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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

Do you know what information your smart device collects?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 2 Comments

phoneAre you aware that smart devices can collect information about your personal activities? If not, you are one of the 53% of British internet users that were unaware that smart devices such as smart TVs, fitness devices and in car-navigation systems can collect data.

Big Brother Watch has highlighted the potential dangers posed by smart technology. In evidence submitted to Parliament we argued that the introduction of smart meters could pose a threat to privacy by allowing an intimate picture of individuals’ daily lives to be built up.

The poll, published by TRUSTe ahead of its Internet of Things Privacy Summit, is especially significant given recent developments in EU regulations. Last week it was announced that all car owners would be required to fit their vehicles with so called “black boxes” to track their speeds and driving habits or face increased insurance premiums.

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Secrets and Lies: Should we know how far surveillance goes?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 1 Comment

Next Tuesday evening the New Statesman will be holding an exciting event on the topic of ‘Secrets and Lies: Should we know how far surveillance goes?’

Big Brother Watch’s Acting Director will be taking part in the debate, alongside a host of fantastic speakers. You can learn more about the event here.

Date: Tuesday 3rd June 2014

Time: 1845-2000

Venue: Edmond J Safra Lecture Threatre, King’s College, Stand, London, WC2R 2LS

Speakers include:

  • Jimmy Wales – Founder of Wikipedia
  • Emma Carr – Acting Director, Big Brother Watch
  • Luke Harding – Author of The Snowden Files
  • Sir David Omand – Ex Director of GCHQ
  • Eric King – Deputy Director, Privacy International

Price: £15 per ticket

For more information, and to buy tickets, click here.

Join us on Saturday 7th June for the biggest privacy event of the year

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

ORG_poster_26 May_2 (2)It will be one year since Edward Snowden revealed the NSA and GCHQ’s mass surveillance. To mark the anniversary, the Don’t Spy On Us coalition of which Big Brother Watch is a member is bringing together a host of incredible speakers in London’s Shoreditch Town Hall for a day-long event.

With Cory Doctorow, Alan Rusbridger, Stephen Fry, Jimmy Wales, Bruce Schneier and many more to be confirmed, this really is an event not to be missed.

Get your early bird ticket now for just £3:

By joining us, you’ll also be able to:

  • Work with influential parliamentarians to crowd-source legislation that will protect our civil liberties
  • Create an advertising campaign at a session led by one of Britain’s foremost ad executives, the CEO of M&C Saatchi
  • Secure your privacy online at our cryptoparty led by tech experts

Other speakers include: Richard Aldrich, Lord Richard Allan, Caspar Bowden, Ian Brown, Duncan Campbell
Emma Carr, Tim Duffy, Maureen Freely, Jo Glanville, Kate Goold, Gabrielle Guillemin, Mike Harris,  Gus Hosein, Baroness Helena Kennedy, Jim Killock, Ewan McAskill, Claude Moraes MEP, Carly Nyst, Rachel Robinson,  Bruce Schneier, Richard Tynan.

As you can imagine, we’re expecting these tickets to go really fast. If you don’t get a £3 early bird ticket, make sure you pick up a standard £5 ticket as soon as possible.

Buy your ticket right now before they sell out!


The early bird tickets have now sold out. You can get tickets for £5 here:


Hidden Cameras in Care Homes – Have Your Say

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV | 22 Comments

camerasOn Monday our acting director, Emma Carr, took part in a workshop organised by the Care Quality Commission on the topic of covert surveillance in care homes. The session was organised by Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care at the CQC, and she has shared her thoughts on the session which you can read here.

The workshop was part of a much wider consultation process that is currently taking place. If you would like to share your views, you can find more inforamtion on how to do so here.

There have undoubtedly been many shocking incidents in recent times of vile and inhuman abuse being inflicted on some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The abuse was able to take place due to underhand and deceitful tactics by the perpetrators, which is exactly why we at Big Brother Watch do not believe that installing CCTV on wards and in care homes is the answer. We also believe that to use covert surveillance where there is no reasonable cause for suspicion would be both an attack on residents’ privacy and dignity. It is, of course, right to investigate specific complaints, but this should not entail routine, undisclosed surveillance of the elderly and vulnerable.

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ICO launches consultation to update the CCTV Code of Practice

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV | 6 Comments

banksy-1Yesterday the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced that it has launched a consultation to  update the CCTV code of practice. The world that we now live in has changed immensely since the code was first published in 2000 and so it is absolutely right that we have a new code that will include guidance on everything from automatic recognition of car number plates to body worn cameras to flying drones.

When updated guidance was published last summer, alongside the new position of Surveillance Camera Commissioner (SCC), we saw this as a step in the right direction towards bringing proper oversight to the millions of cameras that capture our movements every day. However, with only a small fraction of cameras covered (around 5%) and without any penalties for breaking the code, we hope that this new consultation will be the beginning of the process which ensures that further steps are taken to protect people’s privacy from unjustified or excessive surveillance.

We also remain concerned that, given that the responsibility for legally enforcing the Data Protection Act with regard to CCTV (apart from private cameras, which remain exempt) will remain with the ICO rather than the SCC, public confidence will not be helped if the process of making a complaint and action being taken is not straightforward. Equally, the situation of private cameras not being subject to regulation, with the only power available to the police to prosecute for harassment, is unsustainable as the number of people using them increases.

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Briefing Note: Why communications data matter

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home, Research and reports | 5 Comments

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.

The ECJ ruling does not provide “the right to be forgotten”

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 4 Comments

4249731778_c071fcb365_oYesterday 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).

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Will the ISC report be a smokescreen for the spy agencies’ failures?

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

Image3It 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.

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HMRC should go to court if they want access to our bank accounts

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in HMRC, Home | 3 Comments

shutterstock_24844960The 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.

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HASC brands oversight of the spy agencies as “ineffective”

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

commons dayThe 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.

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