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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

How secure is your computer system?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 1 Comment

Image3How often do you think about the hygiene of your computer system, whether that be your personal computer and devices or those you use for work? The chances are that it is something that is overlooked. However with various stories relating to hacking, viruses and heartbleed appearing in the media in the last few weeks, the potential dangers to your devices and, as a result, your personal information have certainly hit home.

It is therefore timely that two pieces of guidance have been published this week that could help. The advise appears to be clear: only gather the information that is absolutely essential, regularly update security software and have multiple usernames and passwords that are stored securely.

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School CCTV footage can be accessed by smartphones and tablets

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV | 2 Comments

camerasCCTV in schools could be about to take an even creepier turn, with some systems allowing the footage to be remotely accessed from any number of smartphones, tablets and desktop computers by individuals outside of the school.

We have long warned about the continued growth of the use of CCTV cameras, whether that be in Care Homes or in schools. Our Class of 1984 report, highlighted that here are more than 100,000 CCTV cameras in secondary schools and academies across England, Wales and Scotland. Some schools reported a ratio of one camera for every five pupils, and more than two hundred schools reported using CCTV in bathrooms and changing rooms, whilst others reported more cameras inside school buildings as outside.

The Telegraph has reported that the Government has given the go ahead for schools to install state of the art surveillance equipment which will allow parents to be able to watch live feeds across dozens of cameras set up in classrooms, corridors and playgrounds. The move is a result of a crackdown on drug dealing and the consumption of drugs in schools. Two schools in Herefordshire, a school in Liverpool and one in Waltham Forest have taken up a trial of the technology.

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Almost 3000 NHS staff’s Equality and Diversity Information Accidently Published

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Data Protection | 3 Comments

3797160719_337b4742e7_bSouth Central Ambulance Service has found itself on the wrong side of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after it accidentally published the Equality and Diversity information of members of staff on its website. What’s worse is that the Trust was alerted to the data breach by the ICO, rather than by someone in the Trust itself.

We have previously warned about the serious data breaches that can occur in the NHS, with our report highlighting more than 806 separate incidents where medical records were compromised. This incident shows that patients aren’t the only ones at risk of a having their data compromised by the NHS.

The ICO found that the Trust had published 2825 current and former members of staff’s personal details on its website, with information including  the individual’s name, job and work location, nationality, marital status, age, gender, ethnic origin, disability, religious belief and sexual orientation.

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Eight out of ten internet users believe browsing history should be kept private

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 5 Comments

Image3Research, commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust to mark the one year anniversary of Edward Snowden revealing the activities of UK and US intelligence agencies, showed 85% believe it is “fairly important”, “very important” or “essential” to keep browsing records private. Only 12% believe it is not important, the survey conducted by Ipsos Mori showed.

The participants of the survey also supported a recommendation made by the Don’t Spy On US coalition; that senior judges rather than ministers to sign off on warrants for data collection of electronic communications, when asked where oversight of the intelligence agencies should lie.

This research clearly highlights that the British public has little faith that politicians are properly monitoring how the security services are using surveillance powers. The Deputy Prime Minister, the Shadow Home Secretary and the Home Affairs Committee have all recognised that our surveillance law needs reviewing and oversight needs to be much stronger. Those who claim everything is fine are looking increasingly ridiculous.

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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.