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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

Monday Morning Gallery

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV | Leave a comment

Returning to our Big Brother Watch Guerrilla Sticker Campaign, in our e-newsletter on Friday (sign up to receive our weekly updates here) we asked for all those who have requested stickers to send us back their photos…and we have been duly rewarded.

Our favourite photo so far is below (very Orwellian!), but there are more to view in the sticker gallery. If you have not yet asked for any stickers email your name and address to BBW, 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. 


Labourlist blogger advocates swabbing babies and immigrants to build a DNA database holding samples from everyone

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in DNA database | 6 Comments

Dna inspection Over at Labourlist, a Labour Council candidate named Matthew Zarb-Cousin says

As a member of the Labour Party, I would like to argue why I believe a DNA database, where swabs of DNA are taken at birth – and of people coming into the country – is not only fair but also vital.

And why?  Well, because, he says,

everyone is a potential criminal. 

I suppose that it has at least the virtue of honesty.  The same position is put with a little more subtlety over at the Guardian's CommentIsFree.


By Alex Deane

And even when they are turned on…

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

A quick one to follow on from Alex's post below. A story from Cambridgeshire and, more precisely, the capital of the fens, Wisbech, who last year spent over £5000 of the diminutive Parish Council budget on a new CCTV system.

Well it turns out today that the police have said that the CCTV images are not good enough to secure prosecutions. According to Norfolk Constabulary the system 'does not meet Home Office recognised specifications.'

The Parish Councillors are claiming the cameras have partially succeeded as a deterrent. But, given the cost involved, the eyesore of the cameras in the town and the no-doubt weeks and months of wrangling in the council chambers; one has to ask 'was it worth it?'

By Dylan Sharpe

Sometimes, the CCTV camera isn’t turned on – as a matter of policy

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

Cctv%20stock Over at Kent Online we learn that an astute commuter has established through Southeastern Rail's complaints procedure that some of their CCTV cameras are always switched off – not because of technical problems but as a matter of policy.

I mention it because, as I've written before, we can develop a false sense of security because of these cameras, and our overreliance upon this kind of technology can be cruelly exposed when the time comes for it to be tested and it fails to protect us in any way – and no alternative provisions are in place to look after us because of the money spent on the cameras and trust wrongly vested in them.

But here, we see that these cameras are doubly useless – it's not that they were accidentally switched off, or weren't working, or were pointed in the wrong direction, or recorded footage with a quality too poor to be used (all regular occurrences) – instead, apparent financial shortages mean that they're in place but switched off deliberately.  Worse than useless – they've cost money to put in, and they give no protection.

All of that weighs against this technology before privacy concerns have even been considered.  It's also worth having a reminder of recent academic research which undermines the usefulness of CCTV per se.

By Alex Deane

Snooper’s charter breathes again

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Mastering the Internet | 1 Comment

Two stories today on the dreadful 'Intercept Modernisation Programme' otherwise known as the Home Office plan to monitor all of our emails, phone calls and other forms of private communications.

Child-computer The first, courtesy of Kable, is that Phil Woolas MP has said that the £2bn Programme is due for completion in 2016; despite the bill being dropped from the Queen's Speech earlier this week.

As they report:

the information from Woolas shows the Home Office does not anticipate that this will delay the IMP, with 2016 as both the original and the current planned date for completion.

To make matters worse Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions – a role that ought to be entirely separate from politics – has come out today and said that monitoring all of our calls and emails is 'vital' in the fight against crime.

As reported by the Daily Telegraph:

Keir Starmer said the controversial plan, which would see the communications activity of every citizen stored for a year, was essential for establishing links with suspects.

His support is in contrast to his predecessor, Sir Ken Macdonald, who last year warned against the expansion of technology by the state into everyday life which could create a world future generations "can't bear''.

Sir Ken is right and it simply isn't the government’s job to monitor our private communications. We hear of too many cases of private and personal data being lost, sold or misused by the state to trust that our phone calls and emails won’t end up in the wrong hands.

In addition, the DPP should not be going around doing the government's dirty work – plugging a policy that the majority of British people find deeply worrying. And remember, Keir Starmer has previous in this field.

