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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

T-Mobile takes “life’s for sharing” a little too far

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

T mobile The widely reported news of the T-Mobile employees who sold the personal details of thousands of the network's customers serves as an illustration, if one were needed, of why we must never have a national ID database or the ID cards the database would produce.


The same scenario would exist – employees on relatively low pay entrusted with the safe keeping of  private information, and enormous financial rewards for one prepared to leak them. The one-way nature of disclosure would be the same, too – once such information is in the public domain, it's there for good – you can never fence it back in again.


But the dangers of the national database would be even worse than it has been for these T-Mobile customers, or, for that matter, even for the many MOD employees whose personal data has been lost by incompetent bureaucrats (another risk of the national scheme). I say "even worse" because the records would run into the millions rather than thousands, and the details would be more intrusive and private.


The only sure way to safeguard that kind of information is never to build the database in the first place.


By Alex Deane

If Scotland can, why not Scotland Yard?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in DNA database | 8 Comments

This morning's news coverage on the DNA database has provoked much annoyance within Big Brother Watch.

DNA_testing As reported by several different newspapers, the latest myth about the database concerns the supposed length of time it takes to destroy an innocent person's DNA sample.

To take an example from today's Evening Standard:

Innocent people who want their DNA profile deleted from the national police database may have to wait up to 10 months, it was revealed today.

This builds on certain unhelpful opinion pieces in recent weeks to begin to create an argument against deleting innocent profiles due to the cost and man-hours involved. 

However, contrast this with the practice of Scotland where, as the BBC has reported:

…DNA samples from people arrested but not convicted of any other offences are routinely destroyed in Scotland, a situation which contrasts with other parts of the UK. 

Three questions emerge:

1. If Scotland can routinely delete DNA without taking the best part of a year, why can't England and Wales? (and population size is no defence when it comes to a computer database)

2. Does this signal a change of approach to convincing the public on DNA – as opposed to the 'it helps in crime detection' defence?

3. With the PM set to announce in the Queen's Speech tomorrow that there will be a £200 charge for having one's DNA sample destroyed, is this not just the latest in a series of deliberate attempts to prevent innocent people from owning their DNA data? 

By Dylan Sharpe 

Seen, heard and constantly under surveillance

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

Two stories have caught my eye in recent days which have left me wondering about the rights of privacy for under-16's.

Classroom CCTV The first is an undeniably creepy story in the Manchester Evening News, which reports that Salford Council has been criticised by the Information Commissioner's Office for filming primary school children in classrooms and, more worryingly, in their gym changing rooms.

In a rare show of commonsense, the assistant commissioner of the ICO ruled that,

"CCTV should only be used for a pressing need. It is perfectly reasonable for a school to use CCTV to help secure its premises, but it shouldn't be left switched on capturing images of school children changing during the day."

I then read about this scheme being piloted in the United States, which allows parents to monitor their children at school 24 hours-a-day via an interactive website. 

Both cases could be classed as unacceptable surveillance. However while the first was roundly condemned, the second has won plaudits. The difference is, of course, the opinion of the parents and what they perceive to be best for their children. 

There are however much wider implications for the effects of anaesthetising future generations to CCTV cameras and surveillance. Freedom, in part, depends on us teaching what freedom is to the youngest in society.

By Dylan Sharpe

Big Brother Watch Newsletter 13.11.09

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

Dear Supporter,


Big Brother Watch recorded another first this week with our assistance in helping to fight a case of Big Brother state overreach. Yesterday, on hearing the news that Vanessa Kelly, a 26 year-old mother from Oldbury in the West Midlands, had been given a fixed penalty notice and fined £75 for throwing bread to the ducks in her local park, Big Brother Watch contacted Miss Kelly to offer our assistance in her fight against Sandwell Council. She gratefully accepted. This gives Big Brother Watch our first opportunity to repel our overbearing state. This will hopefully entice more people to come forward with shocking cases of privacy abuse and punitive action by our local authorities. If you hear of any such stories please do get in touch.

Another u-turn (a w-turn?) on the DNA database


This week Alan Johnson and the Home Office performed the spectacular and yet unsurprising feat of reneging on their commitment to remove the DNA of innocent people from the DNA database, announcing that they were now going to keep the biometric data of people who have never been convicted of any crime for a maximum of six years.


To put that in context, this means that over 850,000 innocent adults and juveniles whose genetic details are currently on the national database will be treated and tested as suspects each time a DNA sample is picked up at a crime scene.


