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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

Technology

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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Paper on security and privacy for the ISC

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Databases, GCHQ, Information Commissioner, Legal Action, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, Technology, Terrorism Legislation, United States | Leave a comment

Big Brother Watch was invited to submit a paper to the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, relating to it’s inquiry into the balance between security and privacy.BNUARLICcAAiyCZ.jpg large

You can now read our submission below.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In a Democratic society, some secrecy is tolerated, as are some intrusions upon liberty and privacy, provided the legal framework is transparency, the oversight mechanisms robust and the overall sacrifices of liberty made with an appropriate level of understanding.

Recent revelations have made clear the scale of intrusion on our privacy in the name of security, enabled by an explosion in digital communications and the computing resources available to the state.

Ministers have assured the public no central database of internet communications would be created. We now know it existed already. Parliament and the public were not informed by Ministers, the Intelligence and Security Committee or the Commissioners.

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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 | 9 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

 

Shop door surveillance : this is only the start

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Biometrics, CCTV, Marketing, Privacy, Technology | 10 Comments

Tesco’s new scanner sounds harmless enough – a camera that just works out whether you’re male or female, and roughly how old you are.

The advertisements shown on the screen change, and I’m sure quickly you’ll see cases of men with long hair being mistaken for women, to much hilarity from their friends.

There are two fundamental problems here; not least the fact that the only way you can ensure your face is not scanned is to not go into the shop.

Firstly, should we really be increasing the amount of surveillance we’re under so some companies can sell more advertising?

Secondly, the technology isn’t going to stay the same and be used in the same way.

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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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NCA lacks oversight and transparency

Posted on by Emma Carr Posted in CCTV, Civil Liberties, Freedom of Information, Police, Privacy, RIPA, Surveillance, Technology | Leave a comment

police-3The National Crime Agency (NCA) has been launched today by the Home Office with announcements that it will have access to some of the most high tech surveillance tools available but will also promote an environment of transparency and openness. Yet, with an exemption from the Freedom of Act and being regulated by outdated legislation, how accountable will the Agency be?

The NCA has billed itself as being more open and transparent than its predecessors, yet it won’t be subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) on the basis that this would “jeopardise its operational effectiveness and ultimately result in lower levels of protection for the public.” Considering the Agency will have highly intrusive surveillance techniques at its disposal, it is remarkable that it is allowed to be able to use them behind a cloak of secrecy. FOI would not prevent intelligence sharing, protecting sources of information or expose police tactics and technology. Indeed, every police force in the country and the Association of Chief Police Officers all manage to operate with FOI applying to them.

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To be, or not to be, blocked, that is the question

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom, Technology, Web blocking | 14 Comments

Phil Kalina for Stan Hywet Hall & GardensIn the latest development of over-zealous internet filtering, the British Library has blocked access to Shakespeare’s Hamlet because of its “violent content”.

The block was discovered by author Mark Forsyth, who attempted to check a line from the play over the library’s wi-fi network.

We have repeatedly warned that there is a fundamental issue with filtering legal content based on a subjective moral view, often made by a third party and not the person operating the network. Does the British Library really think that the content of Hamlet is so violent to justify access being blocked to one of the most famous plays of all time?

When parents worry about what their children might see over public wi-fi, does the British library think that the most pressing issue is if they are reading English literature?

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Bin snooping? We’ve been here before

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Bins, Councils, Data Protection, Information Commissioner, Privacy, Surveillance, Technology | 13 Comments

A guest post by former Big Brother Watch director, Alex Deane.iStock_000005457815Medium

Longstanding BBW supporters may remember that I was once Director of this parish. For the past two years, I’ve been a Common Councilman in the City of London, aka the Square Mile. These two things crossed over significantly this week, with the news (broken by Quartz) that a company named Renew, which had installed bins in the Square Mile, was using a data collection capacity installed in those bins to collect information about mobile telephone usage amongst passers-by.

Let’s lance one canard right now: I don’t care what they were using this data for, or intending to use it for. You’ve got no right to snatch data from the airwaves like this, no matter what your ostensible motive and no matter how innocent your alleged plans. This behaviour is wrong in and of itself and it is a good thing that this case has resulted in controversy for those carrying it out and attention for the issue; all the better as it has happened early in the development of this technology – or at least, this latest iteration of it.

