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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

New Big Brother Watch Team Announced

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 1 Comment

BBW announcement photoJust months before Big Brother Watch’s fifth anniversary, we can today announce the new leadership team, following the departure of Nick Pickles, who left the campaign in May to join Twitter as UK Public Policy Manager.

Emma Carr is to take up the role of Director, whilst Renate Samson is to become Chief Executive.

Emma Carr joined Big Brother Watch (BBW) in February 2012 as Deputy Director and became Acting Director in May 2014. Over the course of the last two and a half years Emma has worked hard to challenge policies that threaten our civil liberties, privacy and freedom: making an active contribution to the organisation’s research, frequently appearing on national and international television and radio programmes, and actively spreading the ethos of the organisation at conferences around the world. As BBW’s new Director, Emma will be overseeing BBW’s research, media and campaigns. Emma takes up the post of Director with immediate effect.

Joining Emma is Renate Samson in the new role of Chief Executive, in which she will oversee BBW’s operations, parliamentary outreach and new projects. The first of these will be a new educational outreach programme, designed specifically for those in higher education. Further details about this project will be announced in due course. Renate has spent the past four years as Chief of Staff to David Davis MP, working on every major civil liberties debate during this Parliament. She comes to BBW with a wealth of contacts and knowledge which will be vital as the campaign expands over the coming years. Renate will start later this year, after the party conference season.

BBW’s researcher, Daniel Nesbitt, will also be taking on the role of Research Director. Daniel has been with the campaign for eighteen months, during which time he has produced a high calibre of research and started appearing as a spokesperson for BBW in the media.

We will also be looking to recruit a new member of staff later in the Autumn, which will be advertised to the BBW mailing list, and elsewhere.

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The UK still lags behind the US in surveillance transparency

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 1 Comment

filesIf the UK is serious about conducting a proper debate on mass data collection and surveillance transparency, they would do well to take note of the issues raised in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) documents recently released by the US. In a redacted, 117-page document [PDF], FISC Judge John Bates heavily criticised the NSA’s repeated ‘overcollection’ of data, stating that:

“The government has said nothing about how the systematic overcollection was permitted to continue, [redacted]. On the record before the court, the most charitable interpretation possible is that the same factors identified by the government [redacted] remained unabated and in full effect.”

Alarmingly, not only was too much data collected but, as Judge Bates also highlights, it “included some data that had not been authorized for collection.” The document shows that the agency struggled to collect metadata – the who, when and where – without also collecting information such as the content. (For more information about metadata you can read our briefing here)

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New guidance only shows the problems of surveillance oversight. Where are the solutions?

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Civil Liberties, Data Protection, Information Commissioner, RIPA, Surveillance | Leave a comment

iStock_000016822421MediumFinally clarifying what was already widely accepted, a publication by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has confirmed that surveillance legislation is “complex”. “Surveillance Road Map” (PDF) seeks to set out the responsibilities of each body tasked with overseeing the laws that govern surveillance as well as highlighting some of their overlapping functions.

One of the aims of the guidance is to show members of the public “the avenues available to challenge or complain about any alleged breach of surveillance legislation”. Whilst this is a laudable aim it misses the real problem: that in too many cases roles are unnecessarily duplicated.

One prime example is of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner (SCC) and the ICO. The guidance states that the two bodies’ CCTV Codes of Practice “dovetail”; in fact they repeat each other. There is no reason for both bodies to be responsible for CCTV oversight. As the document points out the SCC has no “complaints handling or enforcement function”. Action should be taken to rectify this, as a result the SCC could be made responsible for a single, enforceable Code of Practice and the ICO would be able to focus more attention on its other functions.

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Would you trust the Police to have access to your medical records?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 8 Comments

shutterstock_42647761The patient-doctor relationship is the bedrock of the NHS, where patient confidentiality and trust in that system must be constantly maintained. Failure to maintain this trust could have devastating consequences for both individual patients and the NHS as a whole, which is why we are concerned that Greater Manchester Police has said that it wants direct and regular access to medical records.

In an interview with The Guardian, Sir Peter Fahy, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, has said that “we could do a better job if we have greater access to information, which it is currently hard for us to get.”

Public bodies do not have a great track record on data protection and as sharing private information around more public bodies only increases, so does the risk that it will be leaked, lost or otherwise revealed. Big Brother Watch has previously drawn attention to the scale of data breaches in reports such as Local Authority Data Loss and NHS Breaches of Data Protection Law. Specifically on the subject of medical records we have given evidence to the Health Select Committee (pdf) on the flaws in the proposed care.data scheme.

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You do have the right to record council meetings

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Councils, Freedom of Expression | 1 Comment

keyboardIn a victory for transparency, the Government has announced that from today members of the public and journalists will be able to film and report on all public meetings held by local councils in England.

