Tag: big brother watch

Former NSA boss compares privacy activists to al Qaida terrorists

Former NSA chief Michael Hayden, who ran the shady US spying bureaucracy from 1999 to 2009, responded to a question about Edward Snowden by painting privacy activists as terrorists and comparing them to al Qaida.

“If and when our government grabs Edward Snowden, and brings him back here to the United States for trial, what does this group do?” Hayden asked, reffering to “nihilists, anarchists, activists, Lulzsec, Anonymous, twentysomethings who haven’t talked to the opposite sex in five or six years”.

He continued: “They may want to come after the US government, but frankly, you know, the dot-mil stuff is about the hardest target in the United States”.

‘Dot mil’ is American jargon for its military networks.

“So if they can’t create great harm to dot-mil, who are they going after?” Hayden said, according to the Guardian. “Who for them are the World Trade Centers? The World Trade Centers, as they were for al-Qaida”.

Hayden was in charge of the NSA when it began its unprecedented surveillance operation. He also ran the CIA. He conclude that the situation he outlined was speculation and “imaginative”, but also that Snowden “has created quite a stir among these folks who are very committed to transparency and global transparency”.

Big Brother Watch, the British privacy rights group, responded. Speaking with TechEye, its director, Nick Pickles, said: “Given the testimony given under oath about what the NSA was doing, it is understandable that Hayden may be showing signs of nerves, as Edward Snowden’s disclosures blow apart assurances that there  was no surveillance of American citizens.

“Perhaps if Mr Hayden had spent more time trying to recruit the people he now so gleefully traduces and compares to terrorists it wouldn’t have been possible to walk out of a high-security facility with so much classified information on a USB stick,” Pickles continued.

“More Americans now think that security measures have gone too far than think we need more surveillance,” he said. “If we are to have a sensible debate about what is necessary and proportionate to keep us safe in the modern communications age, we need to start by stopping the utterly ridiculous pastime of some securocrats to brand anyone who disagrees with them a terrorist.”

CRB errors mean thousands wrongly branded as criminals

Nearly 12,000 people have been wrongly branded as criminals over the past five years as a result of irrelevant or inaccurate information disclosed during criminal record checks.

According to the latest from Big Brother Watch, 11,893 people successfully challenged their CRB results after being branded as criminals – forcing the government to shell out £1.98 million in redress.

CRB checks are regularly carried out for employment applications, especially for those looking to work with children or in the medical sector.

Details are then sent directly to current or potential employers, meaning that any black mark could be detrimental.

The stats show 4,196 people challenged information held by a local police force, while 3,519 people were given the wrong person’s criminal record. A further 4,088 people were also claimed to have found inaccurate information or a potential wrong identity on police national computers.

Big Brother Watch has now called for tighter controls on the way CRB checks operate, claiming that people should not have to rely on a check to find out about inaccurate, misleading or wrong information being stored about them, particularly when that information is available to other public organisations and police officers.

The group pointed out that the most common errors were where information was disclosed by local police forces or the police national computer. In 3,519 cases the wrong person’s entry on the police national computer was disclosed.

This isn’t the first time such checks have come under fire. In February last year, The Telegraph revealed that around 20,000 people had been wrongly labelled as criminals or accused of more serious offences because of blunders by the police and the CRB, since 2003.

It claimed at the time that in at least 3,000 cases the police record of an entirely different person was passed on while more than 3,500 people discovered their entries on the police national computer (PNC) were inaccurate.

The research contradicted annual error statistics published by the Criminal Records Bureau, which suggested around 200 people are wrongly accused each year.

UK gov rejects web porn ban

The government has rejected demands that internet service providers place automatic filters on pornographic content online to protect children.

Following a joint consultation conducted by the Department and Education and Home Office, ministers have agreed that ISPs will not be required to put default blocks on pornography, with the responbility lying with parents.  

There have been calls for a process whereby adults would have to ‘opt in’ to see certain content, rather than being freely available for any users to access, including from UK PM  David ‘Dave’ Cameron himself.

According to the report outlining the government’s response to the consultation, ISPs will continue to use an ‘active choice’ system being put in place by ISPs such as BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media.   This involves encouraging and allowing parents to set controls on content, rather than being putting it under the remit of the ISP.

A consultation showed that only around a third of parents would back the placement of default blocks to be put in place by ISPs, but this was not deemed high enough by the government to warrant blocking of data for all users.

