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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

Take Action

Take Action: Nuisance Calls

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Take Action | 2 Comments

Channel 4 Dispatches has looked at the problem of nuisance phone calls, documenting the irritation and inconvenience that it can cause people around the country. Our acting director, Emma Carr, contributed to the investigation. Here, we have compiled the advice that is currently available for people concerned about any nuisance calls that they are receiving.

Ofcom has created a video on what to do if you receive nuisance calls

What are nuisance calls?

The Information Commissioner’s Office’s (ICO) Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 covers the way organisations make direct marketing telephone calls.

According to the ICO, nuisance marketing calls can be live sales calls or calls where a pre-recorded message is played. What these calls have in common is that there is an attempt to promote a product, service, aim or ideal to you.

There are two types of marketing calls:

  • Telesales (live) calls: unwanted sales calls from a real person.

Live marketing calls should not be made to anyone who has registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) or the Corporate Telephone Preference Service (CTPS), unless they have told the caller that they wish to receive such calls from them. They should also not be made to anyone who has told the caller directly that they do not wish to receive marketing calls.

  • Automated calls: pre-recorded marketing messages that are played when you answer the phone.

Automated marketing calls should only be made to you when you have previously agreed that the organisation can make these calls.

Ofcom has also provided the following guides and information:

Other advice from the ICO:

What can I do to avoid nuisance calls?

  • Telesales (live) calls:

To help stop nuisance live marketing calls you can:

  • register with the TPS free of charge;
  • check privacy statements when you provide your phone number; and
  • tell organisations you deal with if you would rather they did not market you by phone.

What can I do if I am receiving nuisance calls?

  • Telesales (live) calls:

If you receive a live marketing call which you think breaches the Regulations you should write to or email the organisation concerned (remembering to keep a copy of all correspondence). Tell them about the problem and allow them time to put things right.

If you continue to receive live nuisance calls 28 days after registering with the TPS, you can complain to the TPS. You can also report your concerns to us.

  • Automated calls:

If you are receiving calls that ask you to phone a premium rate number (one beginning with 090) you can contact PhonepayPlus. They regulate products or services that are charged to users’ phone bills or pre-pay accounts.For all other nuisance automated calls, you can report your concerns to us.

Who to contact to make a complaint?

  • If you would like to complain about live telesales calls, automated marketing calls and spam texts or marketing emails you should contact the Information Commissioner’s Office
  • If you would like to complain about abandoned and silent calls you should contact Ofcom
  • You should contact PhonepayPlus, if you would like to complain about a premium rate number or service, and have been unable to contact the responsible company or if they have failed to resolve your complaint.
  • If you are registered with the Telephone Preference Service and would like to complain about unsolicited live telesales calls you should contact the TPS.

Disclosure and Barring Service (formerly Criminal Records Bureau)

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in Take Action | 2 Comments

The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) have merged to become the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). CRB checks are now called DBS checks.

A DBS check may be needed for:

  • certain jobs or voluntary work – e.g. working with children or in healthcare
  • applying to foster or adopt a child

There are different rules for getting a criminal record check in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Click here for information on:

  • Overview of the DBS system
  • Documentation
  • Arranging checks as an employer
  • Tracking an application
  • DBS barred lists
  • Appeals and disputes
  • Contacting DBS

What information do you need to disclose?

(From www.adviceguide.org.uk)

The information that you have to give will depend on the length and type of sentence that you received and the job that you are applying for. You will always have to declare a prison sentence of more than two and a half years (or an equivalent period of youth detention or custody) if you are asked about your criminal record by an employer. This applies to a suspended or partially suspended sentence too.

You will also always have to declare any conviction if you are applying for a job where you are working with children or vulnerable adults. For example, you will have to declare all convictions if you are applying to teach, work in the healthcare sector, work as a childminder, or as a social worker.

However, if you are not working with children or vulnerable people, there are some offences that you do not have to declare after a certain period of time has passed. If your conviction falls into this category the conviction is considered to be spent and does not have to be declared even if an employer asks you directly about your criminal record. This fixed period is known as a rehabilitation period and runs from the date of conviction. The length of the rehabilitation period depends on the sentence that you received rather than the type of offence that you committed. Some will be spent more quickly then others.

For information about spent (rehabilitation) periods click here (pdf).

In England and Wales, you can use the online calculator at www.disclosurecalculator.org.uk to work out if your criminal record has become spent.

For information about spend periods in Scotland click here.

For more information about declaring a criminal record when you want to work with children or vulnerable adults, in England and Wales, go to the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk. In Scotland, go to the website of Disclosure Scotland at www.disclosurescotland.co.uk.

Opt-out of Care.Data

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Take Action | 7 Comments

MedConfidential, the medical privacy group Big Brother Watch helped to establish, has produced an opt-out letter for Care.Data, the new NHS data sharing scheme.

Below is the plain text and here are three links to downloadable versions.

Opt out letter (PDF)

Opt out letter (MS Word)

Opt out letter (Rich Text)

Dissent from secondary use of patient identifiable data

Dear Doctor,

I am writing to give notice that I refuse consent for my identifiable information and the identifiable information of those for whom I am responsible [delete as appropriate] to be transferred from your practice systems for any purpose other than my medical care.

Please take whatever steps necessary to ensure my / our confidential personal information is not uploaded and record my dissent by whatever means possible.

This includes adding the ‘Dissent from secondary use of GP patient identifiable data’ code (Read v2: 9Nu0 or CTV3: XaZ89) to my record as well as the ‘Dissent from disclosure of personal confidential data by Health and Social Care Information Centre’ code (Read v2: 9Nu4 or CTV3: XaaVL).

