The Treasury Select Committee has raised serious concerns about plans to give HMRC the power to dip into bank accounts to recover unpaid tax, stating that the proposals are “very concerning” because of the risk of fraud and error.
The situation is quite simple. Today the taxman has to go to court to size your money, just like everyone else who believes that debts are owed to them. Yet, under these new plans, HMRC will be able to do this with a click of a mouse. There are few people who would object to HRMC having legal powers to pursue people who owe them money but they shouldn’t be able to do it without any independent oversight.
As Douglas Carswell notes, we will undoubtedly be told these powers will only be used in extreme cases: “When dealing with fraudsters and organised criminals”, but we have heard this too many times before. Just look at the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act which was introduced in 2000 with the intension of surveillance powers being used to detect serious criminals and terrorism offences, yet local authorities are now using these powers to catch fly tippers and dog foulers.
The Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) has branded the oversight of the security and intelligence agencies as “ineffective”, providing a wake-up call to those blindly parroting the line that the UK has the best oversight system in the world.
The report notes that the “current oversight is not fit for purpose” and proposes multiple recommendations on how to fix the current system. HASC is very clear that there is a growing consensus that the law is out of date, the oversight is weak and the reporting of what happens is patchy at best.
When a senior committee of Parliament says that the current oversight of our intelligence agencies is not fit for purpose, ineffective and undermines the credibility of Parliament, the Government cannot and must not continue to bury its head in the sand.
Big Brother Watch’s director, Nick Pickles, alongside David Davis MP, was called to give evidence to HASC as part of their inquiry into counter-terrorism.
The recommendations made by HASC mirror some of those made by Big Brother Watch in our submission to the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC). You can read our full submission here.
Today the Commons votes on Lords amendments to the Immigration bill which would allow the Home Secretary to revoke the British passport of a foreign-born person if they are satisfied that deprivation of citizenship is ‘conducive to the public good because the person, while having that citizenship status, has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom.’
At present these powers cannot be used if it would leave the person stateless. This was reaffirmed in the Supreme Court’s ruling in Al-Jedda last year, which found against the Home Secretary and led to the current proposal. As the court noted, the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights addresses the “evil of statelesness” in Article 15(2), saying “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” The court highlights the link between this and the Reich Citizenship Law dated 15 September 1935 which provided that all Jewish people should be stripped of their citizenship of the German Reich.
Big Brother Watch is very pleased to announce that Mr Timothy Edgar, President Obama’s first director of privacy and civil liberties for the White House National Security Staff, will be joining a panel of guests to discuss the topic of ‘After Snowden – surveillance in a transparent world‘.
The event will consider the impact of the Snowden revelations as well as the special problems of surveillance and spying for democratic societies, with a particular focus on the features of a legal framework that could be adopted in future to ensure public confidence.
When? Wednesday 14th May, 9am to finish promptly at 11am
Where? Committee Room 20, Palace of Westminster
The panel will include:
- Timothy Edgar, President Obama’s first director of privacy and civil liberties for the White House National Security Staff
- Emma Carr, (Chair) Acting Director, Big Brother Watch
- Rt. Hon. David Davis MP, Member of Parliament for Haltemprice and Howden
- Julian Huppert MP, Member of Parliament for Cambridge
- Chi Onwurah MP, Member of Parliament for Newcastle Central
- Gus Hosein, Executive Director, Privacy International
Space is strictly limited, so please RSVP here
An investigation by the Press Association has revealed 300 serious data breaches in the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), including information being passed on or sold to journalists. These revelations are likely to have a direct impact on the level of trust between the public and police, so it is essential that MPS now launches an urgent review into the security measures used for confidential and sensitive information.
With increasing amounts of information being collected by police forces, these data breaches make it clear that there is simply not enough has been done to ensure it is protected. The information held on police computers is of huge significance and for details to be disclosed, maliciously accessed or lost is completely unacceptable.
The 300 breaches, which cover a five year period, and range from minor rule-breaks on social media to serious allegations of misconduct leading to arrests. The instances include:
In a welcome step towards giving users increased controls over their personal information, Google has announced that it has stopped scanning millions of Gmail accounts of students, teachers and administrators who use the Google Apps for Education (GAE) service. Legacy users of GAE will also cease to have their emails scanned, as will current and legacy users of Google Apps for Government and Apps for Business services.
It is certainly telling that a company like Google, which is so reliant on data driven advertising, is taking steps to act on people’s concerns about their privacy.
Our 2013 global attitudes to privacy online survey, which included interviews of more than 10,000 people across nine countries, showed that two-fifths (41%) of consumers surveyed globally say that consumers are being harmed by big companies gathering large amounts of personal data for internal use. Two out of three (65%) of consumers surveyed also believe that national regulators should do more to force Google to comply with existing regulations concerning online privacy and the protection of personal data.
Big Brother Watch has today announced that it will start a recruitment process for a new Director as Nick Pickles departs the organisation.
Nick joined Big Brother Watch in September 2011 and has overseen a significant increase in the group’s profile and influence, giving oral evidence to both the UK and European Parliaments and representing Big Brother Watch at events in the US, EU and UK. Nick will join Twitter as UK Public Policy Manager.
Earlier this year Big Brother Watch’s Advisory Council was established, chaired by founder Matthew Elliott.
Matthew Elliott, founder of Big Brother Watch, said: “Big Brother Watch’s profile and reputation is formidable, commanding both media and political attention. Nick’s work has been instrumental in achieving this, but also in ensuring the group is set up for the long-term.
A survey conducted by the NASUWT teaching union, has highlighted that teachers are being subjected to “permanent surveillance” through the use of CCTV cameras in the classroom.
What is clear is that the surveillance experiment of the past twenty years has failed to reduce crime or improve public safety. Yet, schoolchildren and teachers across the country are now expected to accept surveillance for the formative years of their education and in the workplace.
Our report, The Class of 1984, shred light for the first time on the extent of surveillance within schools, highlighting that there are more than 100,000 CCTV cameras in secondary schools and academies across England, Wales and Scotland. Our report also showed that there is a ratio of one CCTV camera for every five pupils, more than two hundred schools are using CCTV in bathrooms and changing rooms and there are more cameras inside school buildings than outside.
Today we have published our latest report, Traffic Spies, highlighting how hundreds of councils have turned to static CCTV cameras and spy cars to raise £312m in revenue.
Many councils are continuing to use CCTV to hand out fines, despite the government publishing a Surveillance Camera Code of Practice highlighting the need to use CCTV for traffic offences “sparingly”, this research highlights that the number of CCTV cars in operation in the UK has increased by 87% since 2009.
The question must therefore be asked, if CCTV cameras are about public safety, why are local authorities able to use them to raise revenue? Furthermore, why are local authorities publishing no meaningful information about their use of CCTV for parking enforcement? Read more
At the end of 2013, we wrote about the Government’s plans to ban CCTV parking cameras, meaning that only traffic wardens and police would be able to film vehicles breaking the law.
The Department for Transport and the Department for Communities and Local Government launched a consultation asking whether CCTV parking cameras should be banned, in reaction to many councils who, rather than focusing on specific parking infringements, have taken the brazen approach of using CCTV cars to indiscriminately spy on drivers.
This of course has not gone down well with the Local Government Association (LGA), who have announced that they oppose the Governments plans, saying that the ban will do little to reduce the number of tickets given to drivers breaking the law but would put schoolchildren at risk and worsen road safety. What is clear is that the LGA has stood back and said nothing whilst councils have stung motorists for more than £300 million in fines, highlighting that this is about money rather than safety.