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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

Big Brother Is Watching: Local council controlled CCTV cameras treble in a decade

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV | 41 Comments

Research conducted by Big Brother Watch reveals that in less than 10 years the number of CCTV cameras controlled by local councils has risen from 21,000 to 60,000.
Top lines from the research (full breakdown by local authority available here) include:

  • There are currently at least 59,753 CCTV cameras controlled by 418 local authorities in Britain, up from 21,000 in 1999
  • This equates to 1 council owned CCTV camera for every 1000 people in the country
  • Portsmouth and Nottinghamshire Councils are in control of the most CCTV cameras with 1,454 each

  • Residents in the Outer Hebrides are the most watched people in the UK with 8.3 CCTV cameras controlled by the council for every 1000 people. Portsmouth has the second highest number of CCTV cameras per 1000 people with 7.8

  • The council controlling the highest number of CCTV cameras in Scotland is Fife with 1350 cameras
  • The council in Wales controlling the highest number of CCTV cameras is Swansea with 326 cameras
  • The council controlling the highest number of CCTV cameras in Northern Ireland is Belfast with 400 cameras
  • The total number of CCTV cameras controlled by councils in London is 8,112, which equals 1.2 CCTV cameras for every 1000 people living in the capital. Wandsworth is the most watched borough in London with 1113 CCTV cameras, or 4.3 cameras for every 1000 residents

Research conducted by Big Brother Watch – the new campaign fighting intrusions on privacy and protecting liberties – has revealed that Britain’s local councils are currently in control of 59,753 CCTV cameras. When a similar study was conducted 10 years ago, the authors found there were approximately 21,000 cameras in just 86% of local authorities; which equates to a rise of 279 per cent in under a decade.

Big Brother Is Watching is the first report by Big Brother Watch bringing together the various arguments against CCTV and placing them alongside a definitive list of the number of CCTV cameras operated by Britain’s 428 local authorities, to establish the full extent of Britain’s local authority controlled surveillance.

Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch, said:

"Local councils across Britain 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, the cameras are often turned off to save money and control rooms are rarely manned 24-hours-a-day.

"With crime on the increase, it is understandable that some people want more CCTV, but we would all feel safer with more police on the beat, there would be fewer crimes and those crimes that do occur would be solved faster."

To read the full report, which includes detailed information on every local authority, please click here.

Wycombe council should CUT the CCTV budget…

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

Wycombe-district-council … because the residents are smart enough to appreciate that it's not the best use of their money.

That's what they've voted for in a survey of their opinions about what to cut back on, in these difficult financial times.

But the Council has committed to a very pricey new round of spending on CCTV… so will they listen?

By Alex Deane

Are you being watched?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV | 18 Comments

A concerned supporter has contacted Big Brother Watch with this photograph. It shows a camera which, he thinks, has been pointing into his block of flats – every day, for months.  It looks pretty obvious to me that it's looking into the flats – judge for yourself.

CCTV pointing at flats
It brought to mind the case of Mark Summerton and Kevin Judge, two nasty pieces of work who were convicted at Liverpool Crown Court of abusing their positions as CCTV controllers by using the surveillance equipment in their charge to spy on the intimate life of a young woman whilst within her flat.

On this occasion, for perfectly understandable reasons on the supporter's part, we can't take the issue up with the Council concerned on his behalf.  But we are keen to do so for others.  So – if you have similar concerns, please drop us a line – with a photo of the offending CCTV camera if possible…

By Alex Deane

Privacy on Facebook

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Online privacy | 2 Comments

Fk_logo From today, Facebook will automatically index all account users' information on Google.  This allows everyone searching on Google to find and view parts of that information, unless the user actually opts out – the default setting is to allow this.

To change this option, when logged into Facebook, do the following: 

  • Click on Settings
  • Click on Privacy Settings
  • Click on Search
  • Unclick the box that says 'Allow indexing'.

By Alex Deane

If you live or work in Hounslow…

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

New Image You are not only being watched – soon, you may be spoken to.

Hounslow Council are installing talking CCTV - which also boasts automatic facial recognition capacity- at a cost of £1.8 million (or the annual salaries of 79 new Police Constables).

Good investment, eh?

By Alex Deane

Fishermen are being coerced into carrying CCTV on their boats

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

Old-fishing-boat-tarrafal Courtesy of new EU rules, British fishermen are being bullied into having CCTV on their boats.  They will be permitted to take fewer catches if they don't.  It's to save the fish stocks, they say.  The cameras are to monitor stocks, and also to spot fishermen illegally dumping fish.

So the environmental movement is driving the furtherance of our surveillance society.  That's the first time I've made that connection and put it directly – I doubt that it will be the last.

By Alex Deane

Munir Hussain – a latter-day Tony Martin

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

Hussain_2_659646a I have written before about the liberties and freedoms of the law-abiding majority, a theme touched on more recently by Dylan.  In that vein, the case of Munir Hussain is on my mind today.

