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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


Why you should conceal your face at protests and demonstrations

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Privacy | 14 Comments

Guest post by A. Nonymous

Hcuffs221 The use of balaclavas and scarves has been branded in the mainstream press as anything from a signal of thuggish criminality, to a pathetic aspirational-revolutionary fashion statement. This kind of ‘analysis’ exposes the distance between so-called journalists and demonstrators. They really have no idea about the social movement taking place before their eyes.

Concealments such as balaclavas, scarves, and notably ‘V for Vendetta’ masks, are being used as political constructions – wearing them at demonstrations indicates a concerted meaning, not simply a by-product of criminality. We are intentionally striving to remain anonymous, and we have very good reasons why.

Read more

Kingston CCTV car snapped on double yellow line

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, Privacy | 10 Comments

Car197 In this week's Kingston Guardian there's an amusing story about a CCTV car which was captured parking on double yellow lines outside a Police station.   Residents rightly feel aggrieved that these expensive vehicles have the right to snoop on us at will also feel free to disobey the rules the rest of us must follow, for fear of being hit with extortionate fines.

A Kingston Council spokesman said: “Stopping on the double yellow line is permitted while undertaking enforcement. The CCTV vehicle was enforcing an appropriate restriction, where loading/unloading is not permitted on Kingston Hall Road.”

That's us told!  It's one rule for them, one for the rest of us…

Lancashire Police officers dismissed for breaching data laws

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Privacy | 8 Comments

Lancspol88 The residents of Lancashire, like most people in Britain, hope that the police are there to protect them. So they will be shocked and disappointed today to find out that dozens of police have been using police equipment to spy on their partners and neighbours for the last three years. There were a total of 84 beaches of data protection laws, which have led to 13 dismissals, 7 resignations and numerous final warnings.

The majority involved officers accessing police computer systems to view classified data about current or ex-partners, neighbours, family members and even the history of cars. This information was then utilised for personal gain or passed on to third parties.

In one of the most serious cases, a superintendent was alleged to have used the system to check the whereabouts of an ex-partner and information about her current boyfriend.

A spokesperson for Lancashire Constabulary said the force would always take

“…robust action to investigate when necessary. Lancashire Constabulary expects the highest standards of professional behaviour from all employees in relation to information security. The public rightly expect that we maintain the security and integrity of all information held on police databases and it is paramount that we maintain their confidence in our ability to do so.”

“We audit how our staff access information to ensure that it is for policing purposes and that they are using that information lawfully and appropriately. The misuse of police systems by any individual staff member will not be tolerated.”

This is a massive abuse of the trust of the local populace, and the fact that it involved so many officers, rather than being simply an isolated incident, makes it all the more worrying. Effective policing requires trust and communication between the police and the people they are employed to protect. If this breaks down, it can take years to rebuild the relationship. The Lancashire Constabulary website does not currently display an apology for the actions of these individuals, or even acknowledge that the breaches occurred.

BP loses the data of 13,000 oil spill victims

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Privacy | 4 Comments

Bp110 As if the oil spill which hit the US's Gulf Coast last year causing significant environmental damage and economic hardship for home and business owners wasn't bad enough, it has today been revealed that the details of 13,000 of the victims of the disaster have been lost by BP.

According to a report published on the Info Security website, full details are still emerging of exactly how the data loss occured but it appears likely that it happened following the loss of a company laptop.  Rather than encrypting the details of the 13,000 people whose information was held on the laptop, it appears that the computer was only protected with an easy-to-circumvent Windows password.  In specific, the laptop contained the details of those who had made claims to the company for financial compensation. 

Sadly, cases like this are all too common – be they the loss of personal medical information by the NHS at one end, or the compromising of the data of 7 million users of the Play.com website.  It is absolutely crucial that, in order to avoid mass data losses such as this, that information held on USB sticks or laptops is fully encypted so as to render it useless in the event is is stolen or misplaced.

You can view the whole story here.

Data protection: BBW writes to political parties and campaign groups

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Privacy | 2 Comments

Dp181 Following the Information Commissioner's warning to political parties and campaign groups yesterday, BBW Director Daniel Hamilton has today written to the Directors of each of the UK political parties represented in the House of Commons, European Parliament, Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly asking them to publicly outline their internal data protection procedures.  The letter has also been sent to No2AV and Yes in May, the recognised organisations campaigning in favour and against the introduction of the Alternative Vote.

Hamilton's letter reads as follows:

Dear <Party Director>,

You will, no doubt, have had sight of the comments by the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham regarding the importance of political parties and campaign groups adhering scrupulously to data protection laws when campaigning in the upcoming Alternative Vote referendum and local and national elections.

The Information Commissioner’s document (‘Guidance for political parties for campaigning or promotional purposes’) outlines the legal requirements incumbent on political parties and campaign groups when “using direct mail, emails, text messages, phone canvassing and automated phone calls” for electoral purposes.

