” in the area. Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “People accept these cameras into their homes because they are afraid.
102.2 Smooth Radio – Dylan Sharpe interviewed by Nick Hatfield
BBC Radio Lincolnshire – Dylan Sharpe interviewed by William Wright
Daily Mail – Secret CCTV cameras fitted INSIDE people’s homes to spy on neighbours outside
Heart 102.7FM Peterborough – Dylan Sharpe interviewed on Lunchtime News
Daily Mail – Big Brother quiz for new school parents: Officials launch 83-point probe into families’ lives
Dylan Sharpe of the Big Brother Watch pressure group said: ‘This is incredibly intrusive and asks questions which, quite frankly, Lincolnshire Community Health Services do not need to know and have no right knowing. Even worse, the NHS Trust has failed to make it clear that this is a voluntary questionnaire. I would advise any parent receiving this to stick it straight in the bin.’
Wolverhampton Express and Star – Mother wins support in duck fine battle
Daily Telegraph – Health and Safety inspectors ‘sent in to family homes’
Alex Deane, director of “Big Brother Watch”, said that the plans risked endangering trust between medical staff and patients. “This crosses the important line between individuals asking the state for help and the state forcing ‘help’ on us, he said. Every time there is an intrusion into our privacy, there is always an ostensible good intention and normally it is to do with the protection of children.”