In the debate around state surveillance, we all too often we hear officials say that we have nothing to fear as only the communications data (or metadata) is examined, not the content of a communication.
Big Brother Watch has therefore published a briefing on why communications data matter. In the briefing note you will find answers to questions like: what are communications data?; what can communications data reveal?; and how are communications data analysed?. We also include details of how communications data have evolved and whether the legal framework currently in place provides sufficient safeguards.
We hope you find the information informative and interesting. Do get in touch to let us know if there are any other topics that you would like us to publish information on.
Yesterday the European Court of Justice (ECJ) announced that it backed “the right to be forgotten” in a landmark ruling which states that Google must delete “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” data from its results if a user requests it. There is little doubt that the principle that you have a right to be forgotten is a laudable one, but it was never intended to be a way for people to rewrite history. It should also be noted, that this ruling is not “the right to be forgotten” in its truest sense.
In an advisory judgement resulting from a Spanish case, the ECJ found that under European law, individuals have a right to control over their private data, especially if they are not public figures. The ruling states: people “may address such a request directly to the operator of the search engine … which must then duly examine its merits”. The search enginge must then consider “the nature of the information in question and its sensitivity for the data subject’s private life and on the interest of the public in having that information, an interest which may vary”. Full details of the ruling are available here (pdf).
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Intelligence and Security Committee report into the murder of Lee Rigby will provide a smokescreen for the spy agencies’ failure to properly keep tabs on his killers .
It has been suggested in today’s Sunday Times that the ISC report will point the finger at the telecoms providers, yet it might be more beneficial for the them to force the spy agencies to hold up their hands and admit to the countless missed opportunities to keep tabs on suspected terrorists.
Using the tragedy of Lee Rigby’s murder as a springboard to bring back the Draft Communications Data Bill, aka the Snoopers Charter, which would include recording the details of every British citizen’s emails, web browsing and social media messages, is totally unacceptable. It is both a failure to learn the lessons of recent incidents and a continuing failure to recognise that surveillance of an entire population is both an unacceptable intrusion on our freedoms and a chilling effect on free expression for anyone communicating in, or with, the UK. It also risks diverting resources away from the security services at a time when they are more in need of targeted surveillance than ever before.
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.