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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

Big Brother Watch at the 2013 party conferences

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Events | 1 Comment

ben-cctv-bigAs we did last year, Big Brother Watch is attending and speaking at all three party conferences – below are details of our events that we’re speaking at and hosting.


Liberal Democrat

Monday 16th September


What next for Liberty and Surveillance? -PRISM, TEMPORA and the Snoopers’ Charter

Julian Huppert MP

Alan Travis, Guardian Home Affairs editor

Jim Killock Open Rights Group

Emma Car, Big Brother Watch




Monday 23rd September; 17.30 – 19.00

(In the secure zone)

Demos event: Privacy, liberty and security: how will Labour tackle terror? 

Jamie Bartlett, Demos (Chair)

Nick Pickles, Big Brother Watch

David Blunkett MP

Helen Goodman MP

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NHS 111 workers may get access to private medical records

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Data Protection, NHS, Privacy | 6 Comments

3797160719_337b4742e7_bThe government has announced proposals that would provide thousands of unqualified NHS 111 workers access to our private medical records, posing a massive risk to patient privacy.

Patients have a right to know about any changes to how their medical records can be accessed and deserve clear and transparent information about how they will be effected. The Department for Health has yet to announce how they will make patients aware of the proposed changes and we are yet to see whether they will write to every patient in the country as the last government did about the Summary Care Record.

When asked about concerns about unauthorised access to medical records and the impact on patient’s privacy and confidentiality, the Department for Health has said that call center workers will have to seek permission from individual patient’s before they access the records. However, our research has highlighted that data protection regulations, which in theory should protect patients from having their information accessed unnecessarily, does not stop serious data protection breaches occurring, with instances ranging from sharing patient’s information on Facebook to looking at each other’s medical records.

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Part 2 of the Lobbying Bill should be withdrawn

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Freedom of Expression, Judicial review | Leave a comment

5946829399_e633991652_oPart 2 of the Lobbying Bill is a significant change and proposes regulating a broad swathe of those most active in public debate. It poses a major threat to freedom of speech and public debate, and must be considered in the most delicate manner. It has already achieved unprecedented cross-party, non-partisan agreement in opposition to its current drafting.

Part 2 of the Bill should be withdrawn and a process undertaken to produce clear, viable legislation that does not pose a major risk to freedom of speech and legitimate public debate. While safeguards for charities are welcome, wide range of organisations that make important contributions to public debate are not charities.

If it the Government has been unable to produce coherent legislation by the second reading, let alone beyond it, then it cannot be prudent for Parliament to attempt to re-draft an entire section of legislation during its passage through Parliament.

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Yahoo! joins transparency club as more UK requests refused

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Communications Data Bill, Online privacy, Police | 1 Comment

Another transparency report, another reminder all is not well.

Yahoo! has just added its own statistics to those of Facebook, Microsoft, Google and others. We blogged last week on Facebook’s new data and the questions that now urgently need answering about how powers to access data are being used and the oversight of surveillance powers.

Yahoo! rejected 456 requests – that’s 27% of all the requests they received. They also disclosed content – which highlights that the authorities are able to access more than just the “who, what and where” of communications. Another reminder that far from being a wild west, UK authorities are able to access content and other data from online communications companies.

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Neil Wallis: Why no 6am raids for city execs?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Data Protection, Freedom of Expression, Information Commissioner, Police | 10 Comments

This is a guest post from Neil Wallis, a former editor of the News of the World. He is a Fleet Street veteran for 35 years, former editor of The People, former deputy editor of both The Sun and the News of the World, and gave evidence twice at the Leveson Inquiry. He was arrested at 6am on 14 July 2011 as part of the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Weeting but cleared in February 2013.

On 25th May, 2012, a Metropolitan Police sergeant stared me coldly in the eye and told me he planned to charge me with serious corporate crime.

It was 10 months since I had been arrested in a 5.30am dawn raid at my West London crime den by officers from the Met’s  Operation Weeting squad investigating allegations of conspiracy to hack telephones by the News of the World.

That day – only my second interview since I’d been marched off to a prison cell back on 14th July 2011 – he threatened these alleged new offenses by explaining that, as a former Deputy Editor of the newspaper I was a very senior company executive with corporate responsibilities.

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This Lobbying Bill must not pass.

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Freedom of Expression, Legal Action | 5 Comments

5946829399_e633991652_oWe agree with 38 Degrees. With Conservative Home. With the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. With Owen Jones. With the Quakers in Britain. With Labour List. Polly Toynbee, Helen Mountfield QC, British Medical Association, Shelter, the Royal British Legion, the British Heart Foundation and Guide Dogs. We could go on.

We expect this does not happen very often. What has led to this rare outbreak of cross-party unity, pan-political co-operation, non-ideological, rational agreement?

Ladies and Gentlemen, we give you the “Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill” Specifically, Part 2 of the Bill, which covers non-political party campaigning.

Some have reported on the concern that the bill could ‘gag’ charities. Others have highlighted how the administration burden could be huge. What is clear is that as the Bill currently stands, it is not fit for purpose.

However, there are some simple, fundamental points that we feel worthy of repeating.

Under existing law [Section 85(2) Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 – PPERA) expenditure is controlled with regard to “election material made available to the public or a selection of the public”. Under the Bill, this will widen to cover largely any activity, from advertising to producing a manifesto, leaflets, market research, transport and public events.

