• Media Enquiries

    07505 448925(24hr)

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

Parliamentarians warn of ‘deliberate failiure’ to conceal GCHQ capability

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, PRISM, Surveillance, Terrorism Legislation, United States | 2 Comments

ben-cctv-bigShortly after Lord Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, condemned the way the new head of MI5 had dismissed calls for greater scrutiny several senior figures involved in the scrutiny of the draft communications data bill have said that Britain’s spy agencies may be operating outside the law in the mass internet surveillance programmes uncovered by Edward Snowden.

Lord Strasburger, a Liberal Democrat member of the joint committee, has also said: “You have to wonder why, even in the secret sessions, none of the witnesses mentioned Project Tempora … It was highly relevant to our work and I believe that deliberate failure to reveal it amounts to misleading parliament.”

The chairman of the Joint Committee on the draft Communications Data Bill, Lord Blencathra, has said that he is concerned and annoyed that the committee was never told about GCHQ’s mass surveillance capabilities. He said: The committee was not made aware at all of anything relating to Prism or Tempora, or even given any hint. We had a joint memo from MI5, MI6, GCHQ setting out why in their view the bill was essential, the usual stuff you get on terrorists, paedophiles, organised crime. But there was no hint whatsoever they were engaged in [these] programmes. I certainly feel we were given less information than the committee should have had. I am not suggesting we were deceived or misled but someone or some people were very economical with the actuality. I think we would have regarded this as highly, highly relevant. I personally am annoyed we were not given this information.”

Read more

CQC asks whether CCTV should be used in care homes

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV, Privacy, Surveillance | 9 Comments

camerasThe Care Quality Commission (CQC) has announced plans to install hidden cameras and ‘mystery shoppers’ in care homes in a bid to increase the regulations of social care. Care homes and social care premises are home for some of society’s most vulnerable people. To subject them to covert surveillance where there is not reasonable cause for suspicion would be both an attack on their privacy and dignity.

In a signposting document which has been published today ahead of a full public consultation, Andrea Sutcliffe, Britain’s first Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care, said: “We would like to have an open conversation with people about the use of mystery shoppers and hidden cameras, and whether they would contribute to promoting a culture of safety and quality, while respecting people’s rights to privacy and dignity.”

Read more

Ideas to start the debate and reform surveillance

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Data Protection, Databases, Europe, International, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, PRISM, RIPA, Surveillance, Terrorism Legislation, United States | 1 Comment

Dear Prime Minister,

cc Deputy Prime Minister; Chair – ISC;  Chair – Home Affairs committee; Chair – Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill; Chair – LIBE Committee of the European Parliament; Chair – Joint Committee on Human Rights;

Yesterday you said that you would be happy to listen to ideas to improve the oversight and operation of safeguards concerning our intelligence agencies.

This is an extremely welcome and timely intervention, and an offer that we would like to take up enthusiastically.

Below are just a few of the well-established proposals to improve the operation, scrutiny and safeguards of surveillance powers.

-       Commission independent, post-legislative scrutiny of the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act 2000 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994, legislation that covers much internet surveillance but was written years before Facebook existed and when few households had internet access. If Parliament intends to allow the collection of data from every internet communication, it should expressly say so in primary legislation, covering both metadata and content

-       Publish, as the US Government has done, legal opinions that are used to underpin the ongoing surveillance framework

-       Allow the Intelligence and Security Committee to report to Parliament, and be chaired by an opposition MP, as called for by Lord King. It should also be able to employ technical experts to assist its work.

