• Media Enquiries

    07505 448925(24hr)

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

Get your tickets to The Freedom Festival

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

FreedomFestivallogoWe are very pleased to announce details of The Freedom Festival, an amazing weekend for anyone who cares about freedom and liberty. From Friday 14 to Sunday 16 March, attendees will play an active part in discussions and debates about the big political, economic and moral issues.

Over the weekend, you’ll rub shoulders with some of the most inspirational pro-freedom speakers from the UK and overseas – Dan Hannan, Robin Harris, Ruth Lea, Mark Littlewood, Tom Palmer, Toby Young and many, many more. There will be politicians, writers, academics, journalists, economists and philosophers. Big Brother Watch’s deputy director, Emma Carr, will also be running an interactive session on the future of civil liberties.

Read more

The new NHS database : safe or not?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Information Commissioner, Medical Records, NHS, Privacy | 3 Comments

dna-2We have warned for many months that the new NHS database is deeply flawed. Not only does it centralise data into what cyber-security experts call a ‘honeypot’ it also puts at risk patient privacy, both from abuse and also later re-identification.

We’ve highlighted how patients still don’t know what is going on, and remain convinced that a national leaflet drop is simply inadequate to ensure people know about a fundamental change to how their medical records are used.

However, it seems the NHS is equally confused about the risks. Compare and contrast:

February 2, 2013: Tim Kelsey, national director for patients and information at the NHS Commissioning Board, said that data sharing was vital for improving the NHS: “This does not put patient confidentiality at any risk. Data quality in the NHS needs to improve: it is no longer acceptable that at a given moment no one can be sure exactly how many patients are currently receiving chemotherapy, for example.”

And today: Mark Davies, the centre’s public assurance director, told the Guardian there was a “small risk” certain patients could be “re-identified” because insurers, pharmaceutical groups and other health sector companies had their own medical data that could be matched against the “pseudonymised” records. “You may be able to identify people if you had a lot of data. It depends on how people will use the data once they have it. But I think it is a small, theoretical risk,” he said.

So is there risk or not?

If you would like to opt-out, you can use the form here. Let us know if you have any problems or feedback from your GP.

High Court rules Google Safari case can go ahead in the UK

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Legal Action, Online privacy | 2 Comments


Today the High Court took an important step in addressing ongoing concern about the collection of British people’s data by foreign companies.

A group of users of Apple’s Safari browser brought their action against Google after the company tracked their web use despite the ‘do not track’ feature of their browser being enabled. This was exposed by Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer back in February 2012. As Google is based in the US, today’s hearing was to determine if it the case could be heard in the UK, or should be brought in the US, as Google argued.

That argument did not succeed. Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled that the UK courts were the “appropriate jurisdiction” to try the claims.

Read more

Patients remain ill-informed about changes to medical records

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

3797160719_337b4742e7_bLast week we wrote about the leaflet that every household will be receiving from NHS England detailing serious changes to the way our medical records are shared. We warned that such a lacklustre scheme to inform the public is arguably illegal under data protection law and goes against the Government’s commitment to give patients control over their medical records.

Today, the British Heart Foundation, Arthritis Research UK, Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust have launched an advertising campaign encouraging people not to opt out of the initiative.

Quite simply, patients should not be forced, or feel pressured, to take part in a scheme that involved sharing details contained in their medical records. Especially at a time when NHS England has failed to properly inform patients about how medical records will be shared and which organisations will be able to see them.

Read more

Google fined €150,000 by French Data Protection Authority

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home | 1 Comment

4249731778_c071fcb365_oThe French data protection authority, CNIL, has announced that it has issued a €150,000 fine to Google after finding that its privacy policy does not comply with the French Data Protection Act. CNIL has also demanded that Google.fr post a warning on its home page warning that the companies unified privacy policy from 1 March 2012 does not comply with French law.

It is absolutely right that regulators have the tools to bring multinational companies to task, yet there are concerns that regulators do not yet have the powers that they need to have a real effect. Trivial financial penalties are at risk of being seen as the cost of doing business, rather than a meaningful sanction. Whether consumer notices, restriction on public sector contracts or interpreting each user affected as an individual breach, regulators need to think long and hard about how they resolve this situation to ensure users privacy is respected and the law upheld.

Read more

Police database abused by officers

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Data Protection, Information Commissioner, Police, Privacy | 8 Comments

keyboardWe are barely into 2014, yet we are faced with yet another serious data protection breach concerning a public sector computer. On this occasion, a police officer has been charged with stealing thousands of accident victims’ details from her police force’s computer and selling them to law firms

This case alone highlights that serious need for our courts to issue much tougher penalties for unlawfully obtaining or disclosing personal information, otherwise these cases will continue to occur.

A court has heard that Sugra Hanif accessed Thames Valley Police’s command and control computer to note down the personal details of members of the public involved in road traffic accidents, including the unique reference number each incident was given.

Read more

Update on the Reform Clause 1 Campaign

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in ASBO, Civil Liberties | Leave a comment

reform clause 1Last year we warned that everyone from Christian street preachers to peaceful protesters will be subject to new draconian powers proposed by the Home Office which mean that individuals that are considered annoying can be driven from the streets. That is why we are supporting the Reform Clause 1 campaign.