By Dylan Sharpe

When databases go bust

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases, DNA database | Leave a comment

Yesterday Alex wrote about T-Mobile and the problem of those handling our personal data and how they might be tempted to use it.

Geneticengineering Today we find another story about the dangers inherent in biometric databases – what happens when the companies holding the data go bust?

As The Times reports:

A leading genetics company that has pioneered personal DNA testing in health assessments went bust yesterday, raising privacy concerns about the sensitive data it holds.

DNA profiles belonging to thousands of people who have paid up to £600 for internet genetic tests are to be transferred to a new organisation, after deCODE Genetics filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in a US court.

The company are of course claiming that they do not access the DNA data for anything other than that specified by the original contract with the customer, and therefore people need not be afraid.

But contracts drawn up with a company that goes bust and files for bunkruptcy become very shaky if the data is bought up by a new firm. Similarly, if you hand over your DNA or fingerprints to the state for one reason, you might find the data being used for entirely different purposes.

The reality is that if you are willing to hand over your most personal data to someone else, you can never be sure where it's going to end up.

By Dylan Sharpe  

Media Coverage – 19th November 2009

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

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 

Metro 18.11.09

Dylan on Look North 19.11.09 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.

Politics.co.uk – CCTV placed inside private homes

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

24dash.com – Council installs CCTV cameras inside homes to tackle street yobs

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.'

Victory for Vanessa! Sandwell Council backs down

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

We bring you the tremendous news this evening that Sandwell Council is to revoke the £75 fixed penalty notice it handed out to young mother Vanessa Kelly for feeding the ducks

 Vanessa £75 fine is to be dropped along with similar penalties imposed on six other people in Smethwick Hall Park.

However, according to the Sandwell Express and Star who broke the original story:

New Sandwell Council leader Darren Cooper branded the charges “over the top”. He said new warning signs would now be installed in the park and they would be taking a “common sense approach”.

But he warned that wardens wearing head cameras will be on patrol at the Londonderry Lane park and once new signs telling people of the potential charges are put up, there would be a three warnings approach.

Big Brother Watch is proud to have pledged our support for Vanessa and equally proud that Sandwell Council have been forced into this humiliating retreat. But the above quote shows that this council have not learned their lesson and we are now appealing for anyone else who was the victim of a fixed penalty notice for feeding the ducks to send us their details.

Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch, said:

“We are delighted, if unsurprised, that Sandwell Council have admitted defeat in this matter; and we are glad that Vanessa can go on with her life without this ludicrous fine hanging over her head.

“However I am concerned that Sandwell are still intending to issue fixed penalty notices to people who try and feed the ducks in this park.

“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.”

By Dylan Sharpe

Karma strikes Cop

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | 10 Comments

Picture halved We note with great interest that Chief Superintendent Adrian Harper, who currently faces two charges of wilful misconduct while in a judicial or public office in relation to two speeding offences, is the policeman at the centre of the outrageous Paul Clarke case.

Harper was the officer who took the call from Mr Clarke when the latter found a firearm in his garden.  Harper allowed him to walk into the station with it (in order to hand it in) and effectively allowed him to walk into the criminal conviction he now has.

Whilst if convicted he will hardly be punished for this pair of offences with which he is charged to the same degree as poor Mr Clarke (who faces a five year minimum sentence for the firearms "offence"), he will certainly be facing some music.  I also note that he is not charged with speeding plain and simple, but rather with wilful misconduct – it's not just that he was apparently speeding, it's that he's been suspended as a result of alleged dishonesty in connection with the charges.  The facts of the case will be interesting to know – we do hope that the Surrey media stay on the case…

By Alex Deane – with a hat tip to SZ and lovers of "what goes around comes around" everywhere

*UPDATE* we were NOT the first with this story!

The dark ages

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | Leave a comment

Declan Declan Wilkes has worked as an investigative journalist and reporter for a decade. He is currently the News Editor of thelondondailynews.com. Ahead of the Queen’s Speech today, Declan reviews the proposed Labour bills in the field of civil liberties.

In spite of what you may have read about activities in the House of Commons last week, the state’s attempts to know what you do, where you go and what you think continues unabated.

Today's ‘slimline’ Queen’s Speech, with 15 bills plus two draft measures, is the continuation of a decade old project that has weakened the institutions that safeguard our democracy and hold the state to account.

