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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

Privacy

Damian Green’s speech at Big Brother Watch event, Conservative Party Conference 2010

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, Control Orders, Databases, DNA database, Events, Privacy | 5 Comments

Green BBW event Big Brother Watch was proud to host Damian Green's speech on the fringe at the Conservative Party's Conference in Birmingham this week. Here's the text.

"British freedoms for British People"

Thank you for that introduction. It painted a bleak picture of the authoritarian state built up under thirteen years of Labour rule.

What struck me after my own arrest, and my successful campaign to have my DNA taken off the database after I was cleared, was the anger in the letters that came in from those in a similar position. Former army officers, magistrates, grandmothers in small towns who had never dreamed of offending, were all united in their distrust of the police and the authorities more generally. These are the people we have always thought of as the backbone of respectable society. Alienating them from the law enforcement authorities would be a disaster.  This is one of the quiet ways that New Labour lost Middle Britain.

And even Labour’s new leader seems to agree. Ed Miliband claimed in his Conference speech last week that he wants to ‘reclaim’ liberty for the Labour Party. He has admitted that:

“I've said throughout this campaign that I believe New Labour was at times too casual about the liberty of individuals.[..] We made mistakes over ID cards and 42-day detention and how we handled stop and search powers. ”

Words are cheap. Will we see action from Ed Miliband?

Read more

4D facial recognition systems in Northamptonshire schools

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases, Online privacy, Privacy | 4 Comments

Facereg At Big Brother Watch we were concerned to learn this week of a Northamptonshire school's decision to introduce a new facial-recognition system to track pupils' movements.

According to reports in the London Metro:

"About 200 sixth formers are having their faces scanned when they ‘clock in and out’ at Sir Christopher Hatton School, in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, along with pupils in schools in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire.  The system can deliver messages to pupils when they sign in, using a four-digit pin, and notes whether they’re late"

Speaking to the Metro Kelli Foster, the school's Head of Sixth Form is right to describe the technology as "incredible"; for indeed it is incredible that schools should feel the need to turn to hold information as to the distance between the eyes and noses of their pupils in order to distinguish between them.  Furthermore, Ms Foster explains that prior to the installation of the technology "each pupil had to sign in and out of the reception by filling in a form – but now it takes under ten seconds".  Without wishing to take an antidelivian attitude to new technology, we at BBW have seen few sign-in forms which take as long as ten seconds to fill in…

With a costly £9,000 price tag (equivalent to £45 per pupil to install), such systems have limited benefits yet are wide open to abuse – from the risk of data theft to the misuse of images by unscrupulous individuals.

Rather than spend money on gimmicks like this, teachers and schools should focus on educating their pupils – and getting to know who they are.

By Daniel Hamilton

Facebook: have they got your number?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, Privacy | 5 Comments

Facebook The Guardian carries a concerning story regarding the latest version of Facebook’s popular iPhone application.

As a result of the application’s new “contact sync” feature, those using the service face having both their personal phone number and those of their contacts uploaded to the internet.  When uploaded, the phone numbers will be automatically cross-checked with those of other members before allocating them to your online ‘phonebook.

Charles Arthur makes the following observation:

The implications are huge, and extremely worrying. All it takes is for someone's Facebook account to be hacked (perhaps via their phone being stolen) and lots of personal details are revealed. Or, as [in one case], you get your phonebook record of "Steve Car" (a garage mechanic) somehow linked to someone called "Steve Carlton" – who you don’t know

Facebook have responded to early criticism of the "contact sync" feature and have now introduced a warning to all those opting to use the feature that their details will be uploaded "subject to Faceook's privacy policy". 

The only way, however, to ensure your telephone number is not shared in this way appears to remove this information from your Facebook profile.

Click here for the full story.

By Daniel Hamilton

The Child Support Agency + surveillance = credit card debt

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Databases, Legal Action, Privacy | 2 Comments

Csalogo With levels of both government and personal debt at dangerous levels, one would have thought that the Child Support Agency – a body which prides itself on bringing “financial stability” to the homes of children whose parents live apart – would do all it could to encourage parents to behave in a fiscally responsible manner.

This emphasis on fiscal responsibility does not, however, extend as the sleepy south-coast town of Poole.

Following a reassessment of the level of child support payments he must make, 49 year old father Stephen Bailey has been ordered to make an additional contribution of £300 towards his daughter’s upkeep.

While willing to make the additional payment at the earliest opportunity, Bailey lacked the sufficient funds in his current account to do so.

No problem”, a representative of the CSA informed him, “you have £617 left on your credit card.  Pay up!".

Bailey later discovered that the CSA has an established policy of using credit referencing agencies in order to delve into the financial matters of absent parents.