I am aware of the implications of this request, understand that it will not affect the care I / we receive and will notify you should I change my mind.

Yours sincerely,

Signature ____________________________________      Date ________________

Information to help identify my records [please complete in BLOCK CAPITALS]



Title   _______      Surname / Family name   ____________________________________


Forename(s)  _____________________________________________________________

Address           _____________________________________________________________


Postcode         ________________________

Date of birth    ________________________

NHS number (if known)   ___________________________________


Space for additional patient details overleaf

Permanently opt-out of the edited electoral roll

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Take Action | 10 Comments

You can use this text to inform your council of your wish to permanently opt-out of the Edited Electoral Roll.


Notice under Section 11 of the Data Protection Act 1998 not to use my personal information for direct marketing / share my personal details with third parties


I, [ full name ] of [ full address ] require that you as Electoral Registration Officer for [ council area ] cease or do not begin processing for the purpose of direct marketing personal data which I supply to you in respect of the Register of Electors with effect from the date of this request. In doing so and until I notify you in writing to the contrary, I particularly request that my name be withheld from the current and future versions of the Edited Register of Electors and that this choice be specifically marked on any annual registration forms sent to me in the future.



Reclaim your DNA

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Biometrics, Civil Liberties, DNA database, Home, Protection of Freedoms Bill, Take Action | 5 Comments

Our report on the DNA Database highlighted how the database has continued to grow in recent years, and that despite the passage of the Protection of Freedoms Act innocent people still have no timetable for when their DNA will be removed from the database.

We’re delighted to support GeneWatch’s ‘Reclaim your DNA’ campaign,which aims to bring about the swift removal of innocent people from the DNA database and the associated systems.

There are two ways to get involved. Firstly, write to your MP and ask them to write to the Home Secretary on your behalf.(You can find who your MP is here) We have drafted a letter to your MP for you to use that you can download here.

The three key questions you should ask are:

  • When will your DNA and fingerprint records be removed from police databases;
  • When will your DNA sample will be destroyed;
  • When will new police guidance be issued requiring the removal of your record of arrest from the Police National Computer (PNC)

You should also write to the Chief Constable of the police force who took your sample. (We’ve produced a template letter here.) If you don’t know who the relevant Chief Constable is you can find the individual police force websites here.

Children and young people, or their parents, who were given a conviction, reprimand or final warning for a single minor offence more than three years ago can also ask these questions.

Note: the new law does not require the removal of records from adults who have accepted a caution from the police, and people arrested for serious offences can have their records retained for three years in the first instance, or a further two if there is approval by a Magistrate’s court. However you will be entitled to be notified that an application for retention has been made.

Dealing with spam calls and emails

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Take Action | 3 Comments

Unsolicited Phone Calls:

Register for the free service provided by the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), the official central opt out register where you can record your preference to not receive unsolicited sales or marketing calls.  TPS note that it is a legal requirement that all organisations (including charities, voluntary organisations and political parties) do not make calls to numbers registered on the TPS database unless they have your consent to do so.  To register with TPS click here.

Unsolicited Text Messages:

There has recently been an increase in unsolicited text messages relating to accident claims, debts or missold PPI.  The companies sending these messages are seeking to solicit leads which are then sold on to management firms.  The TPS advise that if you receive these text messages then it is best to ignore them.  If you feel that the text messages are becoming a nusance then you can report the messages to your network operator who may be able to prevent further spam from the originating number.  You can either contact your network operator’s customer services or use one of the reporting numbers:

  • Orange, O2, T-Mobile and Three: Forward the text to 7726
  • Vodafone: Forward the text to VSPAM (87726)

However, numbers often change and so the network cannot guarantee stopping all unsolicited messages.

If you do not believe that you have opted-in to the number of that there is a breach of your data protection then you can also report it to the ICO (follow guidelines below)

Complaints to the ICO:

A second option is to contact the ICO.  If a company that has contacted you fails to provide details of who they are then the communication is unlawful and the ICO can help.  The ICO website advises the following action to be taken if you are concerned:

1)  Contact the organisation in question explaining your concerns and allow them some time to address the problem.  You can call the ICO helpline on 0303 123 1113 for more advise on what can be done to resolve the matter.

2)  If the problem remains unresolved the ICO may be able to help.  If necessary, they will investigate the problem further and they can provide help and guidance to the organisation if they believe that the law has been broken.  You will need to be able to provide evidence to support your complaint otherwise the ICO will be unable to consider it.

Read more

How to make a Subject Access Request

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Take Action | 2 Comments

Sometimes it can be quite confusing to figure out what information organisations hold about you. We receive lots of enquiries about how people go about doing this so to launch a new section of the website – Take Action – here’s an introduction to do just that.

Under the Data Protection Act you are entitled to make a ‘Subject Access Request’ to the ‘Data Controller’, which allows you to receive all the information that is held about you by the organisation. We have recently had a series of queries about how to go about making this kind of request, and so we have put together a template letter than can be amended to suit your personal request.  We have also included some helpful tips to guide you through the process.

You can download the letter here.

Sometimes you’ll have to pay a fee for the data, and you’ll also have to go through a process to confirm you are indeed the person making the claim.

Legally you’re entitled to a response within 40 days as long as the necessary fee has been paid.  If they do not hold data about you, the organisation is legally required to tell you.

You can also see more information on the Information Commissioner’s website here.