Big Brother Watch has repeatedly made clear our opposition to the retention of the DNA of innocent people. We can only hope that, if given the chance, the Conservatives actually deliver on their promise to reverse this overbearing and intrusive policy.


Guerrilla Sticker Campaign


Big Brother Watch kicked off our first campaign this week with the launch of our guerrilla sticker action. We have thousands of stickers like the one on the right and we want to give them away so that you can name and shame the everyday invaders of your privacy.

Send us 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. Then email us your pictures and the best images will be hosted on the blog, on our facebook group and some very good pictures will be featured in this very newsletter! We have already had over 70 requests and sent out over 1500 stickers but we have many left to send.

On the right is our sticker pic of the week. The rogue’s gallery is now available to view here.



Blogs of the Week


Being a good citizen is great; acting like one is even better - TV funnyman Chris Addison aims a boot at BBW, misses, and ends up swallowing a shoddy council press release on Harrow’s new plans for a citizen snoopers militia.


How fortunate for government that people don’t think - Renowned BBC journalist Alan Pearce writes an exclusive post for the blog about the worst excesses of our big brother state, including the scary prospect of the e-borders exit visa scheme.


Ding dong merrily off, petty bureaucrat - Big Brother chucks a dart at the dartboard of things being banned this week and hits the spot marked ‘carol singers’, apparently because they might frighten us. Sure, they’re annoying but why can’t local councils just keep their noses out?



Media Coverage


MirrorMum is fined £75 for feeding ducks

Vanessa…is backed by Big Brother Watch, which battles intrusive officialdom. Its chief Alex Deane called the penalty “ludicrous” and said: “Can there be a more absurd example of the Big Brother state? She won’t pay, nor should she.”

MetroDNA of innocents to be held for six years

The measures outraged civil liberties groups, including Big Brother Watch. ‘Despite Alan Johnson’s recent promise to remove the DNA of innocent people, despite being unanimously defeated in the European Court, this government is still wrongly retaining samples,’ said its director, Alex Deane

Daily TelegraphDNA of innocent still to be retained for six years

Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, added: “If the government thinks that because they are targeting teenagers they can get away with this sort of intrusion, they are wrong.”

Sky News – Alex Deane interviewed by Martin Stanford

Sun Talk – Alex Deane interviewed by John Gaunt, columnist at The Sun

Daily MailLabour U-turn on Big Brother state: Plan to log all texts and internet searches on hold

Alex Deane, director of anti-snooping campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘The Intercept Modernisation Programme is an enormous and unwarranted intrusion into every aspect of our private lives.

Daily ExpressArmy of snoops recruited to spy on neighbours

Alex Deane, director of pressure group Big Brother Watch, warned: “An Orwellian big-brother culture depends on everyone spying on everyone else – just as Harrow has planned.”

Daily TelegraphCouncil accused of recruiting army of 2,000 ‘snoopers’

But Alex Deane, director of campaign group Big Brother Watch, said ”So now councils are trying to get us to spy on one another. If they’re successful it will lead to even less trust and ever more surveillance.”

LBC 97.3 – Alex Deane interviewed by Andrew Pierce on the Sunday Show

Imprisonment looming for man who does the right thing

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Legal Action | 7 Comments

Scales_of_justice Paul Clarke, an ex-soldier, found a gun dumped in a bag in his garden.  He took it to the police station.  Those, it seems, are entirely agreed facts.  Nevertheless he was arrested, prosecuted and has now been convicted under the strict liability rules of the Firearms Act.

The story has been widely discussed in in the blogosphere recent days. It is, it seems to me, a remarkably depressing example of the failings of our legal system. In the spirit of PMQs I would simply make the following points:

WRONG: policeman who arrests him

RESULT: employed by the state.

WRONG: prosecutor who charges him

RESULT: employed by the state.

WRONG: judge who directs jury to convict him

RESULT: employed by the state.

In fact, the only variation is this:

RIGHT: honest man finds gun and hands it in to the authorities.

RESULT: imprisoned by the state.

By Alex Deane

Paying to prove your innocence

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in DNA database | 1 Comment

Another day, another shocking story about the retention of the DNA of innocent people.

DNA An article in the Daily Telegraph at the weekend revealed that in next week's Queen's Speech the government will announce it is planning on forcing innocent people to pay £200 to try and get their DNA removed from the national database.

According to the report:

The new power will allow members of the public to challenge a chief constable's refusal to delete their profiles in court – but they will have to pay an application fee to do so.

