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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

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham: A New Hope?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, Databases | 6 Comments

ChristopherGraham On Sunday, Christopher Graham - Britain's new Information Commissioner - gave his first newspaper interview to the Sunday Telegraph and a bit of hope to all of us who want to see more transparency in government.

Mr Graham said:

"I think [in the past} the Information Commissioner's Office [ICO] has not been alert enough and fierce enough with public authorities that do not comply with their requirements under the Freedom of Information [FOI] Act." 

As many of you will know, last week Big Brother Watch released our first major piece of research (available to download in full here). It was a massive study into council controlled CCTV cameras and every piece of information was gathered through FOI requests. It is essential that the ICO is strong in making local and national government bodies open up to ensure that there is proper scrutiny of the state. 

Among the other highlights, Mr Graham said he wanted to

…urge the Government to introduce firmer enforcement of personal privacy laws including jail sentences of up to two years for rogue company employees who illegally sell confidential information.

This is another key issue for Big Brother Watch. We are vehemently opposed to new databases on principle, but those that have been created require far greater security.

And finally, but most pleasingly of all, the article ends with the following text:

The Information Commissioner is clearly concerned society's obsession with CCTV cameras has gone too far. "There needs to be some evidence that it is necessary. You can't just say: 'It's a [crime] deterrent so we will have it.' It needs, for example, to go into pubs where there is a history of trouble. But it's unfair for a licensing authority to have CCTV as a matter of routine because law-abiding citizens should be able to have a meal or a drink without being captured on CCTV." 

This is a very encouraging statement from a man who has the power to change the way CCTV is used by public bodies in this country. Our report last week has had a great effect in re-starting the debate about camera surveillance and its enormous proliferation in Britain. Hopefully Christopher Graham can keep the discussion going and enact the fundamental change in approach to CCTV this country really needs.

By Dylan Sharpe  

Big Brother Watch Newsletter 11.12.09

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

Dear Supporter,

This week the government got round to responding to the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust’s study into state databases, a full 9 months after the original report was released. ‘Justice’ Minister Michael Wills set about the task in the traditional way – playing up the positives, ignoring the negatives and leaving out the latest proposed databases including ID cards, the new EHRC equality database, and the NICE homes and health database. The minister also announced the establishment of a whole new database: the government now intends to take our National Insurance numbers and signatures for the electoral roll. As BBW noted, we have managed to have elections in this country without surrendering this sort of information for hundreds of years, so why does the government need to gather this additional data now?

There will always be misguided cheerleaders who think this sort of action is perfectly reasonable (Mr Aawrongovitch, for instance) but Big Brother Watch is here to oppose any new government database that intrudes unnecessarily into our lives.


Joint exposé on the Equalities and Human Rights Commission

On Friday, Big Brother Watch and the blogger Old Holborn teamed up for a sting on one the most notoriously nannying government watchdogs – the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. Old Holborn found a tender for a ‘Lifestyle Database’ on an IT services website and immediately sent a freedom of information request to the Commission requesting further details.

The answers he received were truly shocking. The EHRC plans to compile an enormous database that measures each person’s so-called ‘level of equality’. This means they will be looking at data ranging from A&E admission records to child health surveys to voting records. And worst of all, the data will be freely available to ‘researchers’ who sign up on the EHRC website.

Big Brother Watch contacted the national press and the true horrors were revealed. We are yet to see if this action has shamed the government into ending the tender, but we will be keeping a close eye on the EHRC from now on. We are always on the look-out for any sort of potential Big Brother plans, so if you see anything that might require further investigation, send it to
[email protected] and help us fight back against the Big Brother State.


Big Brother Watch Guerrilla Sticker Action

The Big Brother Watch sticker campaign continues to grow with nearly 7,000 stickers sent out across Britain, Europe and the United States. We have also seen an upsurge in the number of photos coming in, including the mischievous shot you see on the right. The full gallery is available here.

As ever, 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


Childhood’s End – There is, unfortunately, a campaign which seeks to end the standard and not unreasonable custom of toy makers who package toys for girls in pink. They, of course, have a right to have their pointless and pernickety campaign, just as the millions of young girls who enjoy pink stuff have a right to buy it. When a (*sigh*) ‘Justice Minister gets involved: it becomes nanny state government legislating against small businesses. Bridget Prentice - consider yourself named and very much shamed.

‘Ello ‘ello ‘ello – prepare to be Tasered – the British Transport Police risk an arms war on our public transport by handing stun guns over to officers. The police have kept order in this country for many years without needing weapons; is this really going to make us safer?

Police closing pubs for ‘inadequate CCTV coverage’ – number of pubs closing per week in the UK due to recession: 50. Number of crimes solved by CCTV for every 1000 cameras: 1. Number of stupid regulations Lancashire Police are currently in the process of carrying out…you get the idea.



Media Coverage

Human Events – Is Blair a War Criminal?

According to Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch and HUMAN EVENTS contributor, “It was very strange of the Government to try to keep these proceedings a secret. Whatever one thinks of the Iraq conflict, the purpose of the Chilcot Report was to put public misgivings to rest. That was never going to happen with the inquiry held in secret, and although public pressure has now forced a degree of openness, people will continue to harbor suspicions about the parts that are kept from us.”

City Talk 103.5FM – Dylan Sharpe interviewed by Peter McDowall

Daily Express – New speed cameras to blitz 20mph zones

Dylan Sharpe, of Big Brother Watch, said: “The introduction of average speed cameras into residential areas is yet another intrusion into the lives of the assailed British motorist, making it ever more possible for the state to track and log our journeys.”

