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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

Surveillance

Traffic Spies – a £300m surveillance industry

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, CCTV cars, Research and reports, RIPA, Surveillance | 5 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

LGA opposition to CCTV parking fine ban is about money, not public safety

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV, Civil Liberties, Community Safety Accreditation Scheme, Councils, Surveillance | 5 Comments

camerasAt the end of 2013, we wrote about the Government’s plans to ban CCTV parking cameras, meaning that only traffic wardens and police would be able to film vehicles breaking the law.

The Department for Transport and the Department for Communities and Local Government launched a consultation asking whether CCTV parking cameras should be banned, in reaction to many councils who, rather than focusing on specific parking infringements, have taken the brazen approach of using CCTV cars to indiscriminately spy on drivers.

This of course has not gone down well with the Local Government Association (LGA), who have announced that they oppose the Governments plans, saying that the ban will do little to reduce the number of tickets given to drivers breaking the law but would put schoolchildren at risk and worsen road safety. What is clear is that the LGA has stood back and said nothing whilst councils have stung motorists for more than £300 million in fines, highlighting that this is about money rather than safety.

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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 | 7 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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Is BT handing over data on Brits in bulk?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, GCHQ, Home, Mobile Phones, Privacy, Surveillance, United States | 8 Comments

phone_exchangeLast year, the Guardian published an order under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act made to Verizon, which made clear that the NSA was collecting details of phone calls made by American citizens not on a targeted basis, but in bulk.

We have a simple question – is the same happening here?

Appearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday, our Director raised this issue and revealed that BT had refused to deny that it hands over data in bulk:

“Late last night I received a letter from British Telecom refusing to deny that they are handing over information in bulk on thousands or millions of British citizens and that mirrors a refusal to deny the same situation in a parliamentary answer received by Mr Davis.”

“My concerns is that there is the activity going on under the Telecommunications Act that is unsupervised and that is why BT cannot publicly refuse that they are handing over information in bulk.”

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UK falling behind on Transparency

Posted on by Dan Nesbitt Posted in GCHQ, Surveillance | Leave a comment

keyboardAt a time when the UK is already lagging behind the US in terms of an effective debate on surveillance transparency a phone call between Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama has served to further reinforce these differences.

In a post on the social media site the Facebook founder revealed that he had called the President to register his “frustration” over the US Government’s surveillance programme. He went on to argue that intelligence agencies “need to be more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst”.

This intervention comes after a letter from eight leading technology companies, including Facebook and Microsoft, was published in December. The letter, which was welcomed by Big Brother Watch, called for governments around the world to introduce surveillance reforms. In January President Obama admitted that the work to introduce such reforms “has just begun”. He went on to acknowledge that the practice of maintaining databases of information relating to the records of communications such as phone calls held the “potential for abuse”.

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Does Dishfire circumvent British law?

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Communications Data Bill, GCHQ, Mastering the Internet, Mobile Phones, Surveillance, United States | 2 Comments

phoneIf GCHQ or any other agency is obtaining mobile phone data through the Dishfire programme without a RIPA notice, that is circumventing British law.

The statements made have sought to only address questions about content being accessed, not metadata. This confusion should be urgently addressed.

Under UK law, if an agency or police force want access to details of who you have texted, where you were when you sent or received a text or the dates and times of your text massages they can obtain it from your phone company. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) provides for this. Such powers relate to obtaining communications (or meta) data and not content.  Acquiring content requires a warrant from a Secretary of State.

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Surveillance law reform is not optional

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, International, Internet freedom, Online privacy, PRISM, Surveillance, United States | 1 Comment

camerasToday, some of the world’s biggest technology companies have spelled out the principles that they believe should underpin the balance between privacy and security online.

In full page advertisements eight firms, including Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Twitter, signed a joint letter calling for Governments to adopt the following principles to underpin a reform of surveillance legislation:

  • Limiting Governments’ Authority to Collect Users’ Information:
  • Oversight and Accountability
  • Transparency about Government Demands
  • Respecting the Free Flow of Information
  • Avoiding Conflicts Among Governments

We wholeheartedly support these principles and call for the British Government to take urgent steps to adopt them.

