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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

Report: Entry Allowed? The number of local authority staff with the power to enter your home or workplace

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Home, Research and reports | Leave a comment

iStock_000017522162SmallKnock Knock.

Who’s there?

The flea inspector.

The flea inspector who?

The flea inspector who can enter your home — without a warrant.

Published today, Entry Allowed? (PDF)  highlights the full extent of the wildly out of control powers of entry available to local authorities throughout the UK, where a total of 19,375 local authority officials hold powers of entry – an average of 45 in each of our local authorities.

The worst offenders include Northumberland and Leeds local councils, both of which have more than 500 officials with powers of entry, whilst Hertfordshire, Chorley and Cornwall all have more than 300.

The research comes at a time of escalating concern over state encroachment onto personal freedoms, and will do nothing to ease the minds of a public who have borne the brunt of policy maker’s recent attempts to change the relationship between the state and the individual.

Despite the Conservative’s manifesto pledge to cut back “intrusive powers of entry”, there remain more than 1,400 powers that allow public officials to enter private property. We believe this is simply unacceptable. Unless life or property is in imminent danger, there is no justification for officials to be able to enter a property without a warrant. Additionally, as our research highlights, it is not only the number of powers that should be under review, but so should the number of staff who are able to use them. We therefore propose, as a result of this research, that:

  1. The number of individuals with powers of entry should be reviewed.
  2. A system of statutory protection must be implemented in order to defend the public from over-zealous or illegal use of powers of entry.
  3. An enforceable Code of Practice for powers of entry must be published as a matter of urgency.

The full report (PDF) includes detailed information on every local authority.

Briefing Note: Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Research and reports, RIPA | 2 Comments

We have produced a briefing document on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), the main surveillance legislation that is used by public authorities, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies. The briefing can be accessed here.


RIPA governs the use of covert surveillance powers. In 2012 the Protection of Freedoms Act was introduced, partly to solve some of the issues created by the legislation, such as the use of intrusive surveillance for minor issues. Many problems still remain and the need to enact serious reform is now more pressing than ever.


  1. RIPA was drafted for a pre-social media age, it is now woefully outdated.
  2. More transparency is needed around how RIPA powers are used, including the way that authorisations to use the powers are approved.
  3. RIPA’s oversight mechanisms are in need of reform.
  4. Members of the public should be able to seek redress if they have been subject to surveillance.

BRIEFING NOTE: Counter Terrorism and Security Bill and IP address matching

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Research and reports | 1 Comment

commons dayThe Government has announced that it will bring forward proposals to enable IP address matching. The measures would require internet firms to keep records of customer information, to enable law enforcement bodies to decipher who was using a device, such as a smart phone or computer, at a given time.

We have produced a briefing note (PDF) on the proposals.

The key issues with the proposals are:

  • There are questions over whether or not this will be technically feasible.
  • Proper safeguards must be introduced to ensure that these techniques are used transparently, that there is a proper level of authorisation and that the oversight and redress mechanisms can function effectively.
  • If this measure is introduced, time should be allowed to ensure that its effectiveness to law enforcements investigations can be evaluated with due care and transparency.

The Capability Gap

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Research and reports | Leave a comment

serversWith the concept of a ‘capability gap’ in the acquisition of communications data being increasingly discussed, we have created a briefing on the key issues and definitions of the issue which can be viewed here (PDF).

The purpose of the briefing is to demonstrate that using the concept as an argument for the introduction of mass communications data collection is fundamentally flawed and unhelpful to what is a serious debate.

The key areas covered in the briefing are:

  • The definition of the capability gap
  • Key issues with the capability gap
  • The Interception of Communicatiions Commissioner’s Report
  • Resolving the capability gap

New Report: Patient confidentiality broken 6 times a day

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Home, Research and reports | 12 Comments

3797160719_337b4742e7_bOur new report, NHS Data Breaches (PDF), highlights the  scale of data breaches in the NHS. The research reveals examples of medical data being lost, shared on social media, and inappropriately shared with third parties.

The report shows that between 2011 to 2014, there have been at least 7,255 breaches. This is the equivalent to 6 breaches every day. Examples of the data breaches include:

  • At least 50 instances of data being posted on social media
  • At least 143 instances of data being accessed for “personal reasons”
  • At least 124 instances of cases relating to IT systems
  • At least 103 instances of data loss or theft
  • At least 236 instances of data being shared inappropriately via Email, letter or Fax
  • At least 251 instances of data being inappropriately shared with a third party
  • At least 115 instances of staff accessing their own records.
  • There have been at least 32 resignations during the course of disciplinary proceedings.
  • There is 1 court case pending, for a breach of the Data Protection Act. In this instance the individual may have also resigned prior to proceedings.

Read more

Off The Record: How the police use surveillance powers

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Research and reports | 5 Comments
police-2Today we are publishing a reporthighlighting the true scale of police forces’ use of surveillance powers. The report comes at a time when the powers have faced serious criticism, following revelations that police have used them to access journalists’ phone records.
The research focuses on the use of ‘directed surveillance’ contained in the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) by police forces; a form of covert surveillance conducted in places other than residential premises or private vehicles which is deemed to be non-intrusive, but is still likely to result in personal information about the individual being obtained.
Although the report details how directed surveillance powers were authorised more than 27,000 times over a three year period, police forces are not compelled to record any other statistics; therefore we cannot know the exact number of individuals that these authorisations relate to.
As part of the investigation into the use of RIPA by police, a request for details of ‘covert human intelligence’ (informers) and ‘intrusive surveillance’ (covert surveillance carried out in residential premises or private vehicles) was also submitted. However the request was rejected by forces as they believe releasing the information would negatively impact on police capability
Despite the law being changed in 2012 to stop local authorities using the same powers without a magistrate’s approval, police forces do not require any such permission. The report proposes three measures that should be introduced, including:
  • requirement for police forces to publish data on how often and why these powers are used,
  • judicial approval of all surveillance operations
  • the right for subjects of surveillance to be informed.

The police should not be able to keep the details secret of how and why members of the public are spied on. To do so whilst not having to seek a courts approval to use the powers is simply unacceptable. Local authorities now have to justify how they will snoop on members of the public and it is about time that this authorisation procedure became the norm, not the exception.

Any member of the public that has been put under surveillance should be told that that has been the case when there is no risk to an on-going investigation. This is standard practice in a number of other countries with it being recognised as being an important oversight mechanism. It is clear that this added level of accountability will ensure that the public will only face being spied on when it is truly necessary.

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.


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.

Read more

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.