With 47 million British citizens eligible to take part in this year’s elections, political parties and campaigning organisations will be charged with handing vast amounts of sensitive personal information, particularly in relation to the voting intention of individual members of the public.  At this time of heightened political tensions, embodied most recently by the violence at the anti-cuts rally in Central London on March 26th, it is more important than ever that this sensitive information is rigourously safeguarded.

I would greatly appreciate it if you were to forward to me – either by post or e-mail – a full copy of your privacy policy and details of the data protection training you provide to both your professional staff and voluntary activists. 

It is our intention, in the spirit of openness, to make your response publicly available on our website. 

Thank you, in advance, for taking the time to respond.

With every good wish,

Daniel Hamilton

The letter has been sent to:

Political parties

  • Norman Green – Chief Operating Officer, Conservative Party
  • Ray Collins – General Secretary, Labour Party
  • Chris Fox -  Chief Executive, Liberal Democrats
  • Lisa Duffy – Party Director, UK Independence Party
  • Jayne Forbes – Chairman, Green Party
  • Peter Murrell – Chief Executive, SNP
  • Gwenllian Landsdown – Chief Executive, Plaid Cymru
  • Jim Wilson – Chief Executive, Ulster Unionist Party
  • Allan Ewart – Chief Executive, Democratic Unionist Party
  • Gary Fleming – Elections Director, Sinn Fein
  • Michael Savage – Chief Executive, SDLP
  • Gerry Lynch – Chief Executive, Alliance Party
  • Chief Executive, British National Party

Campaign groups:

  • William Norton – National Agent, No2AV
  • Willie Sullivan – National Agent, Yes in May

Full copies of the responses received from each of the political parties and campaign groups will be posted on this blog as they are received.

Information Commissioner warns political parties on data protection

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Privacy | 3 Comments

229usb In a move which must surely be welcomed by privacy advocates, the Information Commissioner's Office has issued a statement warning UK political parties to ensure they comply closely with data protection laws throughout the upcoming election period.

There are few more personal issues than one's voting intention, a piece of information millions of people have voluntarily handed over to 'canvassers' from political parties at election time.  Each of the three main political parties archive this information for long periods of time; making calculations as to which people are staunchly 'with' them and those who are against.

Many of the people who have access to these records have little or no training in data protection issues, meaning there is a high risk of data such as voting intention or likelihood to vote being misused.  At this time of heightened political tension, embodied most forcefully by the violence at the anti-cuts rally on Saturday, it is more important than ever that this sensitive information is safeguarded.

Big Brother Watch will be writing to each of the main political parties, asking them to outline the data protection policies they have in place to ensure professional party staff and volunteers receive appropriate data protection training.

You can view the Information Commissioner's warning here.

Northern Ireland ANPR foes launch go online

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, Privacy | 4 Comments

Ulster200 Over the past few years, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of Police forces and local councils who have been installed ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras in order to monitor cars going in and out of particular locations or along particular stretches of road.

In Northern Ireland alone, figures obtained last year by the Belfast Telegraph showed that the Police Service of Northern Ireland had spent nearly £13 million on a wide-ranging system designed to monitor those going in and out of Belfast City Centre.  As we argued at the time, the uses to which it might be put in the sensitive context of Northern Ireland are very troubling and have severe implications for freedom of movement, expression and association.

A concerned Big Brother Watch supporter in the province has, therefore, established a website which aims to expose the locations of the cameras and how they are used – and indeed, abused.

You can view the website here.  We wish them the very best of luck in their campaign.

Leicester City Council lose details of vulnerable residents

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

Leics85 Leicester have joined the long list of city councils to fall foul of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after losing a USB stick which contained the medical details of around 4,000 elderly and vulnerable people. In addition the memory stick contained around 2,000 ‘keysafe’ codes, which are used to open boxes attached to the houses of vulnerable people containing a key to the front door. Leicester City Council was forced to explain the situation:

"We can confirm we are investigating the possible loss of a data device that contains personal details of around 4,000 LeicesterCare users. At this time we have no reason to believe this data has been removed deliberately. However, while we have been assured by our supplier the information on the device is not accessible to anyone who may find it, we are taking every precaution to maintain the security of our LeicesterCare users.”

The device went missing from the Leicestercare offices, a service designed to support elderly and vulnerable residents of the area. The council must now go through the laborious process of changing all 2,000 codes. According to council policy, the USB stick is never supposed to leave the office, and should have been locked in a safe each night. Staff suspect it has been lost somewhere in the office, but while its location remains a mystery they have no option but to update all the codes as fast as possible to reduce the risk of the information being abused. Local resident Angie Beale, 59, was disappointed with the lack of care shown for such dangerous information. Both her husband, Jack, 87, and disabled son Gordon, 39, are registered with LeicesterCare. She said:

"There's a keysafe outside my home in case my husband has a fall and I'm not around. I think it's disgusting they can lose something like that, especially with medical details that are personal."

