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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

Deregulation Bill must not undermine journalist freedom

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Freedom of Expression, Leveson, Police | Leave a comment

papersThe Deregulation Bill, debated by MPs today, has caused alarm after it was highlighted that one of its clauses, which alters the process for obtaining production orders with regard to material held by journalists, significantly undermines the essential protections for journalists from being forced to hand over material to the police.

Of particular concern is a warning from Gavin Millar QC, who is currently representing BSkyB in a case where the Metropolitan Police are seeking material from them, is that this change could be combined with a ‘Closed Material Procedure’ – where a court sits in closed, or secret, session – and would mean the media is not present, or in some cases even notified of the hearing, when the police make an application to seize material.

Currently requests for material belonging to a journalist or media organisation must be made in open court, with the opportunity for challenge by the organisation affected. The combined effect of this change and closed material proceedings could lead to a situation where a judge is asked to consider a production order in a secret hearing without adversarial debate between the requesting body and the media organisation involved.

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EU Chief wants to block ‘undesirable’ content on the web

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Europe, Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom, Leveson, Web blocking | 17 Comments

europe flagYesterday the new European Union anti-terror chief appeared infront of MPs to discuss various issues, including what people are reading online.

As we’ve previously warned, the UK’s Anti-Extremism task force has already alluded to greater filtering of web content and now the EU has taken it one step further, with Gilles de Kerchove telling MPs he wanted to remove “not illegal, undesirable websites.”

Setting out the action being taken by the EU he said: “The Commissioner for Home Affairs will set up a forum to discuss with the big players – Google, Facebook, Twitter – how we can improve the way one removes from the internet the illegal and if not illegal, undesirable websites.”

Freedom of speech, and of the press, are essential parts of a free and democratic society. It should not be in the gift of politicians to decide what we read or who can write it and absolutely not on the basis of what some may consider undesirable. If content is to be blocked, it should be a decision taken by a court of law and only when a clear criminal test has been met establishing the content is illegal.

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Does Dishfire circumvent British law?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Communications Data Bill, GCHQ, Mastering the Internet, Mobile Phones, Surveillance, United States | 2 Comments

phoneIf GCHQ or any other agency is obtaining mobile phone data through the Dishfire programme without a RIPA notice, that is circumventing British law.

The statements made have sought to only address questions about content being accessed, not metadata. This confusion should be urgently addressed.

Under UK law, if an agency or police force want access to details of who you have texted, where you were when you sent or received a text or the dates and times of your text massages they can obtain it from your phone company. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) provides for this. Such powers relate to obtaining communications (or meta) data and not content.  Acquiring content requires a warrant from a Secretary of State.

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A win for the Reform Clause 1 Campaign

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

reform clause 1There is great news to report from the Reform Clause 1 campaign. The Government has scrapped plans to outlaw annoying and nuisance behaviour in public.

Following a three month campaign by the Reform Clause 1 group and a key vote in the House of Lords earlier this month, where peers voted overwhelmingly for Lord Dear’s amendment to the legislation, the Government have today confirmed that they will accept the key changes.

We had been seriously concerned, along with other civil liberty groups, peers and MPs that plans to replace ASBOs with IPNAs would have a chilling effect on free speech and potentially outlaw many ordinary and hitherto legal activities. The Government had planned to extend the replacement to Labour’s ASBOs, by allowing the Courts to restrict any action “capable of causing nuisance or annoyance” by any person in any place. We warned that the wording and the low evidence thresholds in the Bill were dangerous as, almost anyone and any action was capable of being annoying, or causing a nuisance and would lead to a slew of ridiculous and costly cases.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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