Nobody would argue that steps must be taken to ensure delinquent parents must pay their fair share for their children’s upbringing. What is, however, profoundly wrong is for the CSA to abuse their privileged access to personal financial data in order to bully individuals into racking up irresponsible credit card debts.

The CSA, of course, has form in this area having been criticised by a thirteen year old girl late last year for bankrupting her far-from-absent father.  Read Mr Bailey’s full story on the Bournemouth Daily Echo website.

By Daniel Hamilton

Paid-to-snoop service launches

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, Privacy | 12 Comments

Interneteyes As previously discussed on this blog, the new paid-to-snoop service which will allow members of he public to monitor CCTV cameras from their own home and alert business owners to shoplifting and anti-social behaviour has now been launched. Upon alerting business owners to a crime taking place, a text message will be sent to the business owner alerting the of the alleged crime.

With a quarterly membership fee of £12.99, members of the 'Internet Eyes' scheme will be offered to chance to accumulate points in order to obtain cash prizes and awards.  Users will receive three points for alerting businesses “to an act they believe may be theft or represent other unlawful or anti-social behaviour” and two for “acting in good faith” in flagging up a supposed ‘incident’ even when “no theft or other unlawful or anti-social behaviour occurred”.

Regardless of whether or not the user identifies any crimes taking place, Internet Eyes will award cash payments to the most prodigious of users.   Those using the website for an average of an hour a day will receive a payment of 50 pence per month rising to £1.50 for those online for sixty hours or more.

While Big Brother Watch does not oppose the use of CCTV surveillance in sensitive areas such as airports and ferry terminals, it’s astonishing to think that innocent people out doing their shopping could soon be spied on by an army of busy bodies with an internet connection. 

Big Brother Watch has requested a full list of those businesses currently operating the scheme.

By Daniel Hamilton

Operation Crackdown

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Privacy | 13 Comments

On Saturday the Daily Mail ran details of a bizarre operation being run by Sussex Police called 'Operation Crackdown'.

Operation_crackdown_logo The basic premise of OC is that local people are encouraged to submit reports of 'anti-social driving' online.

Which might seem fair enough, except that all the numberplates are held on a central database, cross-referenced with the ANPR database and after two reports the owner of the vehicle starts getting threatening letters.

To quote the promotional leaflet produced in conjunction with the scheme:

Under the section headed, If you See Someone Driving Antisocially, it says; 'Pull over safely at the side of the road, or ask a passenger to write down details.

'Record the make, model, colour and number plate of the vehicle.

'To help pin-point where you saw the incident..use house numbers, road names or shop names. Write down what you saw as soon as you can, so it's fresh in your mind.

It goes on: 'All reports remain live for a period of two months and a vehicle is automatically 'flagged up' if it is reported more than once.

I really don't need to spell it out, but can anyone see how this ludicrous scheme might be abused by nosy neighbours, grudge-bearing colleagues and general miscreants?

Take a look at the website and see the full horror for yourself.

This is the latest step towards recruiting the citizenry into the state spying machine.

By Dylan Sharpe

What to do with an incompetent Department? Give them more power! At least, that’s what HMRC thinks…

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

HMRC Over at City AM, Allister Heath has an extremely troubling column about how the privacy and indeed freedom of all UK taxpayers may be affected by the post-cock-up fallout of the HMRC's latest pathetic tax blunder.

After disastrously miscalculating PAYE tax for millions of people, HMRC is apparently now lobbying for…

a gigantic power grab which could entirely redefine the relationship between the state, employees and their employers.

At present, PAYE income taxes are deducted by employers from their employees’ wages on a monthly basis. Under the most extreme of the proposals, companies would start handing over their entire salaries to the government, in the shape of a “central calculator” run by HMRC. The taxes would then be deducted by HMRC and the remaining amount would be paid by the taxman to employees. Incredibly, HMRC would suddenly become the largest payroll organisation in the world – it, rather than employers, would pay wages.

How do we hate this? Let us count the ways…

  • Set-up costs: massive, with thousands of consultants, developers and others being hired; these IT projects are notoriously expensive, invariably go over budget and end up not working properly at all.
  • Errors: massive numbers of errors would lead to money being paid over by employers but not reaching employees on the due day. The government's track record with large IT projects makes this a near-certainty. Imagine if 1m people suddenly didn’t receive their pay at the end of the month..
  • Ongoing costs: HMRC would have to hire tens of thousands of staff – jobs
    currently undertaken by payroll or HR departments in private firms –
    merely to deal with queries, transferring these jobs from the private sector to the inefficient public sector – not only meaning we now all have to pay the wages of these people hitherto employed in the private sector, but making us all liable for their pensions to boot!
  • More state control: the coalition is talks about decentralisation and localism. Centralising payroll in a government institution is an unbelievably absurd move in the opposite direction.
  • Privacy – what privacy? Will everyone’s salary and taxation level be
    available online, given that all of the data would suddenly be
    in one place? Hackers would have a field day. It only needs to be lost once – and once it's lost, it's gone for good. Just ask the 25 million people whose personal details were on the child benefit database, lost in 2006.