So now not only are the government in the habit of collecting the DNA of innocent people (and if you don't think there's any reason to be concerned about having your DNA on the national database, read this story) they also want us to pay for the privilege of not having our biometric data stored and tested, even if we have done nothing wrong to begin with. 

To take a different argument; if this is necessary to be part of the 'club' called the European Union, why is this not?

By Dylan Sharpe

Nothing to hide, nothing to fear? Not quite…

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in DNA database | 10 Comments

Earlier this week, Alan Johnson performed his latest u-turn and announced his intention to retain the DNA of innocent people on the DNA database for six years, on the grounds that doing otherwise might "undermine" crime detection.

DNA database Today we find a story that exemplifies why the Home Secretary has got his priorities the wrong way round.

A city lawyer and mother-of-three was fired from her £150,000-a-year job earlier this month after a routine background clearance check revealed her DNA was held on the national database.

The kicker is that the DNA record exists due to a false allegation made against her.

And what's more, that allegation was made because someone suspected her of forging a signature on an application form to a nursery – an offence which certainly didn't warrant the fingerprinting and DNA swabbing she had to consent to. 

So, in the future, if someone should blurt out the truism 'nothing to hide, nothing to fear', remind them of Lorraine Elliott – the high-flying lawyer who now works as a stable hand.

By Dylan Sharpe

Our support for Vanessa Kelly

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Legal Action | 6 Comments

Vanessa As we discussed yesterday, and as has been widely reported, a brave young woman named Vanessa Kelly has refused to pay a £75 fixed penalty notice (FPN) she was given for throwing bread to the ducks in her local park.

Vanessa and I have spoken at some length and she has made it clear that she has no intention of paying this ridiculous fine.

We are proud to support Vanessa and, if the Council does not back down and apologise as it should, then we will pay for the lawyers and the rest of it.

Some of our readers have told us that this action is typical of Sandwell Council. But even if one does not know this particular Council's track record, the story is in a way unsurprising, being typical as it is of the latest creeping incursion into our liberties, being but the latest example of excessive control by authority which we soon come to expect. And that expectation can change our behaviour – change our lives.

We all know that feeling, all too well.  It has a chilling effect on all human relations in this country, as we constantly feel that little fear – what if the Big Brother bureaucrat, the health and safety fool, comes knocking?

With this case, Big Brother Watch hopes to begin the fight back. 

A fight which is of course not only against the petty bureaucrats at Sandwell, but against the whole culture of highhanded, unaccountable, overbearing authority they represent.

My dream, my highest hope for this organisation, is to turn that fear around – so that in a few years' time, when about to wake the grandfather from his bed and take him to the police station for supposedly swearing, or on the verge of filling out that illiberal FPN, the jobsworths feel the chilling effect themselves – what if Big Brother Watch is watching?

By Alex Deane

Fined £75 for feeding the ducks

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

Occasionally we at Big Brother Watch come across a story about our overbearing state that leaves us genuinely open mouthed, and this is one such example.

Litterwarden On Tuesday a young mother was given a £75 fixed penalty notice for throwing bread to the ducks in her local park.

According to the report, a warden approached Vanessa Kelly and her 17-month-old son Harry, and issued them with the FPN for littering.

There simply is no defence for this action and Sandwell Council should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Yet again our overbearing state has created a criminal out of an otherwise law-abiding citizen. The whole thing is completely quackers!

Hopefully this will not be the last you hear of this…

By Dylan Sharpe  

- – UPDATE – -

Big Brother Watch has just been in touch with Vanessa Kelly and she has accepted our offer to help her in her fight against Sandwell Council. Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch, said:

“I am proud to be helping Miss Kelly in her fight against this ludicrous fine.

“Sandwell Council should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves – can there be a more absurd example of the Big Brother State in action?”

“She will not pay, nor should she.”

I told you this would not be the last you heard about this shameful episode. We will keep you updated on Miss Kelly's progress.

Ding dong merrily off, petty bureaucrat

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

Carol singers Over at the Daily Mail, you can read about some silly man in Lancashire whose organisation is (at public expense) pumping out cards to tell carol singers to push off in case they upset "vulnerable people".

This is preposterous.  People have been singing carols in an unchanged tradition for hundreds of years in this country without any problems.

Are we really supposed to think that this Lancashire "partnership" has found some important new issue that only they have the wisdom to identify and deal with, or might they really just trying to justify their existence?

Carol singing is a cherished part of our cultural heritage.  Why don’t the health and safety jobsworths leave us alone?

By Alex Deane