Conservative Party Leader David Cameron has called it the "most divisive, short-termist, shamelessly self-serving" one "in living memory". Liberal Democrat frontman Nick Clegg has called on it to be cancelled.

The past week has seen ministers scrambling to secure their pet projects, hoping a possible new Conservative administration will be too preoccupied with the economy to dismantle the surveillance state apparatus that Chief Constables are only too happy to have.

The electronic database was sacrificed as the sharpest barb of a twin pronged attack on civil rights in order to get plans on the continued indefinite retention of innocents on the DNA database through parliament.

From the government that brought you Asbos, control orders, detention without trial, trial without jury, arbitrary extraditions, the largest DNA database in the world, continued secrecy of the courts, bailiffs into your homes, and allowed council jobsworths to spy on you come the latest round of freedom bashing bills.

Indefinite DNA retention

The Policing, Crime and Private Security Bill means innocent people still face the prospect of indefinite retention of their genetic profile – despite a European Court ruling that said keeping the data indefinitely was a violation of human rights.

Those suspected of terrorism offences will have their DNA stored for life. Those suspected of violent offences or sexual assaults will have data retained for six years despite never being charged or convicted.

Labour changed the law in 2004 so that anybody who came into contact with police could have their DNA taken and stored.

‘Mastering the internet’

The £2bn electronic database has been dropped from the Queens Speech; however much of the work has already been done.

Spymasters at GCHQ have been working on their 'Mastering the Internet' project for years, its existence only revealed in a job advert last year. Hundreds of millions of pounds have already been spent, Hewlett-Packard were already lined up to design and install the system and American defence giant Lockheed Martin have been providing GCHQ with data mining software.

A breakthrough may already have been reached that will combine data from social networking websites with details such as banking, retail and property records, allowing spooks to build extensive, all-embracing personal profiles of individuals.

Good news?

There are rumours a bill may abolish restrictions on protests around Parliament could be included according to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

Under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, people who want to protest in Parliament Square must first get permission from the police.

The Constitutional Renewal Bill, which was included in the Government's draft legislative programme earlier this year, would repeal that requirement.

What's out

While the threatened £2bn database of your emails, phone calls and text messages, will now not go ahead, at least not in this parliament, but it is a legally binding EU Directive that at some point will become law.

With Parliament likely to sit for about 40-70 days before an election next May, ministers admit not all proposals will become law.

Labours final attacks on civil liberties may never be law – bills that are not completed by the time the general election is announced can be blocked in the Lords who have thrown out their bills 444 times since 1999.

There in lies the reasoning behind the most political Queens Speech ever, Brown has nothing to lose.

For 13 years mission creep, secrecy and the perpetuity of taking justice out of the hands of responsible and accountable officials has eroded democracy and created a viable jail cell for a Big Brother state still under construction.

What crept through before Parliament Closed?

Before Parliament closed secrets inquests were resurrected buried deep away in the Coroners and Justice Bill which was passed in a close vote and now only needs Royal Assent.

While the Lord Chief Justice will have the power to veto a request for a private inquest and appoint the judge, ministers would still be able to set an inquest's terms of reference whilst restricting who can attend and what information was published.

Straw insists only a tiny number of cases would be affected – just like only a tiny amount of people would be affected by anti-terror legislation.

The main argument by the state was national security and airing of intercept evidence and 'sensitive' cases.

The clause provides a mechanism to cover up any deaths that could reveal negligence, wrongdoing or cause embarrassment creating a Big Brother state that can not be scrutinized. The natural erosion of justice extended to the dead.

Even the most basic tenet, deciding who can enter your home, has been subjugated by the state.

An amendment last week to the Proceeds of Crime Act, means a whole swathe of debt collectors, bailiffs and council officials can soon force their way in, seize cash, confiscate property and freeze assets on the basis of dodgy parking tickets or falling behind on your council tax.

Vulnerable people who struggle to stay on top of their bills face becoming easy targets for a profit driven cabal – obstructing officials can land you with a £2,500 fine and a year in jail.

A Statutory Instrument by Home Office Secretary Alan Johnson established this new intrusion, it required no parliamentary debate.

Today we see this government's final cynical blueprints.