Support grows for surveillance transparency

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.

The paper also calls for more transparency about how undercover officers and covert surveillance powers are used, after every police force in the country refused to publish statistics under Freedom of Information Act requests made by Big Brother Watch, citing security concerns.

Our paper has received support from Former Home Secretary David Blunkett MP and former GCHQ Director Sir David Omand.

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett MP said“This paper highlights some very positive steps that will better inform the public and the debate which is rightly taking place about how we learn lessons from the immediate past and move forward to the future. We should learn from the US that it is possible to give the public more information about how surveillance powers are used without jeopardising security. I know that the Intelligence and Security Committee will not only be taking on board a whole range of submissions following their call for evidence, but also drawing down on the wider debate publicly and in Parliament. Both are important.”

Sir David Omand, former Director of GCHQ, said“I welcome this initiative by Big Brother Watch.  Not all the ideas in this paper may prove practicable, but it is important to keep seeking safe ways of informing the public about the true purpose, value and extent of interception of communications about which misunderstandings abound.  US practice may not always be the best guide due to the scale of their effort and since their legal structure is different.  Nevertheless, I hope ways will be found to make more information available for the UK so as to enhance public trust in the intelligence work of the police and security authorities”. 

Read the paper here.


  1. Nicholas Bohm
    7th April 2014

    It is a pity that Sir David’s welcome for the paper limits itself to “interception of communications”, as one of the key points of recent revelations is the huge intrusiveness of collecting communications metadata (not to mention its complete incompatibility with the ECHR).

  2. Anonymous
    7th April 2014

    What we need is a system where we are notified after the fact when an investigation has happened, wherever it be Council based RIPA or GHCQ X-Keyscore based monitoring.

    I don’t see the harm in that, seriously.

  3. Scott Thompson
    8th April 2014

    Yes, indeed lets have some much better transparency about our industrial espionage efforts. According to all the secret documents I’ve looked at that have been leaked so far, thats is clearly what we’re looking at. Not an attempt to curb terrorism, but a blatant act of industrial scale espionage. According to leaked documents, because terrorists play video games this is now how they want to influence our own children to become soldiers “Call of Duty” and lets not forget that the one firm that gave them grief, they’ve just bought out for $750’000’000 Dollars and the people buying into the contract is ALCATEL-LUCENT – NSA Cable splicers are US.

  4. Scott Thompson
    8th April 2014

    All of the Documents that have been released so far can be accessed on the American Civil Liberties Union website – The ACLU

    And the major provider of Fiber Optik cables are Alcatel-Lucent who are busy trying to pass the buck saying it’s all Oranges or T-Mobiles fault, when there own website outlines there NSA – Assurance values quite clearly!

  5. Scott Thompson
    8th April 2014

    Let’s not forget that every single piece of technology we have came from the united states and not to put to fine a point on it, but if Windows needs to be constantly upgraded, Apple needs to be constantly security fixed, Linux needs constant updates and BSD like wise need’s contant Critical Vulnerability Patches, then there’s clearly something very wrong with your Software isnt there!

  6. Anon
    10th April 2014

    The general way we are treated by our government today is that we are all under the sort of surveillance that once upon a time would have been reserved for those that were behaving highly suspiciously giving good reason for taking matters further. Now, we are all under suspicion daily and treated as though we are all guilty unless we can prove our innocence. What happened to innocent until proven guilty? The sense of being under surveillance every time you go out of your front door (and at home via computers) is so unbearable that this country is no longer a good place to live.

  7. martin brighton
    12th April 2014

    Government is Antoinesque.
    Politics is broken.
    Democracy is dead.
    Parliament is not fit for purpose.
    Government has become the enemy of the People.

    This government is corrupt.
    The corruption is absolute, lead from the top down, and out of control.
    Being rotten to the core and from the core, everything it touches it taints.
    Having neither the will nor ability to change, outside intervention is indicated.

    Any persons who fail to act appropriately when faced with corruption,
    or condone in any way the actions of those determined as corrupt,
    become, by definition, corrupt themselves.

    There comes a time when, for the sake of humanity, society and civilisation,
    it is not only the choice of a person to throw out corrupt governance,
    but a duty.

    It is those in power who are the terrorists, having destroyed our society from within.

    The banksters are but one part of ‘the establishment ‘ that depends upon corruption to exist.
    The inextricable entanglement is both endemic and systemic.

    • Don Stenhouse
      17th April 2014

      Well said Martin! I am cynical about almost everything now. Inertia and personal gain rule the day. Our information is a commodity to be bought and traded and democracy is an illusion that many can see though.
      Power corrupts and even those who start with good intentions probably get waylaid by the scratch my back I’ll scratch yours’ syndrome.
      Quite often you can’t even trust people who purport to be helping – ‘sign this online petition, give us your money’ without ‘us’ showing that we actually do anything. Big Brother Watch can at least provide evidence.
      Everything is pointless really – nothing will change and those who are currently weak and powerless would be exactly the same given the chance. Many of those who whinge about corruption and big bonuses would happily take a bribe or get paid millions to kick a ball about.

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    17th April 2014

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    17th April 2014

    “We should learn from the US that it is possible to give the public more information about how surveillance powers are used without jeopardising security.”

    Yes, Mr Blunkett, we could learn a LOT about the way ‘surveillance’ is being conducted in the now-Nazified Land of the Free.

    But I wonder WHICH ‘lessons’ our Political Masters will take on board ?

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