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Mastering the Internet and GCHQ

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Mastering the Internet, Surveillance, Technology, United States | 8 Comments

servers

The Guardian has just reported new claims about GCHQ’s internet surveillance operations.

The article claims:

“One key innovation has been GCHQ’s ability to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fibre-optic cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted and analysed. That operation, codenamed Tempora, has been running for some 18 months.

GCHQ and the NSA are consequently able to access and process vast quantities of communications between entirely innocent people, as well as targeted suspects.

This includes recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, entries on Facebook and the history of any internet user’s access to websites – all of which is deemed legal, even though the warrant system was supposed to limit interception to a specified range of targets.”

Of course, GCHQ’s job is to spy on people, to listen to phone calls and protect us. However, as was discussed in Parliament last week, this operates under a strict regime and any interception is subject to a ministerial warrant. As the Foreign Secretary said:

“To intercept the content of any individual’s communications in the UK requires a warrant signed personally by me, the Home Secretary, or by another Secretary of State.

This is no casual process. Every decision is based on extensive legal and policy advice. Warrants are legally required to be necessary, proportionate and carefully targeted, and we judge them on that basis.”

If then, as the Guardian story claims, that large volumes of data – including content – are being scraped from fibre optic cables then this would have to be authorised by a Secretary of State’s warrant for every individual affected.

As this report notes, interception can be defined under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act as “an interception as carried out in the course of its transmission when (i) it is stored so that the recipient can access and collect it later31 and (ii) when the contents of the transmission are stored by the interceptor so as to make them available after the transmission (‘subsequently’).”

However, the Guardian has summarised potential legal loopholes that may significantly handicap the existing safeguards. The main point is that if a communication is “external” to the UK it can be collected under a RIPA certificate, rather than requiring an individual warrant. If two British people were to have a Facebook chat, for example, that chat is routed via Facebook outside the UK. The argument would then seem to be that GCHQ is intercepting it as it enters and leaves the UK, and as such is an “external” communication. We would take major issue with this legal interpretation, as whichever way you look at it the content of a message between two UK citizens is being intercepted without an explicit warrant from a Secretary of State. This is applying a law for landline telephones to the internet in a way that deliberately expands the amount of data that can be collected far beyond what was considered by Parliament. 

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “This appears to be dangerously close to, if not exactly, the centralised database of all our internet communications, including some content, that successive Governments have ruled out and Parliament has never legislated for.

“Britain has a clear legal process in place to govern the interception of the content of communications and blanket interception is not a part of that system. If GCHQ have been intercepting huge numbers of innocent people’s communications as part of a massive sweeping exercise then I struggle to see how that squares with a process that requires a warrant for each individual intercept. This question must be urgently be addressed in Parliament.

“The fact GCHQ staff have been discussing how light the UK’s oversight regime is compared to the US highlights why we need a wholesale review of surveillance law, including the fact that there is absolutely no judicial process within the current system and the people making these decisions are able to hide in the shadows rather than face public scrutiny.”

 

PRISM, the NSA and internet privacy: questions for the UK

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Civil Liberties, Google, Information Commissioner, International, Online privacy, Social Networking, Surveillance, Technology, United States | 8 Comments

serversRecent days have seen a deluge of revelations about the US’ National Security Agency and a spy programme known as Prism, after 29 year old whistleblower Edward Snowden decided he had seen enough to justify going public with his concerns the scale of the surveillance apparatus being built by America.

There are clearly several issues of serious concern here. Clearly, the legalility of what the NSA Has been doing and whether Britain has been either complicit or unwittingly accessing material illegally obtained is at the fore.

The leaked Verizon order involved the collection of details about millions of American’s phone calls under the PATRIOT Act. Yet one of the Act’s authors, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., who was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks and wrote the Patriot Act, has questioned the NSA’s interpretation of their powers. He has written to US Attorney General Eric Holder saying “I do not believe the released [secret court] order is consistent with the requirements of the Patriot Act. How could the phone records of so many innocent Americans be relevant to an authorized investigation as required by the act?”

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