-       Publish the budget and investigatory capacity of the ISC, Interception of Communications Commissioner and Surveillance Commissioners

-       Reform the Investigatory Powers Tribunal so there is a presumption its hearings are held publicly, that it should state reasons for reaching its decisions and that its judgements can be appealed in court

-       End the need for Secretaries of State to approve appearances of the heads of agencies before Parliamentary committees, and allow agency and service heads to give evidence in public where appropriate

-       Establish an independent body to review the work of the agencies, as President Obama has done with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and ensure it has staff with relevant technical expertise

-       Lift any legal restrictions on British companies from publishing transparency reports about surveillance requests

-       Publish details of the use of surveillance powers broken down by agency, as opposed to the single UK figure currently published, including the scale of international intelligence sharing

-       Enhance whistleblower protection for those who wish to come forward from within the services

We would be delighted to meet with you or members of your Government to discuss these issues. At a time when the internet is an inescapable part of daily life, the modern economy and the delivery of public services, it is surely paramount that the laws that govern surveillance are fit for a digital age, and that the safeguards that operate are robust, properly resourced and can command public confidence.

Yours sincerely,

Anne Jellema, Chief Executive Officer, World Wide Web Foundation

Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group

Gus Hosein, Executive Director, Privacy International

Guy Herbert, General Secretary, No2ID

Nick Pickles, Director, Big Brother Watch

Professor Peter Sommer

Ross Anderson, Professor of Security Engineering, Cambridge

Caspar Bowden, Independent privacy researcher

Douwe Korff, Professor of International Law, London Metropolitan University

Judith Rauhofer, University of Edinburgh

Duncan Campbell, Investigative journalist and author of European Parliament report on Echelon

Further calls for custodial sentences for serious data breaches

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 1 Comment

Image3Two cases have come to light highlighting the urgent need for custodial sentences for those who unlawfully obtain or disclose personal information. We have warned about the effects that lax attitudes to data protection has, highlighting that the seriously low rates of punishments and shockingly low fines that are handed out do little in deterring those that seek to illegally access and share personal information.

We have repeatedly called for the government to introduce custodial sentences for those found guilty of an offence under section 55, where personal data is obtained unlawfully. This stance is echoed by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Home Affairs Select Committee, Lord Leveson, the Joint Committee on the draft Communications Data Bill and the Justice Select Committee. The fact that unlawful breaches of section 55 are not recorded on a criminal record, coupled with the low fines handed out, means that some personnel trusted with our personal information continue to abuse that trust.

Read more

No debate please, we’re British.

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Databases, International, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, PRISM, Surveillance, United States | 2 Comments

ben-cctv-bigIn a speech to the  Royal United Services Institute on Tuesday, the Director General of MI5 said: “it causes enormous damage to make public the reach and limits of GCHQ techniques.Such information hands the advantage to the terrorists. It is the gift they need to evade us and strike at will.”

This is a sentiment expressed on the front page of various national newspapers. The bad guys, you may have guessed, are the Guardian and Edward Snowden.

To suggest that the Snowden disclosures allow terrorists to attack “at will” is both farfetched and disingenuous. Even in the US, nobody has sought to make such an assertion. Those newspapers who have reported this claim without critique or balance have done their readers a disservice.

Equally, and disappointingly, in his speech Andrew Parker did not mention why it was possible for a 29 year old contractor to the US Government to download thousands of documents about GCHQ’s techniques (nor have any of the media outlets reporting the speech asked such a question.)

Nor did he did not highlight that the US Government itself has sought to detail the operations, reach and capabilities of its agencies – the Director of National Intelligence has established a dedicated website for legal opinions, statements and factsheets – yes, factsheets – on what the NSA is doing.

Read more

NCA lacks oversight and transparency

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV, Civil Liberties, Freedom of Information, Police, Privacy, RIPA, Surveillance, Technology | Leave a comment

police-3The National Crime Agency (NCA) has been launched today by the Home Office with announcements that it will have access to some of the most high tech surveillance tools available but will also promote an environment of transparency and openness. Yet, with an exemption from the Freedom of Act and being regulated by outdated legislation, how accountable will the Agency be?