Freedom Today – How to fight back against the surveillance state

Pink News – Equality and Human Rights Commission to collate sexuality status from across government databases

Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch, told the Daily Mail: ‘This intrusive database is being built without even the smallest consideration for privacy. When people go to hospital, they don’t think that information about their illness is going to be shared with the EHRC.”

Corus radio network, Canada – Alex Deane interviewed by Roy Green

Daily Mail – Equality snoopers to keep files on your sexuality

Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch, said: ‘This intrusive database is being built without even the smallest consideration for privacy.

‘When people go to hospital, they don’t think that information about their illness is going to be shared with the EHRC. What possible right does the EHRC have to build this database, and then share what they’ve gathered with other people on their website?”

The Argus (Brighton) - Hove school slammed for fingerprint plans

Big Brother Watch has complained that schools do not have the means for keeping biometric data like fingerprints safe. Director of Conservative campaign group Big Brother Watch Alex Deane said: “A fingerprint is a unique characteristic which doesn’t change over time and is regularly used throughout the legal system.

“Handing this important piece of biometric data over to schools, which have many tremendous qualities but do not have secure data keeping facilities, is both dangerous and an intrusion into the lives of children who are unaware of the consequences.”

Can’t touch this

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

Fingerprint I'm slow off the mark on this one, but I note with sadness that our friends at No2ID now have a thoroughly unwelcome near-namesake which got underway this month – Touch2ID. As the Wiltshire Times reveals, it is a new scheme which builds a fingerprint database of young people foolish enough to volunteer to give them.  The idea is that they can then carry around the fingerprint card they've been given to prove their age, to stop underage drinking.

So, as always, this latest data collection scheme is justified by protecting the children.  Won't somebody think of them?  Fortunately for us all, turns out someone did – UK Biometrics!  How kind!  The scheme's organisers have so far taken prints from 130 young people, apparently – and they boast that it's free for the teenagers concerned.  But how can such bounty possibly come about?

Why, because this business has been given a mere £49,000 to run their first scheme in Trowbridge – from the taxpayer, from you and me!

One ought to think about access to the records generated by the creation of the card.  Amusingly, the company boasts that the data is safe because there's no name or address stored on the card – yes, but the people running the scheme will have the data, won't they - and who else besides them?

By Alex Deane

**UPDATE** An alert supporter has sent me the minutes from the relevant council meeting in Trowbridge, where you will see (page 3) that the members note with approval that the business is spending money on the scheme because of the "huge potential market"Blimey

Another example of CCTV abuse

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

I wrote two days ago about CCTV being misused, with technicians using it to spy into homes. So, have a look at this, in (wouldn't you know it) Wandsworth:

Cctv pointing in 2

Had a good enough look then, lads?

Big hat tip to @sirjester who took it and sent it to us.

By Alex Deane

Once again, Wandsworth should be ashamed

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

Wandsworth I've written before about the appalling framework and use of the enormous CCTV network in Wandsworth (which brands itself "The Brighter Borough" – if they mean by which, the brightness of the glare of the flash from Big Brother's lens, then they're right).  Indeed, our report released today shows that Wandsworth has the most CCTV in London both in absolute terms and weighted to reflect population, with 1113 cameras controlled by the council.

Today, over at the Daily Mail,you can read a story by Neil Bennett, a poor bloke who stopped his car for a total of 36 seconds and received two fixed penalty notices demanding a total of £240 from him.

The story reinforces two points I often make about our national approach to CCTV:

  • The spirit and sense of the law should be the guiding force in using cameras, but an absurd, bureaucratic, petty, bullying approach is used instead.  Giving and enforcing fines is all about taking up the tiniest infraction rather than actually asking, was there any danger posed here, or even any inconvenience?  Here, there was obviously none (as the pictures accompanying Bennett's story clearly show).  Wandsworth prefers to squeeze the last drop out of us, taking advantage of any chance to fine somone, rather than using any common sense.
  • The justification for the expense and intrusion caused by the installation of the cameras was no doubt "public safety" – but here it is being used for revenue-raising. 

Bennett writes that the masses of CCTV in the Borough has done nothing to make him feel safer.  I don't imagine that he is alone.

By Alex Deane

Media Coverage – 18th December 2009

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

BBC News – Council CCTV cameras treble in 10 years

The number of council-operated CCTV cameras has nearly trebled in a decade, privacy campaigners say. There are now said to be 60,000 cameras run from town halls across the UK.

Alex Deane, the director of Big Brother Watch, which carried out the survey, said: "The evidence for the ability of CCTV to deter or solve crimes is sketchy at best."

The study, entitled Big Brother is Watching, found that 418 local authorities control 59,753 cameras. Ten years ago, a similar study found that the total was 21,000.  

The Times – Local councils ‘have trebled number of CCTV cameras in a decade’

Daily Mail – Council snoopers watch us on 60,000 CCTV cameras

CCTV symbol Evening Standard – 8,000 CCTV cameras are watching you

Daily Mirror – 60,000 CCTV snoop cams

Daily Express – CCTV cameras 'being used as cheap policing'

Daily Telegraph – CCTV cameras trebled in ten years

Sky News – 'Big Brother' Councils Treble CCTV Cameras

Guardian – Britain's wasteful mania for CCTV

The Herald – Fears CCTV cameras used as ‘cheap alternative’ to policing

Our full list of media hits today is available in our media archive

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