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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


SOCA and the blue-chip private investigators

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Data Protection, Information Commissioner, Police, Privacy, Surveillance | 1 Comment

photographerEarlier in the year we published a report on the growing use of private investigators by local and public authorities, warning that they were being used without RIPA authorisation. Now the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) is facing serious calls for it to publish its list of companies and individuals who used corrupt private investigators to obtain personal information.

Attempting to keep this information secret will rightly be seen as an attempt to cover up SOCAs colossal failure to enforce the law. It also reinforces the view that the police are all too willing to use hollow security concerns as a way of hiding their own failings.

Members of Parliament from both the Labour and Conservative parties have raised concerns about the lack of transparency from SOCA, with Stella Creasy MP, a Labour home affairs spokesman, writing to Trevor Pearce, SOCA’s director-general, to ask why a list of 101 of the investigators’ clients it has handed to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee must remain closed.

The Conservative MP David Davis has also called for the list to be made public, saying: “Yet again a police agency is hiding behind excessive secrecy. It is simply not acceptable for SOCA to withhold information of serious public interest three years after the event under the excuse of an ‘on going police investigation’.”

The Independent revealed that banks, pharmaceutical, law, insurance and financial services companies have used private investigators for years to get private data, for example through mobile phone records and bank statements.

The fact that SOCA have repeatedly failed to act on the industrial invasion of people’s privacy by blue chip companies and their investigators is a matter of great public concern and the Home Affairs committee must take every step to ensure the serious questions raised are answered, and answered publicly. It is only right that every one of these crimes is dealt with to the full extent of the law, and those responsible for turning a blind eye are held accountable and properly punished.


First Barclays, now Lloyds: which company will go data mining next?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Data Protection, Privacy | 3 Comments

keyboardYesterday’s Sunday Telegraph reported that Lloyds Banking Group has followed in Barclays’ footsteps by announcing that it could use trillions of data entries from millions of customers’ accounts in order to detect if staff had wrongly sold insurance. Lloyds has justified the move, stating that it would be of “benefit to the customer”, but could this move be purely in the best interests of the bank?

Over the last few months we have seen an increase in reports of companies and banks mining customers’ data for commercial purposes: first it was Barclays and now it seems that Lloyds Banking Group are at it too. Barclays customers were rightly concerned when it was reported last month that the bank had announced that it was planning to sell customers’’ spending data to other businesses. Now it seems that Lloyds Banking Group is also considering using customers’ information for a different purpose: to check whether bank staff wrongly sold insurance.

Lloyds has said that it is prepared to sift through trillions of data entries in millions of accounts in order to identify customers, for example by seeing which customers had been sold breakdown cover but never appear to spend any money on petrol. Lloyds has said that this would be of “benefit to the customer”, but could this actually be a plan to get the Financial Conduct Authority, who has taken a tough line on poor value insurance policies, off its back?

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New research: Global attitudes to privacy online

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Data Protection, Google, Information Commissioner, International, Internet freedom, Online privacy, Privacy, Research and reports, Social Networking | 16 Comments

serversOur latest research looks at consumer attitudes towards online privacy, with the findings confounding presumptions that consumers – young or old – do not care about their privacy.

Undertaken by ComRes, it involved 10,354 interviews across nine countries (UK, Germany, France, Spain, India, Japan, South Korea, Brazil and Australia) and the key findings were:

  • Three quarters (79%) globally say they are concerned about their privacy online.
  • Two-fifths (41%) of consumers surveyed globally say that consumers are being harmed by big companies gathering large amounts of personal data for internal use.
  • Two out of three (65%) of consumers surveyed believe that national regulators should do more to force Google to comply with existing regulations concerning online privacy and the protection of personal data.

Online privacy is a global issue of real importance to people and the overwhelming message is that citizens do not feel their authorities are doing enough to the desire of large companies to collect vast amounts of data on them. You can read the full research below.

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The Government says NO to blanket pub snooping

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV, Councils, Privacy, Surveillance | 1 Comment


Having recently posted about local councils reducing the number of CCTV cameras in their local area it seems that the Government has taken the additional step to ensure that pub landlords aren’t forced into using CCTV when it is not necessary to do so.

Concerns were raised by pub landlords and the public that council licensing authorities have been making CCTV a legal condition of every pub license. To tackle the problem, the Government has announced that the blanket use of surveillance in pubs will end, with a new stricter code of practice being in place that will strike a proper balance between privacy and security.

Community Pubs Minister, Brandon Lewis MP, commented that:

“CCTV has a role to play in stopping and deterring crime in anti-social behaviour hotspots. But well-run community pubs that don’t have a public order problem shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush.

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Yet more Communications Data Bill confusion

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Privacy, Surveillance, Technology | 2 Comments

phone_exchangeDuring the debate about the Communications Data Bill, one of the points we repeatedly made was that while this bill was not about reading the contents of messages, but that the details of who you communicate with were still incredibly private information.

