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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

Research and reports

Body Worn Cameras Briefing

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Police, Research and reports | 5 Comments

police-2With Police forces around the UK conducting trial schemes and roll outs of body worn cameras (BWCs), we have created a briefing on the use of the technology which can be viewed here (pdf).

The largest trial has taken place within the Metropolitan Police Service, beginning on 8 May 2014 and seeing the distribution of 500 BWCs to officers in 10 London boroughs in an aim to repeat the success of a similar scheme in Rialto, Los Angeles. The £815,000 trial scheme will see the distribution of BWCs to police officers in Barnet, Bexley, Bromley, Brent, Camden, Croydon, Ealing, Havering, Hillingdon and Lewisham. The MPS and Ministers believe that the pilot will show whether or not BWCs will boost accountability, improve the accuracy of evidence and speed up convictions.

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Civil Society Briefing on the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Research and reports | 6 Comments

commons dayThe Civil Society groups behind the Don’t Spy On Us coalition have produced a briefing on the fast-track Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (PDF).

You can read our initial analysis of the emergency legislation announcement, as well as our amendment recommendations here.

BACKGROUND:

The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) Bill was published on 10th July 2014 following a press conference given by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister announcing emergency surveillance legislation. They indicated that the leader of the Opposition had already given Labour’s support to the Bill following private cross-party discussions and this was confirmed by the Shadow Home Secretary in the Chamber later in the day. The Bill is now due to receive all its substantive stages in the House of Commons next Tuesday 16th July. The Lords will be invited to pass the Bill on Wednesday and the Commons will consider any Lords amendments on Thursday. Royal Assent is to be granted before summer recess and the legislation will come into effect immediately. Parliamentary scrutiny and debate is  therefore effectively neutered and it is unlikely that the Bill will be substantively amended.

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Briefing Note – Mandatory Installation of Event Data Recorders: The eCall System

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Research and reports | 5 Comments

Concerns have been raised in recent weeks regarding the European Commission’s plans for all new cars to be installed with event data recorders in order to enable the eCall system.We have produced a briefing (PDF) to explain the background of the policy, the concerns that have been raised and the other potential uses for event data recorders once they have been installed. The key points raised in our briefing are:

  • There is an important distinction to be made between eCall and the Event Data Recorders (EDRs). Whilst the eCall system may not record the location of the car constantly, the EDR does have that capability.
  • There are concerns that the EDRs ability to gather extensive data can and will be misused as:
    • the data could be accessed by hackers to track individuals’ location.
    • insurance companies can use this to promote personalised insurance quotes by recording how individuals drive.
    • police forces have already been using eCall systems to track suspicious motorists.
  • The installation of the EDR will be mandatory, a move that goes against British principles of liberty and freedom of choice.
  • The eCall system is not cost efficient nor will it have a significant impact on safety in the UK.

Briefing Note: Why communications data matter

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home, Research and reports | 5 Comments

In the debate around state surveillance, we all too often we hear officials say that we have nothing to fear as only the communications data (or metadata) is examined, not the content of a communication.

Big Brother Watch has therefore published a briefing on why communications data matter. In the briefing note you will find answers to questions like: what are communications data?; what can communications data reveal?; and how are communications data analysed?. We also include details of how communications data have evolved and whether the legal framework currently in place provides sufficient safeguards.

We hope you find the information informative and interesting. Do get in touch to let us know if there are any other topics that you would like us to publish information on.

Traffic Spies – a £300m surveillance industry

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, CCTV cars, Research and reports, RIPA, Surveillance | 13 Comments

Image20Today we have published our latest report, Traffic Spies, highlighting how hundreds of councils have turned to static CCTV cameras and spy cars to raise £312m in revenue.

Many councils are continuing to use CCTV to hand out fines, despite the government publishing a Surveillance Camera Code of Practice highlighting the need to use CCTV for traffic offences “sparingly”, this research highlights that the number of CCTV cars in operation in the UK has increased by 87% since 2009.

The question must therefore be asked, if CCTV cameras are about public safety, why are local authorities able to use them to raise revenue? Furthermore, why are local authorities publishing no meaningful information about their use of CCTV for parking enforcement? Read more

Support grows for surveillance transparency

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, GCHQ, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, Police, Research and reports, Surveillance, Technology | 10 Comments

commons dayLast November we launched our ‘Time for Transparency’ campaign, revealing new polling that showed 66% of people want more information about how surveillance powers are used, with 70% wanting companies like BT and EE to publish their own reports about the requests they receive, as companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft now regularly release.