The Openness of Local Government Regulations 2014, signed into law by the Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Secretary Eric Pickles, will allow citizens to use 21st Century techniques such as tweeting and blogging to report on council meetings. It will also allow them to view material relating to some decisions made elsewhere by officers acting under a “general or specific delegated power”.

The move to update the law follows attempts by DCLG to use non-legislative methods, including the publication of guidance which explicitly confirmed that members of the public could overtly film council meetings. Sadly some councils chose to ignore this step.

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Loss of Royston’s “ring of steel” hasn’t caused crime wave

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in ANPR, CCTV, Surveillance | 3 Comments

camerasYou may remember the now infamous “ring of steel” system of ANPR cameras that was placed around Royston, which was ruled to be unlawful by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). A year on from that ruling, figures have been published which show that since Hertfordshire Police was forced to dismantle the system there hasn’t been a sudden and uncontrollable outbreak of lawlessness and crime.

Crime statistics, recently released by Hertfordshire Police, show that between April and June 2013, when the ANPR system was still in place,172 crimes were committed. When comparing this to the same period in 2014 it turns out that 171 crimes were recorded, a drop of 1.

The scheme originally involved the position of ANPR cameras in such a way that it was impossible for motorists to drive in or out of the town without being filmed. In July 2013, the ICO ruled that the Police had failed to carry out “any effective impact assessments” whilst commenting  that “it is difficult to see why a small rural town … requires cameras monitoring all traffic in and out of the town, 24 hours a day”.

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Body Worn Cameras Briefing

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Police, Research and reports | 5 Comments

police-2With Police forces around the UK conducting trial schemes and roll outs of body worn cameras (BWCs), we have created a briefing on the use of the technology which can be viewed here (pdf).

The largest trial has taken place within the Metropolitan Police Service, beginning on 8 May 2014 and seeing the distribution of 500 BWCs to officers in 10 London boroughs in an aim to repeat the success of a similar scheme in Rialto, Los Angeles. The £815,000 trial scheme will see the distribution of BWCs to police officers in Barnet, Bexley, Bromley, Brent, Camden, Croydon, Ealing, Havering, Hillingdon and Lewisham. The MPS and Ministers believe that the pilot will show whether or not BWCs will boost accountability, improve the accuracy of evidence and speed up convictions.

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Problems of Social Media Law Dismissed

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom, Social Networking, Technology | Leave a comment

5946829399_e633991652_oThe legislation that governs the use of social media is generally appropriate”, or so says a report from the House of Lords Communications Committee. This is despite the legislation being passed, almost without exception, before social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter were launched.

In its report the Committee found that social media law was “generally appropriate for the prosecution of offenses committed using the social media“. Yet with a host of cases that many believe should have never even led to arrest never mind to court, we find it concerning that this conclusion has been reached. As it stands, laws that now govern the use of platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, such as the Malicious Communications Act 1988, were drafted with the intention of combating traditional communications, like threatening phone calls.

As a result, it would be unreasonable to expect the Parliamentarians of the day to have thought about how the internet could change the nature of communications irrevocably. Indeed, during one of the evidence sessions, the situation was likened to “when a cruise liner all of a sudden needs to become a troop-carrying ship” in a time of war.

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There’s No Such Thing As Free WiFi

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 2 Comments

textFollowing York Council’s announcement that the city is to become the first in the UK with city-wide free Wifi, the Council has found itself in hot water for failing to properly inform users about the fact mobile users could find personal information, including their precise location, exposed.

It has been reported that when mobile users sign up for the free WiFi service they are inadvertently handing over vast amounts of personal information. The technology picks up signals from your mobile and links them with your social media profile on your smartphone – storing information such as your age, gender, interests, friends and your location. A BBC report shows exactly how the information is used and analysed.

Whilst we have become accustomed to accessing internet services for free in the expectation that our data will be used for marketing or advertising purposes (there is no such thing as a free lunch after all), we continue to call for internet users to be provided more transparent information about what happens to their data when they sign up for a service.

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Terror Watchdog Criticises Legislation

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Freedom of Expression, Terrorism Legislation | 1 Comment

5946829399_e633991652_oJournalists and publishers are at risk of being branded as terrorists, warns a report into the UK’s terrorism legislation.

The report entitled The Terrorism Acts in 2013 was authored by Professor David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. It covered topics such as the use of stop and search powers by the police as well as how often Section 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 was used to question and/or detain travelers.

Perhaps the most interesting (and worrying) section considered the definition of terrorism and under what circumstances terrorism legislation could be applied. Looking at the judgement in the case of David Miranda Professor Anderson highlighted the fact that “the publication (or threatened publication) of words may equally constitute terrorist action”.

As Professor Anderson explained the ruling raises the possibility that the author of a book, newspaper article or blog could be treated in the same way as a person who carries out more recognisable forms of terrorism, such as “shootings” or “hostage takings”.

All that is needed for this to happen is for the published material to be judged to be for the “purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause, designed to influence the government and liable to endanger life, or create a serious risk to health or safety.”

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