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A (brief) recent history of security and the free press

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Databases, Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, PRISM, Privacy, Surveillance, Terrorism Legislation, United States | 1 Comment

Statesman

Today, the editor of the Guardian gives evidence to the Home Affairs select committee, as part of the committee’s work on counter terrorism.

Perhaps that might give the committee to question why Parliament learned of much of GCHQ’s activity from the newspaper, rather than from Ministers. Indeed, it seems on current evidence that will remain the case – as the Lords found on the 20th November, when they were told they could not even be informed which law authorised Project Tempora.

Lord Richard: My Lords, of course the Minister cannot go into details on these very sensitive matters. We all accept that. However, for the life of me, I do not see why she cannot answer a straightforward Question about which Minister authorised the project and why the existence of the project was not disclosed to the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill. These are not sensitive issues. They are pure matters of fact, surely capable of being answered.

Baroness Warsi: It is interesting that the noble Lord interprets it in that way but I think he would also accept that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on intelligence matters, which includes any comments on the project.

We have been repeatedly assured that it would be unacceptable for a central database of communications to be built – both by those in Government and those seeking to be.

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Time for surveillance transparency

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Featured, Google, International, Internet freedom, Online privacy, Surveillance, Technology, United States | 8 Comments

cameras

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 ComRes on the public’s attitude to surveillance. Overwhelmingly they want more transparency about powers are being used.

  • 70% of British adults say British companies should publish reports on how often they receive requests for customer data from the police and security services.
  • 66% of British adults say that the Government should publish more data about how surveillance powers are used

 

Last year more than 570,000 data requests were made – up 15 percent from 2011 – by the police, security services, HMRC and various public bodies, including local councils and organisations like the Charity Commission, Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive. No breakdown of who is using the powers is made available, or what types of crime are being investigated.

Transparency is an essential part of ensuring surveillance powers are not abused and maintaining public confidence that they are being used proportionately. Much more information could be published without any risk to security.

British companies are not bound by secrecy laws from disclosing how many data requests they receive and they should follow the lead of companies like Microsoft and Google in publishing basic information about how many times they hand over customer data. We’re calling on companies like BT, Sky, Vodafone and EE to publish data about how many requests they receive from the police and security services in the same way that Google, Microsoft and Facebook do. Equally, Government can do much more.

Much more can be done to inform the debate. Already in the US much more data is published about how often surveillance powers are used and the Obama administration is moving to publish even more, including how many citizens are affected by requests and what sort of crimes are being investigated. It is possible to give the public a better understanding of how powers are being used without compromising security and it should be an urgent priority to explore what data could be made available.

Recently we wrote to the Prime Minister highlighting several pieces of information that have no security risks and should be public. They were:

  • The budget of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security committee
  • The number of data requests inspected by the Interception of Communications Commissioner to reach his error rate estimate
  • Figures on the use of surveillance powers broken down by agency, as opposed to the single UK figure currently published, including the scale of international intelligence sharing
  • The number of British citizens affected by such requests

Transparency is not a substitute for a proper legal framework and robust oversight. However, it is an important part of evaluating how the overall system is operating and at present far too much information is kept from the public on security grounds when in reality there is no security risk in publishing it. Such unnecessary secrecy only casts doubt upon what is happening.

UPDATE: BBW director, Nick Pickles, spoke to the BBC Sunday Politics (Yorkshire and Humberside) about surveillance transparency

 

Committee widens inquiry into surveillance laws

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Communications Data Bill, Information Commissioner, Legal Action, Surveillance, Technology, Terrorism Legislation | 2 Comments

5946829399_e633991652_oThe Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has announced plans to broaden its investigation into whether the laws on digital surveillance and communications are adequate in the internet age.

This is a welcome step forward given the widespread concern that Britain’s surveillance laws are not fit for purpose, having been written before Facebook existed and when few people had internet access. However, such a debate cannot be allowed to take place behind closed doors and without pressing questions being asked about the legal justification for what we know to be already happening at GCHQ and elsewhere.

Indeed, this is the basis of our legal argument filed as part of the Privacy not Prism campaign – that Britain’s legal framework is not adequate and the surveillance being undertaken is neither necessary nor proportionate.

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