In the aftermath of the atrocity in Woolwich, The Prime Minister was absolutely right to warn against knee-jerk reactions. Sadly, various voices have called for the legislation to be revived, despite widespread criticism from two Parliamentary committees and two polls over finding the public still opposed it’s introduction.

If, as has been reported, these individuals were already of concern to the security services then it is of course right they were subjects of surveillance activity. It is not yet clear if these individuals could have been put under closer surveillance.  That is an important question to be asked.

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Woolwich and Communications Data

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Online privacy, Privacy, Surveillance | 2 Comments

commons day

Deputy Director Emma Carr has contributed this piece to Index on Censorship’s website.

John Reid and others’ attempt to make a political argument about “essential” legislation just hours after the brutal murder in Woolwich this week was remarkable, given how little was known at the time and the fact the victim’s family had not even been informed of his death.

Yes, it is right to examine how our security services could have been aided to prevent the horrific scenes we saw in Woolwich this week, but to jump to conclusions and use the politics of fear to promote an agenda before the any detail is available is simply wrong.

Indeed, as the facts have begun to emerge, it seems the answer may look very different to the draft Communications Data bill.

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Could the AP scandal happen in Britain?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Data Protection, Databases, Freedom of Expression, International, Police, Privacy | 1 Comment

police-3In a word, yes.

When news broke of the US Government’s wholesale request for data on Associated Press journalists,

The New Yorker quickly highlighted how US law allowed the Department of Justice to go straight to the phone companies, without notifying AP (although it’s own guidelines said this should not normally happen.) Because of this, there was no opportunity to test the justification for such a massive intrusion on the freedom of the press.

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What’s in an IP address?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Online privacy, Privacy, Surveillance, Technology | 7 Comments

943716_10153007365440107_483278094_nWhile the Communications Data Bill has scrapped, the one issue that remains live is the ‘resolution of IP addresses’ – particularly where mobile phone operators may have millions of customers using just a few hundred IP addresses. Deputy Director Emma Carr appeared on the Daily Politics yesterday to discuss the issue.

An IP address is (put simply) the address you access the internet through (although ways of masking this are nothing new nor particularly technically challenging). We think it reasonable that the issue is investigated so that where the police have an IP address from a service provider, they are able to trace that back to the person using the service. It may be possible to address this through small, technical changes to existing legislation, rather than a new Bill. Indeed, the draft Communications Data Bill went far, far beyond being a focused attempt to solve this problem.

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Is anonymous whistleblowing a thing of the past?

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Civil Liberties, Privacy, RIPA, Surveillance | 1 Comment

filesWe have warned on multiple occasions about the abuse of surveillance powers by public authorities and the subsequent importance of having judicial approval for officials who want to snoop on us, whether it is in the ‘real’ world or online.

Last year we highlighted that more than three million authorisations under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000) were issued, leading to questions about how and why the powers are being used.  We also published research that shows that HMRC made 41,351 snooping requests for details of phone calls and mobile texts between 2009 and 2011. The only police forces to make more requests in the same period were the Metropolitan police and Merseyside police.

It has since come to light that HMRC has used surveillance legislation to identify a whistleblower who uncovered a ‘sweetheart’ deal with Goldman Sachs. Osita Mba had used the Public Interest Disclosure Act to write to the National Audit Office and two parliamentary committees in 2011 saying that the head of tax, Dave Hartnett, had “let off” Goldman Sachs from paying at least £10m in interest. The identity of Mba was then revealed to HMRC by the clerk of the public accounts committee, who sought clarification that he was a genuine revenue employee.

Following the story appearing in the Guardian in October 2011, Mba was put under internal investigation by the revenue, useing RIPA to access the emails, internet search records and telephone calls of a revenue solicitor, and his wife, Claudia.

Perhaps shockingly for many, RIPA allows HMRC the ability to view highly personal information of taxpayers, including the websites accessed, the mobile calls made or received, the date and time of emails, texts and phone calls. Despite the revenue claiming that RIPA powers “can only be used when investigating serious crime”, it is very clear from the use of the powers in this case, that this isn’t always so.

We have seen how new surveillance powers that are created, intended only for the most serious of crimes, very quickly becomes available to everyone from councils to the Health and Safety Executive. It is unacceptable for public authorities to keep secret details of why they are spying on the public and their own employees and to do so without seeking a court’s approval. Judicial approval for spying on us should be the norm, not the exception and the public have a right to know why and how these powers are being used.

Patients win choice of sharing medical records

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Data Protection, Databases, Featured, NHS, Privacy | 11 Comments

BCDBu3rCIAAyhwY.jpg_largeEarlier 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 this and it is another victory for Big Brother Watch campaigning to protect privacy.

Jeremy Hunt said on Friday: “”GPs will not share information with the HSCIC if people object…people will have a veto on that information being shared in the wider system”

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