The NCA has billed itself as being more open and transparent than its predecessors, yet it won’t be subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) on the basis that this would “jeopardise its operational effectiveness and ultimately result in lower levels of protection for the public.” Considering the Agency will have highly intrusive surveillance techniques at its disposal, it is remarkable that it is allowed to be able to use them behind a cloak of secrecy. FOI would not prevent intelligence sharing, protecting sources of information or expose police tactics and technology. Indeed, every police force in the country and the Association of Chief Police Officers all manage to operate with FOI applying to them.

Read more

GCHQ faces legal action over mass surveillance

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Data Protection, Europe, Featured, International, Internet freedom, Legal Action | 12 Comments

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 agency has acted illegally.

A dedicated website – Privacy not Prism – has been set up to fund the legal action.

The laws governing how internet data is accessed were written when barely anyone had broadband access and were intended to cover old fashioned copper telephone lines. Parliament did not envisage or intend those laws to permit scooping up details of every communication we send, including content, so it’s absolutely right that GCHQ is held accountable in the courts for its actions.

These concerns have also been raised by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, who questioned if the legal framework is adequate.

When details recently emerged in the media about the Prism and Tempora programmes, codenames for previously secret online surveillance operations, it was revealed that GCHQ has the capacity to collect more than 21 petabytes of data a day – equivalent to sending all the information in all the books in the British Library 192 times every 24 hours. The disclosures have raised serious parliamentary concerns both in Britain and at the EU level.

Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors represent the applicants, instructing Helen Mountfield QC of Matrix Chambers and Tom Hickman and Ravi Mehta of Blackstone Chambers.

 

Government signals end to CCTV use for parking fines

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, CCTV cars, Councils, Privacy | 6 Comments

Image20If CCTV cameras are about public protection, why are they bringing in £300m in revenue from parking enforcement?

Firstly – and this goes to the heart of what Big Brother Watch has been campaigning on – the public are never, ever told that this is part of the deal when they accept greater CCTV surveillance. The rhetoric is always about violent crime, anti-social behavior and catching criminals. Would the public be as willing to accept yet more cameras if they had the full facts about how cameras are used?

If anyone can find us an example of a council justifying it’s need for greater CCTV on parking problems we’d love to hear about it.

Read more

GPs threaten to boycott NHS database

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Data Protection, Information Commissioner, NHS, Privacy | 3 Comments

3797160719_337b4742e7_bThe Daily Mail reports that GPs are threatening to boycott the new NHS care.data system.

Their concerns are entirely reasonable. Patients have had zero direct communication from the NHS about the program, patient information posters are wholly uninformative and have only been displayed in GP surgeries, rather than being sent to patients. If you don’t visit your GP every few weeks then it’s likely you wouldn’t see the poster before it was too late (and even if you did read the poster, it’s likely you’ll have no idea what it’s talking about.)

Previously we applauded that patients had won the choice of deciding what would happen with their medical records, and that existing opt-outs would be honored. Speaking at the time, the Secretary of State for Health said: ”GPs will not share information with the HSCIC if people object…people will have a veto on that information being shared in the wider system”

Read more

State sponsored cyber attack: Will we practice what we preach?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Europe, International, Internet freedom, Online privacy | 1 Comment

Image3Another week, another set of documents leaked by Edward Snowden. This time it has been reported that GCHQ is responsible for a cyber attack on Belgacom. Considering the Foreign Office has repeatedly condemned state sponsored cyber attack it appears that we aren’t practicing what we preach.

Speaking at the London Cyberspace Conference in 2011, the Foreign Secretary said: “State-sponsored attacks are not in the interests of any country long term, and those governments that perpetrate them need to bring them under control.”

It appears then that this message is only relevant to the countries that we seek, quite rightly, to condemn rather than to ourselves and our allies. The information leaked by Edward Snowden, and reported on by Der Spiegel, indicates that the goal of “Operation Socialist” was “to enable better exploitation of Belagcom” and to improve understanding of the provider’s infrastructure. It also appears that GCHQ used spying technology that had been developed by the NSA.

Read more