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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

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

Holding Page

Want your children to have school dinners? Surrender their fingerprints

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

Andrea 2 Andrea Leadsom is the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for South Northamptonshire

Last week I had the pleasure of accompanying a group of students from Sponne and Campion Schools to the Houses of Parliament.  But over our sandwiches afterwards, sitting on a wall in the drizzle of a cold Monday in Westminster, one of the students raised an issue with me that I found truly shocking.

He wanted to know if I thought that fingerprinting/iris scanning of children in schools might breach their Human Rights under EU legislation.  I was surprised as, until he explained further, I was unaware that millions of our children are right now being required by their schools to have fingerprints or iris scans done in order to borrow a library book or buy their lunch.

How would you feel if the government suddenly passed a law that every adult had to be fingerprinted at their local police station? Yet schools it would appear have accumulated fingerprint or iris data on millions of children, some as young as three. And apparently often without their parents' consent.

My student friend told me that a member of his family working in security systems believes that with a few hundred pounds of ‘hacking’ equipment, it would be possible to sit in a car outside the school gates and collect all that data.  The lifelong, permanently distinguishing data of children is at risk of being lost or stolen, and for what? 

I really fear for the direction this country is headed in.  There are so many examples of data being lost or stolen – collecting this permanent record of a human being should only be done for extreme reasons and certainly not for identifying whose library book is due back.

We risk the next generation growing up with an acceptance of cradle-to-grave state snooping and control, with all the errors and potential for identity theft that will ensue.  What's more, millions of pounds of taxpayers' money must be being wasted on installing fingerprint/iris readers in schools.

Liverpool Council has rejected this recording of children.  I will be writing to Northants County Council in the hope that they will do likewise.

We shall be watching for the results of Andrea's campaign with great interest.  If you want to oppose fingerprinting in your school, get in touch with Big Brother Watch, or with the excellent Leave Them Kids Alone campaign.

Judge imprisons a man despite openly expressing his own doubts about the conviction

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Legal Action | 4 Comments

Scales Now that our CCTV report has been published, I am catching up on various stories from the past few weeks.  One that you may have already seen is this, over at the Times.

Philip Bowles, a businessman, has been imprisoned for an apparent failure to pay over £1 million in VAT. So far, so fair enough.  But the plot thickens.

Bowles lived with his assets frozen for three years, reliant on legal aid to help him fund his defence.  In those three years, access to his firm's records (vital to establish the defence) was hampered by this, and also by the fact that the firm was in administration.  So a vital report from a forensic accountancy investigation into his affairs, compiled gratis by a neutral accountancy firm, was not ready until after he was convicted on one of the three counts his faced.

The report concluded that, rather than having cheated the Revenue, Bowles had in fact overpaid.

Whilst the document was not available for the trial, was available by the time that it came to sentence this man.  His QC submitted that this vital new evidence, unseen by the jury, was so significant that the Court of Appeal ought to hear about it before Bowles was sentenced.  This is without precedent, but it must be right, mustn't it?  The material was relevant and probative and ought to have been seen by the jury in the course of the trial.  It is expert, neutral evidence, pointing directly to the innocence of the convicted man.  It has emerged late through no fault of the defendant's.

For those reasons, as you can read about over at the Times, the Judge openly expressed concerns about putting a man “in a place where he should not be if he is not guilty”, saying “I am loath to let this matter drag on but equally I am loath to put a man in prison if he shouldn’t be there."  And yet he nevertheless went on to sentence Bowles to custody, and he is now in prison.  The Judge, acting – I must stress – entirely in accordance with established rules, protocols, procedures and precedent, sentenced him to imprisonment, pending his now-inevitable appeal.

Behind the eye-catching headline about the judge's doubts, this may at first glance seem to be a narrow or technical question about when and how one can appeal one's conviction and/or sentence.  But it's one that has enormous ramifications for the individual in such a position – indeed, it has meant the difference for this man (who has no previous convictions) between being at liberty and being in prison.  As he spends Christmas behind bars, to him and his family that distinction will not seem narrow or technical at all.

Until his case is heard in the Court of Appeal, this 60 year old businessman with no previous convictions will be incarcerated at our expense rather than out and earning and supporting his family.  One must ask, in the circumstances – to what end?

I in no way mean to take a cheap crack at the justice system in which I have worked for some years but it seems to me that a legal system that lacks the flexibility properly to reflect the discovery or production of significant new evidence is a system in which the relationship between the state and its rigid procedures and the individual is unbalanced.  It is a system in which the very serious power to deny an individual his liberty is not fettered by appropriate caution and governed by good sense as it properly should be.  It is a system in need of reform.

By Alex Deane

Out of the DNA database and into the PNC

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases, DNA database | 2 Comments

Public Service has reported on an investigation from The Observer that reveals that any innocent person who is able to get their DNA profile deleted from the national database, will still have their details stored on the Police National Computer (PNC).

PNC According to the report,

Prior to the expansion of the DNA database, details were deleted on acquittal or if charges were dropped after 42 days. But according to the NDNAD's annual report in 2005 it has become necessary "to retain a nominal record of every person arrested for a recordable offence on the Police National Computer". The report said this would help police identify and locate people in their investigations.

This yet another example of the state's ever-present desire to gather as much information on its citizens as possible. Innocent people should not be on any police database, regardless of how useful or expedient having that data might be. Remember – you own your data. Not the state.

In addition, the PNC can be accessed by several thousands of police officers across the UK - with the capability for the data to be accessed by police forces in Europe, America and beyond – which makes it even less secure than the DNA database.

Big Brother Watch is concerned about the degree to which law enforcement is sliding towards guilty until proven innocent; and the repercussions we are witnessing for schemes like CCTV expansion, ID cards and state databases.

By Dylan Sharpe

Ireland debates the creation of a DNA database

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

Ireland-flag_1 The debate over Ireland's proposed creation of a DNA database (plans for which are in advanced stage now) is covered on various news sites, with discussion of the compulsory nature of sample collection.

Given the experience of the database in the UK, containing samples from one in ten of us and with samples from a million innocent people on it, one can only point our Irish friends to the British experience as a strong example that suggests they should pause before committing themselves to this plan further.

By Alex Deane

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