Like Tony Martin, Mr Hussain is a man charged with harming those who broke into his home.  This was no common or garden burglary.  When the Hussains returned home from the Mosque, three masked men awaited them in their house.  They tied up Munir Hussain's family and degraded them.  The children must have been terrified for their lives, and the parents – including this defendant – must have suffered that worst of agonies, the fear that one's child is to suffer and, perhaps, to die.

Hussain fought them off and chased them and seriously injured one of them with a cricket bat.  He has now been sentenced to 30 months imprisonment.

If he not had that adrenalin, that admirable, channelled aggression, he would not have been able to fight these men off and whatever they had planned for him and his wife and children would have been done to them.  It is that adrenalin and aggression, aroused entirely by this most ugly of actions from his "victim" and accomplices, which led Hussain to chase them out and to strike them.

My question is this.  Should the benefit of the doubt not rest with a man in his situation, grievously provoked and genuinely in fear for his life and the lives of his children?  I accept that there are points beyond which we are not entitled to go, even when severely provoked.  You are not entitled to tie up the burglar you catch in your house and torture him.  But nothing in Hussain's behaviour seems to have been calculated or planned – it was a spur of the moment reaction to the invasion of his home by a gang of masked men and my instinct is to say, in choosing that path that gang took the risk of having what happened, happen.

I understand that he is to appeal.  We will watch with interest.

By Alex Deane

We’ve got so much CCTV, guidance isn’t enough – now we have a regulator

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

Cctv dome Bonfires were lit, fatted calves were sacrificed and sparklers were sparkled up and down the land today at the news of the creation of the office of the CCTV Regulator.

I jest.  Of course, given where we are, if he actually acts as a brake on bad behaviour and encourages good behaviour then the regulator is a good thing – because CCTV is now so ubiquitous, so pervasive and so intrusive that we need someone to be responsible for usage and abusage.  But that rather begs the question, doesn't it..?  Should we have so much CCTV?

I'm not a technophobe absolutist – there is an important role for technology in law enforcement – but it’s a question of proportion: CCTV is now the single most heavily-funded crime prevention measure operating outside the criminal justice system, accounting for more than three quarters of spending on crime prevention by the Home Office.

We ought to learn from the fact that we’re the only country that’s gone so far down this path.  The Shetland Islands has more CCTV cameras than San Francisco Police Department.

By Alex Deane

Private security groups move into frontline policing

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

Last week I wrote about The Mall in Norwich, which had given its security guards police powers to fine and detain trouble-makers despite the guards having only minimal training.

FivePolicemen Now, the Financial Times is reporting that G4S - a FTSE 100 security group - has begun to supply full teams of investigators on complex criminal cases.

As they report:

John Shaw, who recently took charge of the G4S policing business, said: “We have a team of 30 of our guys in one force on a major investigation right now, practically doing all of the roles except that of the senior investigating officer.”

Mr Shaw conceded the push by the private sector into areas once deemed off-limits would be resisted by some officers and needed to be done in collaboration with forces. But he argued the squeeze on law enforcement budgets meant all police roles were “up for grabs” except those requiring powers of arrest.

This is a genuinely worrying development. The police are not perfect, but they are accountable and bodies such as the IPCC and interventions from the Home Office are generally enough to make sure that when it comes to bad policing, the culprits are identified, punished and the victims compensated.

Private security firms would not have these same checks and balances. We cannot FOI them; we cannot hold them to account for having been trained or employed at the taxpayers' expense; and it is only a matter of time before a private security officer does something wrong and is quietly released out the back door.

It doesn't matter how 'squeezed' budgets are – police powers should only be held by the police.

By Dylan Sharpe 

Council of the (last) week – Liverpool!

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in ID cards | 2 Comments

We are a tad late with this one, but it is still certainly worth giving full exposure and our most hearty of congratulations to Liverpool City Council.

LiverpoolCL Their eponymous Premier League team may be struggling, but the Council - which has recently been named the most improved in the country - last week voted to oppose the introduction of ID cards in the city.

The motion, passed on 9th December, said it did not believe ID cards and the accompanying database would prevent crime, terrorism or illegal immigration and criticised the Prime Minister for giving the impression at the last Labour Conference that ID cards would not be introduced while "clearly preparing for these pilot schemes".

They also said that they would actively refuse to cooperate with any plans to promote the National Identity Scheme and were prepared to work with organisations campaigning against the scheme, including our good friends No2ID, to "raise awareness among Liverpool citizens of the dangers of the ID card and database scheme".

And while I'm talking about Liverpool, I'd like to award a second Big Brother Watch round of applause to the majority of Liverpool councillors who saw off the proposal, put forward by Liverpool Primary Care Trust, to rate films showing smoking as 18 certificates.

It seems that we have found the antithesis of Sandwell Council. Just 93 miles may separate these two authorities but it's an ocean in terms of their thinking on personal privacy and liberty.

By Dylan Sharpe