The campaign is in full swing and tomorrow (Wednesday 8th) is a vital stage as the House of Lords will vote on an amendment to replace the “nuisance or annoyance” test in Clause 1 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill. This is an opportunity to defeat the Government’s plans and force them to think again.

At present Antisocial Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) can only be issued if a court is fully satisfied that someone has caused or threatened to cause “harassment, alarm or distress” to someone else and the order is therefore “necessary” to protect the victim. Under the new Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNA system), the courts will be able to impose sweeping curbs on people’s freedoms if they believe an individual is “capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”.

Read more

NHS England’s wholly inadequate leaflet drop

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Data Protection, Databases, Medical Records, NHS | 6 Comments

3797160719_337b4742e7_bWhen you check your letterbox for mail this morning, make sure you take a second glance because you might just miss a leaflet from NHS England detailing serious changes to the way our medical records are shared.

Last year we campaigned to ensure that patients have the right to opt-out of these changes, however, despite this victory for patient privacy, NHS England has taken the decision that if patients do wish to opt-out of sharing their medical records then they must visit their GP to do so. Given GPs are already very busy, people should not have to see their GP to opt-out of the system. It should be possible to opt-out online or over the phone, and people who opted out of previous NHS IT projects, such as the Summary Care Records, should have their choice carried over for this system.

Read more

More than One million pupils fingerprinted at school

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Biometrics, Privacy, Protection of Freedoms Bill, Research and reports | 38 Comments

7075085533_f656a28082_oAs the new school term gets underway, now is the time for parents to check if their children are among the hundreds of thousands of pupils who are using biometric technology.

Today we have published our latest report looking at the use of biometric technology in secondary schools and academies which, based on data from the 2012-13 academic year, makes clear that fingerprints were taken from more than one million pupils.

You can read the report here.


Our research, gathered from Freedom of Information Requests to more than 3,000 schools, shows that at the start of the academic year 2012-13:

  • An estimated 40% of schools in England are using biometric technology
  • An estimated 31% of schools did not consult parents before enrolling children into a biometric system prior to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 becoming law

Read more

Merry Christmas and looking back on 2013

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home | Leave a comment

This year Big Brother Watch has grown in stature and influence into one of Britain’s leading privacy and civil liberties campaign groupphotos – and we couldn’t have done it without your support. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

Over the year we won several campaign victories, including draft Communications Data Bill (aka the Snoopers’ Charter) blocked, with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales among those who spoke at our press conference following the victory. We also fought to ensure NHS patients are guaranteed an opt-out of new data sharing plans and, as we called for, the Government announced private investigators will now be regulated and CCTV cameras will not be used for parking enforcement.

Our campaigning on CCTV regulation led to the first Surveillance Camera Commissioner being appointed and we led the calls for him to be given greater powers, while also stopping Oxford and Southampton Councils from recording passenger’s conversations in taxis.Big Brother Watch Draft Communications Data Bill committee press conference

This year has been a fantastic year for Big Brother Watch’s media profile, with the team appearing in the national press 446 times (including 12 front pages),more than 70 national broadcast appearances along with 1689 regional press hits and 1588 international pieces of coverage. Not to mention more than 100 blog posts seen 1.5 million times on our website!

We published reports looking at a range of issues, from ’Democratic Value?’, which addressed the scale of the commercial use of the edited electoral register, and ‘Private Investigators’, which highlighted the growing use of private investigators by local and public authorities. Our ‘Global Attitudes to Privacy Online’ looked at consumer attitudes towards online privacy and involved more than 10,000 interviews across nine countries, while we also investigated the UK public’s views on Google, attitudes towards surveillance transparency and whether a debate on surveillance was in the public interest.mail_splash

Alongside the Open Rights Group, English PEN and German internet activist Constanze Kurz, we launched our fist legal case before the European Court of Human Rights, taking action against GCHQ following the revelations from whistle-blower Edward Snowden. We helped to establish MedConfidential, a public campaign to fight for confidentiality and consent in health and social care, and were part of the successful Reform Section 5 campaign, which secured a change to the law to ensure it is not a crime to use insulting language. We have also joined Reform Clause 1, a campaign to prevents new draconian powers which would mean that individuals that are considered ‘annoying’ can be driven from the streets and played a leading role in the coalition against the Lobbying Bill.

We contributed to events at all three major political party conferences discussing critical surveillance issues, speaking alongside leading political figures.

ThClaude MORAES, Constanze KURZ, Dominique Guibert, Nick PICKLESe team have attended countless events at universities around the country, including the Cambridge Union, and hosted a film screening of ‘Terms and Conditions May Apply’ for supporters and wider stakeholders. We also traveled further afield for speaking engagements, including the European Parliament’s LIBE Committee in Brussels and the Public Voice: “Our Data, Our Lives” conference in Warsaw.

Looking ahead to the New Year we have another ground-breaking piece of research on the use of biometrics in schools, as well as new work on ANPR, CCTV’s impact on crime and prosecutions for social media speech. We’ll also continue to hold to account the Government and ensure that the debate about surveillance started by Edward Snowden leads to meaningful change at home and abroad and will continue our campaign for greater surveillance transparency.


Have a very Merry Christmas, a very happy New Year and thank you for your continued support of Big Brother Watch.