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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

UK falling behind on Transparency

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in GCHQ, Surveillance | Leave a comment

keyboardAt a time when the UK is already lagging behind the US in terms of an effective debate on surveillance transparency a phone call between Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama has served to further reinforce these differences.

In a post on the social media site the Facebook founder revealed that he had called the President to register his “frustration” over the US Government’s surveillance programme. He went on to argue that intelligence agencies “need to be more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst”.

This intervention comes after a letter from eight leading technology companies, including Facebook and Microsoft, was published in December. The letter, which was welcomed by Big Brother Watch, called for governments around the world to introduce surveillance reforms. In January President Obama admitted that the work to introduce such reforms “has just begun”. He went on to acknowledge that the practice of maintaining databases of information relating to the records of communications such as phone calls held the “potential for abuse”.

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Tony Benn: 1925 – 2014

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties | 1 Comment

“Of course we need good government. Of course we need it to have policies that deliver greater social justice and equality. But the more influential government becomes the more it is essential that it respects our liberties. Its obligation must be to serve the people, not rule over them. We have to insist on this principle. It is not a matter of left or right, Tory or Labour.”

Anthony Neil Wedgwood “Tony” Benn, 3 April 1925 – 14 March 2014.

Tony Benn spoke at the launch of Big Brother Watch and we are proud to count him as a friend. His contribution to public life and to the defence of liberty will echo far beyond these times. Our thoughts are with his family.

 

GCHQ: Enemy of the Internet?

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Communications Data Bill, Freedom of Expression, GCHQ, Online privacy | 5 Comments

filesA report, by Reporters without Borders, has accused GCHQ and the NSA of being no better than their Chinese and Russian counterparts in terms of online censorship and surveillance.

The report entitled Enemies of the Internet is released to coincide with World Day Against Cyber-Censorship and comes on the same day that Sir Tim Berners-Lee has called for a Digital Bill of Rights to safeguard an “open, neutral” internet. It identifies specific government agencies such as GCHQ that have used the pretext of national security to move beyond their core duties and into the strategy of mass online surveillance that is prevalent today.

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Home Secretary launches public inquiry into the use of undercover police

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 2 Comments

Theresa MayThe independent inquiry by Mark Ellison QC, which was established to review the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation, has revealed “wrong-headed and inappropriate” use of undercover policing. The conclusions of the review make it very clear that there was an “extraordinary level of secrecy” at play.

The Home Secretary, who has described the findings of the review as “deeply troubling”, has been a leading force behind the review into the case of Stephen Lawrence and is to be applauded for her efforts. She has now announced that a judge-led inquiry will take place into undercover policing, as she fears that the abuse of powers in this case is not an isolated incident.  The Home Office is also currently holding a public consultation into the use of covert surveillance powers.

The revelations about the potential for there to have been unfairness in some of the Metropolitan Police’s (MPS) proceedings, alongside efforts to discredit the family of Steven Lawrence, quite rightly brought cross-party condemnation. Taken alongside revelations about the scale of internet surveillance, the wider questions about the oversight of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies are too important to ignore.

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When patient privacy and google collide

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Google, Information Commissioner, Privacy | 6 Comments

Clearly when data is held by a third party, a dna-3different set of risks exist – from concerns about foreign Government access to the use of the data by the third party for other purposes. Patients appreciate their information will be held by the NHS but do they think it will end up on a server in California run by companies who base their business model on knowing more about people? That is perhaps what is most troubling about the revelation that PA Consulting uploaded the entire NHS England hospital patient database was uploaded it to Google.

The point was highlighted by Sarah Wollaston MP, a member of the Health Select Committee, who tweeted: “So HES [hospital episode statistics] data uploaded to ‘google’s immense army of servers’, who consented to that?”

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Briefing Note: Consumer Rights Bill – Data Amendment

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | Leave a comment

keyboardBig Brother Watch has issued a briefing note on the Consumer Rights Bill, with specific emphasis on a proposed amendment which will ensure consumers will be able to access data quickly, easily, and in a usable, digital format.

It is hoped that the Consumer Rights Bill will ensure that more emphasis is placed on the importance of transparency and data security. It is right that individuals should have more power to question organisations and be provided with information that is actually in a usable format.