The report stated: “There was no great appetite among parents for the introduction of default filtering of the internet by their ISP: only 35% of the parents who responded favoured that approach.”

The report also highlighted the difficulties in actually putting blocks in place, with an overzealous approach also filtering out content pertaining to other topics such as as sexual health, for example, yet failing to block all the pornographic content on the web.

The proposals also came under fire from privacy advocates. Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, one of the campaign groups opposing the filtering, commented that the government has taken measured approach to the situation. 

“This is a positive step that strikes the right balance between child safety and parentalresponsibility without infringing on civil liberties and freedom of speech,” Pickles said.

“The policy recognises it is parents, not Government, who are responsible for controlling what their children see online and rightly avoids any kind of state-mandated blocking of legal conten,” he said.

He added: “Companies are already responding to demand from some parents for filters and emphasising that choice is rightly the focus of Government policy.”

Mass school CCTV snooping readies kids for Spy Society

Secondary schools and academies across the UK have been spying on staff and students using CCTV cameras, a new report has found.

According to Big Brother Watch, there are more than an estimated 100,000 CCTV cameras installed across these institutions – with some even found in private areas such as toilets and changing rooms.

Parents, speaking with TechEye, have said the findings show the “spying state has gone too far,” while other privacy groups have said the use of cameras mirrors “reality TV”.

Big Brother Watch obtained the data under the Freedom of Information Act. Responses from 2,107 secondary schools and academies showed they used 47,806 cameras overall, including 26,887 inside school buildings.

In 207 schools, cameras were located in toilets or changing rooms, while 54 schools were found to have more than one camera inside the school for every fifteen pupils.

The Radclyffe School in Oldham was found to be the worst culprit when it came to recording footage in toilets and changing rooms, admitting to having 20 cameras in these areas.

With 1.8m pupils being taught in these schools, there was an average of one camera for every 38 children.

In all, 90 percent of schools had CCTV cameras, with an average of 24 cameras in each of the 1,537 secondary schools that responded and 30 cameras in each of the 570 academies.

Earlier this year, Big Brother Watch found there are currently at least 51,600 CCTV cameras controlled by 428 local authorities.

The group said this posed the question of how the situation in schools had reached this level without any concerns being raised.

It also pointed out that the Home Office’s proposed regulation of CCTV would not apply to schools and that the new post of Surveillance Camera Commissioner would have no enforcement or inspection powers.

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said the research brought with it some serious questions about the privacy of schoolchildren across Britain. He said the full extent of school surveillance was far higher than the group had expected and “would come as a shock to many parents”.

“Schools need to come clean about why they are using these cameras and what is happening to the footage,” Pickles said. “Local authorities also need to be doing far more to reign in excessive surveillance in their areas and ensuring resources are not being diverted from more effective alternatives”.

The government’s snooping bill does cover CCTV, but according to Big Brother Watch, the regulations aren’t robust enough to cover the spiralling schools problem.

Under the Protection of Freedoms Bill 2012 (Part 2, Chapter 1), the Home Secretary is required to prepare a code of practice containing guidance about surveillance camera systems. The Act outlines that relevant authorities ‘must have regard’ to the code, however “a failure on the part of any person to act in accordance with any provision of the surveillance camera code does not of itself make that person liable to criminal or civil proceedings”.

The draft Code also states “the commissioner has no enforcement or inspection powers” and that the code will only apply to a limited range of organisations.

Big Brother Watch argued that the code would therefore not apply to schools.

Charles Farrier, No CCTV spokesperson, told TechEye that the report showed “the worrying degree to which children are being tacitly taught that surveillance is a good thing”.

“Both school pupils and parents ought to be asking why it is that schools are becoming ever more like high security prisons,” Farrier said.

“We should also be asking what problem the are cameras aiming to solve,” he said. “We know from study after study that surveillance cameras have no significant effect on crime but what we have yet to fully understand is their impact on our society.

“Schools should set an example to children of how to solve problems through relationships between people rather than simply turning problems into reality TV,” Farrier said.
 
The research has shocked parents who have told TechEye that they believe the “spying state has gone too far”.

One told us: “I can understand that schools would need a certain degree of CCTV given the age we live in. However, installing cameras in the toilets and changing rooms shows that the spying state has gone too far.”