Tony Donovan, chief executive of Age Concern in Leicestershire, expressed his concern:

"It's a very worrying situation. It will cause a lot of concern and worry for vulnerable people and their families. Any sort of database scandal is bad but it's particularly worrying when older people are put at risk. A keysafe code will get anyone through the front door of people's houses. I hope the city council sorts this out as soon as possible, but there is still the question of how this can happen."

It is shocking that greater care wasn’t taken with such sensitive information. In the wrong hands, the keysafe codes would allow thieves and burglars access to 2,000 homes without even having to break in. Those under the supervision of Leicestercare would expect better. Many of them are likely to suffer unnecessary stress if they suspect their houses are no longer secure. There must be a full investigation into how this breach of security occurred, so it cannot happen again.

Census ‘suffragette’ protest in Parliament!

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Census, Privacy | 34 Comments

By Matt Peterkin

Census168Last night I went out for dinner in central London with some friends. One of the topics of conversation was what to do about the Census. None of us like it, but we didn’t want to break the law by refusing to do it either. For all of us it was a huge dilemma.

As I trudged down Whitehall to get my bus home an idea dawned on me. The census requires you to list wherever you slept on Sunday night as your address, even if you don’t live there. So why don’t I follow the lead of the famous suffragette Emily Davidson and sleep in the Houses of Parliament?

I have a pass for the building so it wouldn’t be too hard to enter the building, plus I wanted to catch up on some work before Monday. So I walked up to the gate, told the Police Officer I was going to do some late night work (which was true), and I was in. After sending some emails I bedded down in my arm chair and began my ‘slumber protest’.

By now you’re probably asking two questions: what does he have against the census and why choose to sleep in parliament. In the case of the former, Big Brother Watch has spent a huge amount of time explaining why the census is a bad idea so I don’t plan to add too much to that. But I will say it costs £500m to give away private information to an unspecified group of government officials. Not a good idea in my book.On the specifics of sleeping in Parliament, firstly it isn’t my home and the Office of National Statistics cannot do any analysis on my living conditions, because will say nothing about it. If I have to fill out the form, and I will try to avoid it, I want the information to be honest but also meaningless. No government official can ascertain anything useful about my residential status from this act.

Secondly in the days of Emily Davidson the biggest issue facing us was the lack of rights for women. She wanted to prove that it was easier to live in Parliament than it was to get elected to it. I can’t pretend my motives are so worthy but I can say that I think the overbearing state – of whichever party – is a huge risk to this country and must be stopped. If someone is so worried about the intrusive state that they sleep in Parliament on Census night then we can all see how serious this issue has become.

The big question now is what happens next. The answer is that I have no idea. Legally speaking I am now obliged to fill out the census listing my address as “House of Commons, Palace of Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA” but I’m still trying to avoid doing the form at all. I suppose some people will be annoyed that I did it, however most will dismiss this for what it is: a token gesture. I may get into trouble, though I doubt any senior officers of the house really care what I do.

My hope is that some people reading this sit down and think about whether we should ever repeat this process. Whatever you think of me I just don’t want to spend £500m so that someone in Whitehall can garner titillation from the personal data of every man, woman and child in the country. If sleeping in Parliament helps to derail that process then it was worth the aches and pains that resulted.

Britain’s first town with nowhere to hide

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, Privacy | 32 Comments

Scam120 The town of Royston in Hertfordshire is to become Britain’s first ‘ring of steel’ town, with hidden Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras installed on every single road in and out of the town by next month. Town bosses rolled out the usual platitudes to explain the introduction of this nefarious system:

“…make Royston the safest town in Hertfordshire”

“They give the police hard evidence as they track known villains.”

“It will make us the safest town in Hertfordshire and you won’t be able to drive in or out of the town without being clocked.”

“We will be the only town in Britain that will have ANPR on every approach to the town.”

The fact that Geraint Burnell, the town centre manager, considers it a benefit that no one will be able to enter or leave the town without being ‘clocked’ is a shocking example of the mindset of those without an understanding of the privacy concerns of the general populace. Chris Farrier, a spokesman for the civil liberties group No CCTV, expressed serious concerns about the dangers of systems like this:

“It is a hugely worrying development. It has been developed with no public scrutiny and government legislation. This is the biggest surveillance network that the British public have never heard of. The people of Royston had better get informed because their one is being described as a ‘ring of steel.”

There is no particular reason for installing this system, or particular set of crimes which the police wish to solve by using it. It will be a gigantic waste of tax payers’ money during a time when councils should be searching high and low for wasteful expenditure to be cut.

The public have not been consulted about this cruel abuse of privacy to monitor and store the movements of everyone who visits the town of Royston on a centralised database for 5 years. The inevitable conclusion is a nationwide network of ANPR cameras, ensuring that all movement of citizens can be monitored. Considering the multitude of civil liberties seen in the past decade, surely councils should realise this is not what the public want.