It is remarkable that despite being in a digital age, if consumers want to request information from a utilities company, you are still required to send a £10 cheque in the post with the response then being provided in a paper format. Labour’s amendment will modernise the way organisations communicate with their customers, enhancing both transparency and consumer rights.

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Has GCHQ taken a photo from your webcam?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, GCHQ, Online privacy | 10 Comments

GCHQIf you use Yahoo! chat then the answer may well be yes.

Today’s remarkable revelation that GCHQ has been capturing images (a “surprising” number of which were of people who may not have been fully clothed)

As the Guardian reports:

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

Secretly intercepting and taking photographs from millions of people’s webcam chats is as creepy as it gets. We have CCTV on our streets and now we have GCHQ in our homes.

It is right that the security services can target people and tap their communications but they should not be doing it to millions of people. This is an indiscriminate and intimate intrusion on people’s privacy.

It is becoming increasingly obvious how badly the law has failed to keep pace with technology and how urgently we need a comprehensive review of surveillance law and oversight structures. As more people buy technology with built-in cameras, from Xbox Kinect to laptops and smart TVs, we need to be sure that the law does not allow for them to be routinely accessed when there is no suspicion of any wrongdoing.

Orwell’s 1984 was supposed to be a warning, not an instruction manual.

State Appointed Guardians for Every Child in Scotland

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 10 Comments

iStock_000017522162SmallLast week the Scottish Government passed a staggeringly disproportionate piece of legislation that may see thousands of innocent families lives intruded upon by public sector busybodies.

Despite opposition from the public, church leaders, legal experts, MSPs and civil liberties groups, the Children and Young People Act was passed in Scotland. This new piece of legislation now means from birth until the age of 18, every child in Scotland will have a specific state-appointed ‘guardian’ to safeguard their interests and oversee their safety. Initially, this person is likely to be a health visitor or midwife, with the role latterly being taken over by a school teacher who will have a “duty” and responsibility to act as the child’s guardian. Not only that, but to allow these ‘guardians’ will have legal authority to access information from the police, council, NHS, amongst others.

Resources should be focused on those families in genuine need and on those children in real danger. As soon as you create an army of guardians they are going to have to justify their positions and that will mean more paperwork, more intrusion and more families being treated as suspects when they have done nothing wrong.

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Care.data delay is not the end of the issue

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases, Information Commissioner, NHS | 7 Comments

Times_caredataIn a campaign victory for Big Brother Watch, medconfidential and others, the care.data scheme has been delayed for six months.

This is not the end of the issue. We have significant ongoing concerns regarding the care.data scheme, both in terms of how patients have been told about what is happening and the long term privacy implications of creating a new database and releasing data that could be used to re-identify patients.

We welcome the fact that NHS England has recognised its efforts to communicate the scheme have been inadequate, something we have repeatedly warned about, not least the use of a junk mail leaflet to households that did not mention any of the risks involved.

Simply, however, NHS England had one job – to ensure patients and GPs were properly aware of the scheme and could make an informed choice about participation. Despite more than a year to achieve this, they have totally failed to do so. NHS England has serious questions to ask about its strategy that has tried to railroad through a significant change in how our medical records are used.

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Care.data – rhetoric is easy but the reality is not so simple

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases, Information Commissioner, Medical Records, NHS | 2 Comments

3797160719_337b4742e7_bToday two articles have appeared on care.data, with are worthy of a few comments.

Firstly, George Freeman MP writes in the Telegraph:

“We must do everything to ensure a robust regime that will protect data from hacking and from any potential misuse. But at the same time, we must not block life-saving advances.”

As we have repeatedly pointed out, the Data Protection Regime is woefully inadequate and those who committ a criminal offence under Section 55 of the DPA cannot be sent to prison, merely fined. Mr Freeman does not suggest this should change, as we have repeatedly called for.

Equally, Mr Freeman writes: “we need to move health from being something done to you by government to something citizens take responsibility for themselves”

Interestingly, Mr Freeman also has his own legislation on this topic – the Patient Data Bill. The first two principles the bill states are:

(2) The Ownership Principle is that patients own their medical data.
(3) The Control Principle is that patients have the right to access their medical data and to control its use (including the right to share it for research or other purposes).

Yet care.data does neither of those things – quite the opposite. If you believe in people controlling their records, pulling them into a central database purely on the back of a junk mailing is hardly making patient ownership and control a reality.

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