Another added: “What happens if this footage falls into the wrong hands? There are a few people working in schools that may not be as nice as they seem. I’d hate for my child to be watched in his underwear while getting changed for PE. It’s not a TV show, it’s our children’s lives.”
 
Following the report, the Department for Education sent out a generic statement where it claimed it had already acted to make it unlawful for schools to use biometric data like fingerprints without parents’ permission.

A spokeperson added: “CCTV can be beneficial in some cases but this is a decision that head teachers should take.

“Schools using CCTV are required by law to adhere to the Data Protection Act.”

BBC, Ofsted in RIPA spying allegations

Privacy watchdog Big Brother Watch has claimed that public bodies, including the BBC and Ofsted, are using surveillance powers on a regular basis.

Following a string of Freedom of Information requests, the campaigning group has released a report containing information on the responses, or lack of, from a variety of public organisations.

Requests made under the FOI Act concerned the powers granted under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), put in place in 2000 to grant powers of surveillance.  The moves enable organisations to perform surveillance such as interception of communications. Organisations granted powers of surveillance range from the police to local councils.

According to Big Brother Watch, a number of public authorities which have power under RIPA have refused to disclose any information on how often they are used it, or for what purpose. These bodies include the BBC, Ofsted, the Royal Mail and the Office of Fair Trading.

The Big Brother Watch report also shows the number of RIPA investigations undertaken by local authorities. 345 local authorities have conducted RIPA surveillance in the past three years, amounting to a total of 9,607 cases. Such cases have included 26 local authorities employing surveillance for dog fouling, while seven have done so to nab those flouting smoking bans.

Kent is the local authority which has made the most RIPA investigations, a total of 315 in the past three years.

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said in a statement that all RIPA investigations by public bodies should be subject to judicial approval.

“It is unacceptable for public authorities to keep secret details of why they are spying on the public and to use these powers without ever seeking a court’s approval,” Pickles said.  “Judicial approval for spying on us should be the norm, not the exception and the public have a right to know why and how these powers are being used.”

Pickles continued: “The current law is broken and before further surveillance powers are considered we need to fix the situation. Fiddling around the edges by making small changes in new laws risks making the law even more complicated and puts at risk everyone’s privacy and civil liberties.” 

Privacy groups claim Communications Bill breaches human rights

Theresa May’s justification of the Communications Bill has angered privacy groups, which have said the plans will tarnish everyone with the same “guilty” brush.

The Home Secretary is expected today to push ahead with a draft of the bill, which proposes to allow police and other intelligence services access to citizen’s social networking and internet activity as well as emails, online gaming and internet phone calls.

Outlining plans to store this information for a year, Ms May claimed that this was essential to help keep up and target criminals including terrorists and sex offenders.

However, privacy groups have said the Bill could breach human rights laws and tarnish everyone in the UK with the same “guilty” brush.

Jim Killock, Director at the Open Rights Group, told TechEye that more consideration was needed to ensure that the bill was in line with human rights.
 
“The question here is, are these proposals in balance with human rights considerations?” he said. “So not to trespass into a surveillance nation the law should only target those who are deemed to be guilty, not the blanket nation, which is what they are doing.” 
 
He added that as a result of this, the legislation could be challenged in a human rights court and pushed back. The human rights law are in place to protect the public, he said.

“What is at risk here is that the police will be able to identify whistleblowers, celebrities and also journalists and their sources,” KIllock warned.  “Given this will all be through police will, we could be moving into dangerous territory.”

Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties and privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, shared the same concerns. Speaking with TechEye, Pickles said: “In a free society it is not for innocent people to justify why the government should not spy on them.

“This policy goes against the Coalition Agreement, against Conservative pre-election policy and is fundamentally an illiberal, intrusive scheme that will do little to improve national security and do everything to turn us into a nation of suspects.

“A pathetic compromise on council snooping is not going to fool the public, so the Home Office are resorting to the same scaremongering the last government used to justify ID Cards, 90 day detention without charge and countless other authoritarian policies.”

A spokesperson for Privacy International told TechEye: “In the UK we’ve historically operated under the presumption that the government has no business peering into the lives of citizens unless there is good reason to – that people are innocent until proven guilty.

“This legislation would reverse that presumption and fundamentally change the relationship between citizen and state.

