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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

Traffic Spies – a £300m surveillance industry

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, CCTV cars, Research and reports, RIPA, Surveillance | 13 Comments

Image20Today 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

LGA opposition to CCTV parking fine ban is about money, not public safety

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV, Civil Liberties, Community Safety Accreditation Scheme, Councils, Surveillance | 5 Comments

camerasAt 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.

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The IOCC report finds institutional overuse of powers and woefully inadequate record keeping

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 5 Comments

Image3The Interception of Communications Commissioner has published his annual report highlighting the way that surveillance powers, provided under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, are used.

This report is a marked improvement on the quality and quantity of information that has been presented in the past, highlighting that it is certainly possible to be more transparent about how surveillance powers are used without jeapordising security. Yet there is much more than can and should be done to reassure the public.

For instance, whilst we are told that the total number of approved authorsations and notices for communications data (excluding urgent oral applications) in 2013 was 514,608, the fact remains that this report does not include the number of British citizens affected by these powers, or any meaningful detail on what sort of offences are being investigated. The Commissioner acknowledges this fact within the report, stating that In my view the unreliability and inadequacy of the statistical requirements is a significant problem which requires attention”.

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Support grows for surveillance transparency

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, GCHQ, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, Police, Research and reports, Surveillance, Technology | 10 Comments

commons dayLast November we launched our ‘Time for Transparency’ campaign, revealing new polling that showed 66% of people want more information about how surveillance powers are used, with 70% wanting companies like BT and EE to publish their own reports about the requests they receive, as companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft now regularly release.

Today we are publishing a paper detailing further proposals to improve transparency, following wide ranging discussions with companies, regulators and political figures, as well as discussions with people in the United States. The paper outlines how the Interception of Communications Commissioner should publish a breakdown of how individual agencies use powers to access communications information – currently just one total figure is published – as well as calling for clarification about whether British companies are handing over data ‘in bulk’ on thousands or millions of customers.

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Patients still in the dark about medical data uses

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Medical Records, NHS, Privacy | 2 Comments

dna-3Today’s publication of  the Health and Social Care Information Centre’s (HSCIC) register of data releases is striking for what it does not include. It is only the tip of the iceberg.

Minister Dr Dan Poulter told Parliament on 25 March that records of the data released by HSCIC would be made public and would cover “all the data releases” made. He said: “Following concerns expressed by the Health Select Committee in its meeting of February 25, Sir Nick Partridge, a newly-appointed Non-Executive Director on the HSCIC Board, has agreed to conduct an audit of all the data releases made by the predecessor organisation, the NHS Information Centre, and report on this to the HSCIC Board by the end of April. Furthermore, a report detailing all data released by the HSCIC from April 2013, (including the legal basis under which data was released and the purpose to which the data are being put), will be published by HSCIC on April 2. This report will be updated quarterly.”

This does not appear to be the case. HSCIC have either deliberately sought to limit the scale of the disclosure by concentrating on one data set – Hospital Episode Statistics – or they have such a poor grasp on what information has been released that they do not want to admit their ignorance. Either way, it is not a full publication and HSCIC must immediately explain why. Read more

Poll shows more than half of internet users are afraid of expressing their opinions online

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 3 Comments

Image3A new poll has highlighted that a worryingly high number of internet users have a lack of confidence in the ability to speak freely online without threat of censorship or surveillance

We have been concerned about lack of confidence that internet users have in their privacy and freedom of expression for some time, with our own 2013 Global Attitudes to Privacy Online Survey highlighting that 79% globally said they were concerned about their privacy online.

A survey conducted by BBC World Service, as part of the BBC’s Freedom Live initiative, polled internet users in 17 countries and found that 52% of participants disagree with the statement that “the internet is a safe place to express my opinions”. The survey also highlighted that confidence that the media in their country has the freedom to report accurately has fallen by 19% since 2007.

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Is BT handing over data on Brits in bulk?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, GCHQ, Home, Mobile Phones, Privacy, Surveillance, United States | 8 Comments

phone_exchangeLast year, the Guardian published an order under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act made to Verizon, which made clear that the NSA was collecting details of phone calls made by American citizens not on a targeted basis, but in bulk.

We have a simple question – is the same happening here?

Appearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday, our Director raised this issue and revealed that BT had refused to deny that it hands over data in bulk:

“Late last night I received a letter from British Telecom refusing to deny that they are handing over information in bulk on thousands or millions of British citizens and that mirrors a refusal to deny the same situation in a parliamentary answer received by Mr Davis.”

“My concerns is that there is the activity going on under the Telecommunications Act that is unsupervised and that is why BT cannot publicly refuse that they are handing over information in bulk.”

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UK falling behind on Transparency

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in GCHQ, Surveillance | Leave a comment

keyboardAt a time when the UK is already lagging behind the US in terms of an effective debate on surveillance transparency a phone call between Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama has served to further reinforce these differences.

In a post on the social media site the Facebook founder revealed that he had called the President to register his “frustration” over the US Government’s surveillance programme. He went on to argue that intelligence agencies “need to be more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst”.

This intervention comes after a letter from eight leading technology companies, including Facebook and Microsoft, was published in December. The letter, which was welcomed by Big Brother Watch, called for governments around the world to introduce surveillance reforms. In January President Obama admitted that the work to introduce such reforms “has just begun”. He went on to acknowledge that the practice of maintaining databases of information relating to the records of communications such as phone calls held the “potential for abuse”.

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Tony Benn: 1925 – 2014

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties | 1 Comment

“Of course we need good government. Of course we need it to have policies that deliver greater social justice and equality. But the more influential government becomes the more it is essential that it respects our liberties. Its obligation must be to serve the people, not rule over them. We have to insist on this principle. It is not a matter of left or right, Tory or Labour.”

Anthony Neil Wedgwood “Tony” Benn, 3 April 1925 – 14 March 2014.

Tony Benn spoke at the launch of Big Brother Watch and we are proud to count him as a friend. His contribution to public life and to the defence of liberty will echo far beyond these times. Our thoughts are with his family.


GCHQ: Enemy of the Internet?

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in Communications Data Bill, Freedom of Expression, GCHQ, Online privacy | 5 Comments

filesA report, by Reporters without Borders, has accused GCHQ and the NSA of being no better than their Chinese and Russian counterparts in terms of online censorship and surveillance.

The report entitled Enemies of the Internet is released to coincide with World Day Against Cyber-Censorship and comes on the same day that Sir Tim Berners-Lee has called for a Digital Bill of Rights to safeguard an “open, neutral” internet. It identifies specific government agencies such as GCHQ that have used the pretext of national security to move beyond their core duties and into the strategy of mass online surveillance that is prevalent today.

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