Today we are publishing a paper detailing further proposals to improve transparency, following wide ranging discussions with companies, regulators and political figures, as well as discussions with people in the United States. The paper outlines how the Interception of Communications Commissioner should publish a breakdown of how individual agencies use powers to access communications information – currently just one total figure is published – as well as calling for clarification about whether British companies are handing over data ‘in bulk’ on thousands or millions of customers.

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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 | 40 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

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Democratic value? The sale of the edited electoral register

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Councils, Data Protection, Databases, Research and reports | 9 Comments

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Today we have published our latest report, Democratic Value, looking at the scale of the commercial use of the edited electoral roll.

Councils have no say in selling the register – and it probably costs more to administer than they bring in through charges – but threats of legal action mean they can do little to assist residents and there is not widespread awareness of understanding of why there are two versions of the electoral roll.

This confusion exacerbates the fundamental privacy issue with councils being mandated to law to make available for purchase the names and addresses of those who do not opt-out. That is a law for Parliament to change, and it should do so at the soonest opportunity.

Between 2007 and 2012, more than 2,700 different organisations and individuals purchased the edited register, with some local authorities seeing far higher levels of use.

Four councils sold the edited register to more than 50 buyers (Westminster, Elmbridge, Kensington and Chelsea, Broadland) while 19 councils sold the edited register to between 25 and 49 buyers.

The sale of personal information by public authorities, particularly for marketing purposes, is something that should never be routine. It undermines trust and confidence in the wider public sector’s ability to protect people’s privacy and potentially deters people from engaging in a critical part of our democracy.

This doesn’t mean the electoral roll shouldn’t be accessible to the public, but the current situation is not one designed to bolster our democracy.

We wholly agree with the Electoral Commission, the Local Government Association and The Association of Electoral Administrators that the edited register should be abolished. We believe that the existence of the edited register impacts on election participation as people are concerned about their personal information being shared for marketing purposes and undermining trust in the electoral registration system.

 

We have produced a draft letter you can use to permanently opt-out of the edited register, which you can find in the Take Action section of the website here.

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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Boom in private investigators risks avoiding surveillance regulation

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Councils, Featured, Research and reports, Surveillance | 31 Comments

photographerOur 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 tree provisions in the US, and broader protection offered by the Fourth Amendment, UK law risks failing to join up the evidential admissibility process and the regulation of surveillance.

While the surveillance doesn’t come cheap, with some organisation spending thousands of pounds on a single operation, the primary finding of the report is the potential loophole in surveillance regulation that is being exploited following the passage of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.

Accordingly, we are seriously concerned there is a gap in UK law emerging around surveillance and the ability of third parties to conduct surveillance operations without proper regulation. Some of these operations were conducted at the request of insurers, raising concerns about conflicts of interest.

The government has acted to control surveillance by local councils but this research shows more than ever before public bodies are using private detectives to do their snooping. The law is at breaking point and public bodies shouldn’t be able to dodge the legal checks on them by using private investigators.

Commenting on our report, Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles (no relation!) said “Such powers can only be used for serious crimes, and require a magistrates’ warrant. It is totally unacceptable if councils are trying to sidestep these important new checks and they should be held to account for acting outside the law.”

With as many as 10,000 people working as private investigators in the UK, we agree with the Home Affairs Select Committee that the current legal framework for regulating their activities is wholly inadequate.

This highlights the ongoing concern that RIPA is not fit for purpose, in failing to deal with evidence and material obtained outside the legislative framework. Equally, the changing nature of surveillance – particularly the ability to search online, through social networks and through semi-public sources of information – further reinforces the need for the law to be reformed to strengthen protection against unwarranted and unauthorised surveillance becoming a frequent occurrence.

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Deputy Director Emma Carr appeared on Sky News sunrise discussing the report, with BBC News, Metro, The Daily Telegraph, ITV News, BBC Radio 5 Live, Politics.co.uk, LocalGov and numerous regional media including the York Press, Huddersfield Examiner and the Sunderland Echo reporting our findings.