But wait, that's not all! HMRC have an additional proposal: real-time information on pay so that tax more likely to be deducted correctly. As Heath points out,

There could be huge costs to employers, who would have to invest heavily in staff and computer systems.

The real danger, however, is that HMRC is also thinking of forcing firms to hand over extra information to the authorities as part of this shift to real-time data. This is unacceptable for cost and privacy reasons. The Institute of Directors has highlighted some of the issues. Is pay frequency really needed? How can employers be expected to know about all third-party payments, in real time? Does the fact that some pay is for holidays matter for tax purposes?

There is yet one more suggestion – that hours worked should be recorded by the state. This would be another odiously authoritarian development. It is almost as if officials are deliberately seeking to kill off corporate Britain and to impose Soviet-style controls on taxpayers.

All in all – a very bad performance today, from a very bad Department.

By Alex
Deane

This plan is also well bashed by Jill Kirby of the CPS, over at Centre Right

Man in court for removing camera spying on his bedroom

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, Privacy | 15 Comments

This story from the Cumbria News and Star is so remarkable, it merits full exposure on Big Brother Watch this morning.

Keyholespying Christian Lord was living with his girlfriend in Harraby, Carlisle, when he became aware of a CCTV camera installed in the empty house opposite, trained on his bedroom.

Fed up of the surveillance, which was also exacerbating his girlfriend's mental health problems, Mr Lord broke into the empty house and threw the camera in a nearby river.

Yesterday, the 35-year-old pleaded guilty at Carlisle Crown Court to a charge of burglary and the theft of the £1,500-worth of surveillance equipment. He was put under 12 months’ probation supervision and ordered to undergo drugs rehabilitation.

Now a selection of quotes from Judge Peter Hughes QC, who said he was "puzzled" by who installed the camera.

“Under what authority was it done?” he asked. “There are human rights considerations here.”

Judge Hughes told Lord that if the device had been installed by the police as part of a criminal investigation the offence would have been much more serious. “But that is not the situation I have to deal with,” he said. “It is unclear why and on what basis this camera was installed.

“But plainly you and your partner were aware of its presence watching your activities and you took exception to it. While in no way can I condone your actions, this is far removed from a typical case of burglary. It seems you did it just to stop yourself being snooped upon.”

Given those comments from the judge, the sentence Mr Lord received seems ridiculously harsh.

Or is it symptomatic of the complete devaluation of privacy in society? The real crime here is the camera removing Mr Lord's right to a private life.

And when you look at it like that, the judge most definitely had the wrong man in court.

By Dylan Sharpe

Bin spies, yet again

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

Wheelie_Bin Just what is it with bureaucrats? They simply can't stay out of dustbins!

In the aftermath of our research, which showed that some 2.6 million households up and down the country had microchips installed in their dustbins (and none of them had been asked), the new Government banned "pay as you throw" schemes. But the bin spies just keep going.

It's emerged that 300 homes in Gloucestershire are going to have their rubbish snooped through by the Council – yet again, without their consent. The Council plans to sift through random bins to see if residents are meeting their strict recycling rules, introduced earlier this year, which reduced the frequency of bin collections to save money whilst sounding self-righteous encourage more recycling.

Council crews will select a random sample of the bins left out for
collection and take the contents to a secret site near Gloucester. Why would they keep it secret? Perhaps because they know their residents completely disagree with what they're doing…

Do you expect someone to be going through your rubbish once you've put it in your bin?

It's spying – plain and simple.

If you live in the area and get picked on in this scheme, get in touch.

By Alex
Deane

Hat tip: Declan

Czechs ban Google from expanding ‘Street View’

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

Czech The Czech Republic has banned Google from continuing mapping for "Street View".

The Czech Office for Personal Data Protection says Google has not been granted the necessary registration. The OPDP has been investigating Google for failing to meet necessary
requirements needed to collect data since April and the office plans to speak about the case next week.

The U.S. Internet giant has of course come under fire from authorities across Europe, including Germany, over concerns that it violated people's privacy as it seized information from wi-fi networks whilst cars took pictures of streets (and gardens, and homes, and cars, and…).

Google acknowledged the privacy breach in an apology in the spring, but investigations continue.

Developing…

By Alex Deane