The Intelligence Services Commissioner has released his annual report (pdf) which highlights a high number of times individuals’ privacy was breached due to a series of errors. However, with only 17% of warrants being checked by the Commissioner, serious questions have also been raised about how thorough his investigations can actually be.
It is not unfair to suggest that at present the oversight by the Commissioner is weak and his accountability to Parliament and the public is almost none existent. A part time Commissioner with only one member of staff cannot reasonably provide adequate oversight of the use of intrusive surveillance powers. As the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) recently pointed out, the Commissioner should be aiming to check at least 50% of warrants if the investigations are to be thorough.
It is clear that the Government must urgently address the fact that the Commissioner clearly does not have enough resources to thoroughly carry out his investigations into the intelligence and security services.
Yesterday our acting director gave oral evidence to the Science and Technology Select Committee in Parliament on the topic of social media and real time analytics.
The remit of the inquiry was to look into the differences between traditional data storage systems, which were not designed for real-time analysis, and new technologies which can now provide live information and data analysis. The focus of our session was on the privacy implications that may arise from real time analytics and big data generally.
Emma’s fellow panelists were:
- Professor Liesbet van Zoonen, Professor of Communication and Media Studies, Loughborough University
- Professor David Robertson, Head of School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh, representing the UK Computing Research Committee
- Dr Mathieu d’Aquin, Research Fellow, The Open University
Big Brother Watch’s written evidence to the Committee is available here.
Today we have written to the Home Secretary and her Home Office Ministers to ask why the third progress report on the review of Powers of Entry has not yet been published.
The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 places a duty on secretaries of state to review the powers of entry they are responsible for and report back to Parliament within 2 years following Royal Assent. The also Home Office is required to provide updates on progress must be sent to Parliament every 6 months. The second progress report was published in July 2013 and the first progress report was published in January 2013.
The purpose of the review is to examine each individual power, and see if that power:
- is still required or should be repealed
- should have further safeguards added to it
- can be consolidated with other similar powers, to reduce the overall number
Dear Home Secretary
I am writing to you to enquire why the third progress report on the review of Powers of Entry has not yet been published.
As you will be aware, under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 progress reports should be published by the Home Office on a six monthly basis, however it has been almost one year since the second progress report was published in July 2013. I would therefore be grateful if you could clarify why there has been a six month delay in publishing the third report and whether this means there will be a subsequent delay in secretaries of state reporting back to Parliament within the 2 year time period following Royal Assent.
CC: Lord Taylor of Holbeach, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Criminal Information and James Brokenshire MP, Minister for Security and Immigration and Norman Baker MP, Minister of State for Crime Prevention
Just days after Charles Farr’s admission that messages sent via social media sites would be subject to mass surveillance by GCHQ, the High Court in Dublin has referred a challenge to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which would force regulators to audit what information Facebook releases to the NSA.
This case, the ongoing case in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, and Big Brother Watch’s own challenge to GCHQ’s mass surveillance operations at the European Court of Human Rights highlights that it is now more important than ever that the UK Government makes serious moves towards increasing the transparency of which powers our intelligence agencies are using and in what way.
There is little doubt that there is public appetite for more transparency, with Big Brother Watch’s own polling showing that 66% of British adults think that more data should be published about how current surveillance powers are used, as well as a recent JRRT poll showing that eight out of ten internet users believing their browsing history should be kept private.
The Government’s top counter-terrorism official has been forced to reveal the Government’s secret policy which allows for the mass surveillance of every Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google user in the UK. It is the first time the Government has openly commented on how it thinks it can use the UK’s vague surveillance legal framework to indiscriminately intercept communications through its mass interception programme TEMPORA.
The information has been made public due to a legal challenge brought by Privacy International, Liberty, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Pakistani organisation Bytes for All, and five other national civil liberties organisations. The legal challenge follows revelations made by Edward Snowden about the UK’s global digital surveillance activities. Charles Farr is the government’s key witness in the case, which will be heard by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal between 14 and 18 July 2014. You can read Privacy International’s arguments here.
Big Brother Watch, Open Rights Group, English PEN also have a case challenging the UK government’s surveillance of our data at the European Court of Human Rights. You can keep track of the progress of the case at the dedicated Privacy not Prism campaign site.
The Court of Appeal has overturned the Government’s proposal to hold a trial in complete secrecy; with the Court ruling that the names of the defendants can be released as well as this a selection of “hand-picked” journalists will be allowed to report on the case, subject to conditions.
There are two critical reasons why we are concerned about trials being conducted in secret. The first being the principle that if evidence is to be used against you, you should have a right to see that evidence and to rebut it. To describe a process where evidence can be used against you and you have no opportunity to cross-examine it as justice is a falsehood. The second issue is who decides whether evidence is withheld. You can read more about our criticisms of secret trials here.
In this specific case, the “core” of the major terrorism trial can be held in secret, the Court of Appeal has ruled but judges said the defendants, who had been anonymised as AB and CD, can be named as Erol Incedal and Mounir Rarmoul-Bouhadjar.
Better late than never, in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Theresa May admitted that privacy and the use of mass surveillance had become “a much more salient question for the public” in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations.
This is an encouraging sign that the British debate over the legacy of the leaks is beginning to catch up with the discussions taking place across the Atlantic. Until this point, and despite the announcement of two Presidential review panels into the use of surveillance in America, there has been a lack of serious activity the British Government.
The Home Secretary also made the point that the Government was going to have to “find innovative ways” to make the case for the continued use of surveillance techniques by the intelligence services.
How often do you think about the hygiene of your computer system, whether that be your personal computer and devices or those you use for work? The chances are that it is something that is overlooked. However with various stories relating to hacking, viruses and heartbleed appearing in the media in the last few weeks, the potential dangers to your devices and, as a result, your personal information have certainly hit home.
It is therefore timely that two pieces of guidance have been published this week that could help. The advise appears to be clear: only gather the information that is absolutely essential, regularly update security software and have multiple usernames and passwords that are stored securely.
CCTV in schools could be about to take an even creepier turn, with some systems allowing the footage to be remotely accessed from any number of smartphones, tablets and desktop computers by individuals outside of the school.
We have long warned about the continued growth of the use of CCTV cameras, whether that be in Care Homes or in schools. Our Class of 1984 report, highlighted that here are more than 100,000 CCTV cameras in secondary schools and academies across England, Wales and Scotland. Some schools reported a ratio of one camera for every five pupils, and more than two hundred schools reported using CCTV in bathrooms and changing rooms, whilst others reported more cameras inside school buildings as outside.
The Telegraph has reported that the Government has given the go ahead for schools to install state of the art surveillance equipment which will allow parents to be able to watch live feeds across dozens of cameras set up in classrooms, corridors and playgrounds. The move is a result of a crackdown on drug dealing and the consumption of drugs in schools. Two schools in Herefordshire, a school in Liverpool and one in Waltham Forest have taken up a trial of the technology.