As Polly Toynbee writes, there is a clear risk that “Any organisation spending £5,000 a year and expressing an opinion on anything remotely political must register with the Electoral Commission.”

Mark Wallace on ConservativeHome makes the same point: “The Bill is so loose in its language and so vague in its drafting that anyone who spends over £5,000 on anything that can be in any way said to potentially affect an election will be caught up in the rules it lays out.”

The Bill poses a clear threat to freedom of speech.

The Bill introduces a test of expenditure in connection with “affecting the prospects of a party or candidate” that is dangerously broad.   So, for example, if Big Brother Watch was to highlight an MPs fervent support for ID Cards, or praise a candidate’s work to roll back council snooping, then we would be caught by the legislation. Indeed, in a legal opinion for the NCVO Helen Mountfield QC warns that producing a manifesto – as we did at the last election – or calling on specific parties to adopt specific policies would be caught.

The Electoral Commission itself has deep reservations, warning: “In our view, it is not at all clear how that test will apply in practice to the activities of the many third parties that have other purposes beyond political campaigning. For instance, it seems arguable that the new test could apply to many of the activities of charities, voluntary organisations, blogs, thinktanks and other organisations that engage in debate on public policy.”

The Cabinet Office assures the public that the Bill is not intended to be so broad. We welcome these reassurances but the only way to properly ensure this Bill does not have a dangerous chilling effect on campaigning and public debate in Britain is to significantly narrow the legislation. The absence of any meaningful external input and parliamentary scrutiny (the Bill was published two days before Commons rose for the summer recess and is back in the commons today on the second day of the new session) only further reinforces the failings at the heart of this legislation.


Democratic value? The sale of the edited electoral register

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Councils, Data Protection, Databases, Research and reports | 9 Comments


Today we have published our latest report, Democratic Value, looking at the scale of the commercial use of the edited electoral roll.

Councils have no say in selling the register – and it probably costs more to administer than they bring in through charges – but threats of legal action mean they can do little to assist residents and there is not widespread awareness of understanding of why there are two versions of the electoral roll.

This confusion exacerbates the fundamental privacy issue with councils being mandated to law to make available for purchase the names and addresses of those who do not opt-out. That is a law for Parliament to change, and it should do so at the soonest opportunity.

Between 2007 and 2012, more than 2,700 different organisations and individuals purchased the edited register, with some local authorities seeing far higher levels of use.

Four councils sold the edited register to more than 50 buyers (Westminster, Elmbridge, Kensington and Chelsea, Broadland) while 19 councils sold the edited register to between 25 and 49 buyers.

The sale of personal information by public authorities, particularly for marketing purposes, is something that should never be routine. It undermines trust and confidence in the wider public sector’s ability to protect people’s privacy and potentially deters people from engaging in a critical part of our democracy.

This doesn’t mean the electoral roll shouldn’t be accessible to the public, but the current situation is not one designed to bolster our democracy.

We wholly agree with the Electoral Commission, the Local Government Association and The Association of Electoral Administrators that the edited register should be abolished. We believe that the existence of the edited register impacts on election participation as people are concerned about their personal information being shared for marketing purposes and undermining trust in the electoral registration system.


We have produced a draft letter you can use to permanently opt-out of the edited register, which you can find in the Take Action section of the website here.

British police are third highest users of Facebook data globally

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Communications Data Bill, Databases, Google, International, Internet freedom, Online privacy, Police, PRISM, Social Networking, Surveillance, United States | 5 Comments

facebook_logo-300x99Today Facebook has published it’s first transparency report, detailing law enforcement and national security requests from countries around the world. Britain requested data on 1,975 occasions, covering 2,337 users. In 32% of cases, Facebook declined to provide any data.

Thanks to the transparency reports of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter we continue to learn more about the scale of law enforcement being able to access information held by internet companies. Contrary to the claims by various politicians that the internet is a wild west, we know that Britain receives more data than any other country about Skype users, and Facebook’s data shows that the UK is the third highest user of Facebook data in the world, after the US and India.

In his introduction to the data, Colin Stretch, Facebook General Counsel says that “We strongly encourage all governments to provide greater transparency about their efforts aimed at keeping the public safe, and we will continue to be aggressive advocates for greater disclosure.”

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Legal justification for Miranda detention deeply flawed

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Judicial review, Legal Action, Police, Terrorism Legislation | 6 Comments

police-2Writing in today’s Guardian, Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor who helped introduce the Terrorism Act 2000, has laid bare the increasingly clear case that the police acted unlawfully in detaining David Miranda under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

“The Terrorism Act defines a terrorist as someone “involved in committing preparing or instigating acts of terrorism”. Miranda is plainly not committing or preparing acts of terrorism.”

At stake is not only a procedural check but the fundamental principle of the rule of law – namely, that the state will not use powers granted to it for reasons the democratically elected legislature has not permitted.

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The Terrorism Act 2000, David Miranda and the rule of law.

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Legal Action, Terrorism Legislation | 4 Comments

5946829399_e633991652_oFurther details continue to emerge about the case of David Miranda. There are those who think that it is acceptable to use the Terrorism Act 2000 to pursue someone carrying information that may or may not be sensitive to the UK.

However, even if David Miranda was carrying documents to Glenn Greenwald, on a ticket paid for by the Guardian, it doesn’t change the fundamental facts.

Miranda was detained under the Terrorism Act 2000 and section 40(1)(b) of that legislation defines a “terrorist” as:

“a person who…is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.”

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