“Yet there are still big question marks over whether Facebook and Google will be brought under RIPA, and how far the government is willing to go in undermining Internet security in order to fulfil its insatiable desire for data.”

Currently, police and security services can access details of internet visits and other communications data only if it is stored by phone companies and internet companies.

The new bill will, however, give automatic access to the police, security officials, the new National Crime Agency and HMRC, while other organisations, such as NHS trusts and the Environment Agency, will have to make a case before Parliament if they want to access this information.

ICO shouts departments must answer FOI requests on time

The Information Commissioner and Big Brother Watch have said that more needs to be done to ensure response times for freedom of information (FOI) requests are decreased. 

In June 2011, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Cabinet Office made public commitments to improve their timeliness in dealing with FOI requests after the ICO found that they were consistently failing to meet the required standard. 

The ICO today said it was pleased with the progress, which has seen both authorities improving response times to 85 percent within the time limit of 20 days. However, it has forced six public authorities, including the Welsh Government, to sign and commit to speeding up the time they take to respond to requests of this kind. 

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said:  “While both the MoD and the Cabinet Office have put a good deal of effort into making significant improvements to their FOI handling processes, it is vital that these improvements are sustained.”

He added that six of the 18 authorities the organisation monitored between 1 April and 30 June 2011 “fell below the required standard and have been told to make changes or risk formal enforcement action.”

Big Brother Watch agreed that departments need to get their houses in order. Nick Pickles, director, told TechEye: “A third of the organisations monitored failed to provide the public with information they were entitled to within the legal time limit – we are still a long way from transparent government.

 “It is to be welcomed that some departments have improved their performance, but clearly problems remain. With rumblings from within Whitehall about the burden of Freedom of Information laws, the ICO has a tough job ensuring that the standards of accountability and openness that have been established are not watered down.

“We will be fighting hard to make sure that not only does performance improve, but that British Government does not succumb to the temptation of secrecy and roll back the progress that has been made in recent years.”

Home Office urged for transparency on spyware industry

The UK’s government has been criticised by privacy groups over a lack of transparency about its involvement in the surveillance industry.

A report released yesterday showed that government agencies around the world are attending events and trade shows with the latest in surveillance technology.

From large scale organisations to the small, attendees at ISS World can buy up the latest surveillance and monitoring technology.  A joint report from the Wall Street Journal and Privacy International showed that even some rather surprising attendees, such as the Strathclyde Police and The US Fish and Wildlife Service, also turn up – paying over a thousand dollars per head for the privilege.

The Home Office has attended ISS World events in the past.  TechEye asked the Home Office to explain the purpose for the visits but were told that, for “operational reasons”, it could not comment.

The Home Office says that such visits are a matter of course, saying that “officials attend meetings like this and others as routine”.

Privacy advocates at Big Brother Watch questioned the necessity for the UK government to attend such events, and called for more transparency over attendance.

Deputy director of the group Emma Carr said, speaking to TechEye: “Questions need to be asked as to why individual police forces, such as Strathclyde Police, would need to attend a conference that features training sessions on ‘online social media and internet investigations’ and ‘exploiting computer and mobile vulnerabilities for electronic surveillance’”.

Carr continued: “In the past ten years there have been millions of interceptions of communications, but only a tiny fraction are ever authorised by a court.”

Carr believes that with technology advancing at such a rate, the government needs to be clear about its surveillance powers. Big Brother Watch suggests the UK needs a “proper regulatory system in place to protect privacy and civil liberties”.

“The public can’t have faith that these powers are being used properly if the government fails to be transparent in its attendance at such events,” Carr told us.

“The number of people attending these conferences demonstrates the enthusiasm for using more intrusive technology,” she said. “It is far from certain that Britain has suitable regulation in place to ensure it is used proportionately and in appropriate situations.”

Camden Council threatens its constituents with shouting CCTV

The London borough of Camden has installed talking CCTV cameras in residential areas which literally threaten constituents outside their own homes.

The camera, spotted by London blog Big Smoke, was found in a residential estate of the borough in a communal garden. When approached, it blasts out an American voice demanding residents “stop” as it’s a “restricted area”. It tells residents that their photograph is being taken and “will be sent for processing” if they don’t “leave the area now”.

The Big Smoke blogger said in the video: “Absolutely outrageous, that’s the camera there, telling me that MY communal garden is a restricted area, and that I, a person who lives over there, have to leave the area now. Camden Council do not have the power to make my home a restricted area and tell me to leave it.”

