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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

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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Home Secretary launches public inquiry into the use of undercover police

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 2 Comments

Theresa MayThe independent inquiry by Mark Ellison QC, which was established to review the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation, has revealed “wrong-headed and inappropriate” use of undercover policing. The conclusions of the review make it very clear that there was an “extraordinary level of secrecy” at play.

The Home Secretary, who has described the findings of the review as “deeply troubling”, has been a leading force behind the review into the case of Stephen Lawrence and is to be applauded for her efforts. She has now announced that a judge-led inquiry will take place into undercover policing, as she fears that the abuse of powers in this case is not an isolated incident.  The Home Office is also currently holding a public consultation into the use of covert surveillance powers.

The revelations about the potential for there to have been unfairness in some of the Metropolitan Police’s (MPS) proceedings, alongside efforts to discredit the family of Steven Lawrence, quite rightly brought cross-party condemnation. Taken alongside revelations about the scale of internet surveillance, the wider questions about the oversight of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies are too important to ignore.

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When patient privacy and google collide

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Google, Information Commissioner, Privacy | 6 Comments

Clearly when data is held by a third party, a dna-3different set of risks exist – from concerns about foreign Government access to the use of the data by the third party for other purposes. Patients appreciate their information will be held by the NHS but do they think it will end up on a server in California run by companies who base their business model on knowing more about people? That is perhaps what is most troubling about the revelation that PA Consulting uploaded the entire NHS England hospital patient database was uploaded it to Google.

The point was highlighted by Sarah Wollaston MP, a member of the Health Select Committee, who tweeted: “So HES [hospital episode statistics] data uploaded to ‘google’s immense army of servers’, who consented to that?”

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Briefing Note: Consumer Rights Bill – Data Amendment

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

keyboardBig Brother Watch has issued a briefing note on the Consumer Rights Bill, with specific emphasis on a proposed amendment which will ensure consumers will be able to access data quickly, easily, and in a usable, digital format.

It is hoped that the Consumer Rights Bill will ensure that more emphasis is placed on the importance of transparency and data security. It is right that individuals should have more power to question organisations and be provided with information that is actually in a usable format.

It is remarkable that despite being in a digital age, if consumers want to request information from a utilities company, you are still required to send a £10 cheque in the post with the response then being provided in a paper format. Labour’s amendment will modernise the way organisations communicate with their customers, enhancing both transparency and consumer rights.

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Has GCHQ taken a photo from your webcam?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, GCHQ, Online privacy | 10 Comments

GCHQIf you use Yahoo! chat then the answer may well be yes.

Today’s remarkable revelation that GCHQ has been capturing images (a “surprising” number of which were of people who may not have been fully clothed)

As the Guardian reports:

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

Secretly intercepting and taking photographs from millions of people’s webcam chats is as creepy as it gets. We have CCTV on our streets and now we have GCHQ in our homes.

It is right that the security services can target people and tap their communications but they should not be doing it to millions of people. This is an indiscriminate and intimate intrusion on people’s privacy.

It is becoming increasingly obvious how badly the law has failed to keep pace with technology and how urgently we need a comprehensive review of surveillance law and oversight structures. As more people buy technology with built-in cameras, from Xbox Kinect to laptops and smart TVs, we need to be sure that the law does not allow for them to be routinely accessed when there is no suspicion of any wrongdoing.

Orwell’s 1984 was supposed to be a warning, not an instruction manual.