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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

An Open Letter to the Home Secretary On Powers of Entry Review

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 3 Comments

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.

Yours sincerely,

Emma Carr

Acting Director

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

Dublin Court Refers Facebook Case to European Court of Justice

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Home | Leave a comment

facebook_logo-300x99Just 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.

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Mass Surveillance Policy Revealed by UK Intelligence

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Online privacy, PRISM, Surveillance | Leave a comment

Image3The 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.

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Concerns remain over secret trial conditions

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Home | Leave a comment

5946829399_e633991652_oThe 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.

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Theresa May finally accepts that the public are concerned about mass surveillance

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Home | 1 Comment

Theresa MayBetter 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.

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How secure is your computer system?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 1 Comment

Image3How 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.

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School CCTV footage can be accessed by smartphones and tablets

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV | 2 Comments

camerasCCTV 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.

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Almost 3000 NHS staff’s Equality and Diversity Information Accidently Published

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Data Protection | 3 Comments

3797160719_337b4742e7_bSouth Central Ambulance Service has found itself on the wrong side of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after it accidentally published the Equality and Diversity information of members of staff on its website. What’s worse is that the Trust was alerted to the data breach by the ICO, rather than by someone in the Trust itself.

We have previously warned about the serious data breaches that can occur in the NHS, with our report highlighting more than 806 separate incidents where medical records were compromised. This incident shows that patients aren’t the only ones at risk of a having their data compromised by the NHS.

The ICO found that the Trust had published 2825 current and former members of staff’s personal details on its website, with information including  the individual’s name, job and work location, nationality, marital status, age, gender, ethnic origin, disability, religious belief and sexual orientation.

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Eight out of ten internet users believe browsing history should be kept private

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 5 Comments

Image3Research, commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust to mark the one year anniversary of Edward Snowden revealing the activities of UK and US intelligence agencies, showed 85% believe it is “fairly important”, “very important” or “essential” to keep browsing records private. Only 12% believe it is not important, the survey conducted by Ipsos Mori showed.

The participants of the survey also supported a recommendation made by the Don’t Spy On US coalition; that senior judges rather than ministers to sign off on warrants for data collection of electronic communications, when asked where oversight of the intelligence agencies should lie.

This research clearly highlights that the British public has little faith that politicians are properly monitoring how the security services are using surveillance powers. The Deputy Prime Minister, the Shadow Home Secretary and the Home Affairs Committee have all recognised that our surveillance law needs reviewing and oversight needs to be much stronger. Those who claim everything is fine are looking increasingly ridiculous.

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Do you know what information your smart device collects?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 2 Comments

phoneAre you aware that smart devices can collect information about your personal activities? If not, you are one of the 53% of British internet users that were unaware that smart devices such as smart TVs, fitness devices and in car-navigation systems can collect data.

Big Brother Watch has highlighted the potential dangers posed by smart technology. In evidence submitted to Parliament we argued that the introduction of smart meters could pose a threat to privacy by allowing an intimate picture of individuals’ daily lives to be built up.

The poll, published by TRUSTe ahead of its Internet of Things Privacy Summit, is especially significant given recent developments in EU regulations. Last week it was announced that all car owners would be required to fit their vehicles with so called “black boxes” to track their speeds and driving habits or face increased insurance premiums.

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