Another Camden resident was equally outraged. He told TechEye: “It is truly outrageous, it feels like the local community is being hounded.  

“First community support officers in the local area are allowed to confiscate your alcohol, now CCTV cameras are actually threatening residents. It is hard to guess what could be next.

“There may be problems with crime in certain areas, but to take pictures of honest members of the public outside their flat is a joke. The council should remove these Orwellian spy cameras and help reduce crime affecting local residents rather than employing inanimate objects to hurl insults at them.”

Unfortunately, it looks like Camden is following a worldwide trend of surveillance rather than leading the charge. Despite evidence that even regular CCTV cameras do not work as a preventative measure, privacy campaigners at Big Brother Watch warn that the technology is “something we will see more and more of”. 

Nick Pickles, director of privacy at Big Brother Watch, said to TechEye: “Camden Council needs to come clean on who took the ridiculous decision to install this equipment and why they felt it appropriate for an American voice to shout at residents warning their own garden was a restricted area.

“This kind of shouting camera is totally inappropriate for a residential area, unless Camden council’s next plan is for all residents to be subject to a curfew?

“It is a sad indictment of the surveillance culture that has gripped many local authorities. We urge Camden to remove this equipment at the earliest opportunity and engage with residents about tackling any problems that exist on this estate.”

Camden Council spokespeople told TechEye that they are trying “to find out the details” and will get back to us.

 *Update Camden Council has released a statement about the camera. It claims that all flash cameras have the ability to offer recorded messages and that this one was turned on by mistake.

Here is the full statement:

“Tackling antisocial behaviour is a top priority for Camden Council and we’re committed to ensuring the safety and security of each and every one of our residents.

“The flash camera on Walker House estate was installed in September 2011 in response to an increasing number of concerns from residents on the estate and complaints of antisocial behaviour.

“All flash cameras have the capacity to deliver voice messages when activated but in this instance it appears that voice messages were inadvertently activated when the camera batteries were replaced four to five weeks ago.

“We do not want to stop residents from enjoying their open spaces and communal areas and under no circumstances would we want voice messages to be used in areas where they may be disturbed. The voice messages will be deactivated as soon as possible.

“Since the flash camera was installed, we have received various positive feedback from residents on the estate who have been pleased with the way it, along with increased housing patrols, has resulted in improvements to the place where they live.

“We have installed similar flash cameras as a temporary deterrent in a number of other locations across the borough. They have led to a number of antisocial behaviour orders being obtained as a direct result of evidence from the cameras.

Flash cameras are only ever installed as a temporary measure and are always supported by deployment of other resources.

“We will only consider the use of technology as a deterrent when it can help tackle antisocial behaviour and offer value for money.” 

US cops' Iris scanner "has no place in a free society"

A biometric iris and facial scanning device, which will soon be used by police forces in the US, has been described as having “no place in a free society”.

The technology, known as the Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System (MORIS) is a smartphone-based scanner, which slides over an iPhone.

It can be activated on a crime site or at a police station.

According to its developers B12, it’s more accurate than traditional fingerprinting and can scan a suspect’s iris. It will swiftly identify a suspect by detecting the unique patterns in a person’s eyes.

This information is then run through software and the US criminal records database to find a match.

However, the $3,000 device will not receive a warm welcome from privacy advocates.

Maria Fort at Big Brother Watch tells TechEye: “While police should not be impeded from carrying out legal criminal investigations, the use of this technology on a regular basis crosses a serious line.

“Capturing the biometrics and images of suspects in custody or charged with a crime is one thing, but this is quite another.  When this technology is used on innocent, private citizens as a preventative measure, the premise of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ becomes murky and everyone is treated as a potential criminal.

“Covertly using facial recognition technology on anyone other than a charged or convicted criminal is simply uncalled for, especially when it is still developing and not without its failures, leaving innocent people at risk of accusation based on technology alone.

“Measures like this have no place in a free society.”

B12 issued a rebuttal to Reuters, saying that its device should be used in a close proximity. Its defence amounts to difficulties in “covertly” identifying suspects.

If the technology gets the go-ahead then around 40 forces in the US will use it.

Although it’s easy to make connections to science fiction, it’s hard not to draw comparisons with the iris swapping as seen in Minority Report.