A very warm welcome to the second Big Brother Watch newsletter of 2011.
As always, please do get in touch if we can be of any assistance.
Big Brother Watch book... available in all good bookshops!
The debate about our DNA database, the largest per capita in the world, has dominated headlines throughout the last few years. Britain has more CCTV cameras than any other country in the world, and even more are being installed – including in private homes, facing out into the street. With the Intercept Modernisation Programme, the current government plans to record details of every telephone call made and e-mail sent by people in the United Kingdom.
A database of households, is set to be compiled for “health and safety” reasons, is planned by the NHS. The Independent Safeguarding Authority continues to plan a compulsory register of all those who regularly come into contact with children – perhaps a third of adults in the country. Stop-and-Search powers under the Terrorism Act are argued about as photographers are arrested for taking photographs of public buildings. Data chips in our bins monitor our domestic waste. Despite a temporary retreat on their compulsory status, identity cards (and, more importantly, the database behind them) remain with us.
What is the future for civil liberties in modern Britain?
Each of these topics - and more - are investigated in a landmark collection of essays by leading experts in the field of civil liberties, edited by Big Brother Watch Director Alex Deane.
Click here to buy the book on Amazon for only £6.99!
You also have the chance win a copy by participating in the Guido Fawkes caption competition...
In a story covered very well in a witty post by our friends over at TechEye, it has emerged that the Home Office hid the parlous state of its Identity Card Scheme from the public - it withheld publication of a report by the project's oversight board in the run up to the 2010 general election (when, you'll remember, some sort of card remained Labour policy). Disgracefully, the Home Office only slipped out the final report of the Independent Scheme Advisory Panel (ISAP) this week, more than a year after it was written, after the scheme had finally bitten the dust under the Coalition. We have ways of making you eat your five-a-day... We all know it's important to eat healthily. Sometimes, some of us choose not to. Some people choose not to eat healthily all of the time. Still, it all comes down to a matter of choice about what's best for you and your health. Few people disagree with the above statement apart, it appears, from a number of ministers in the Coalition Government. According to a report in the Daily Mail, ministers (led by the portly Oliver Letwin) are concerned that an insufficient number of members of the public are not eating their five-a-day fruit and veg quota.
Regular visitors to this blog will be well aware of the various spats Big Brother Watch has had with Google over the last few months (as discussed in our new book), largely around their privacy-infringing Street View application. Despite this, we'd never seek to call into the question the right of a member of public to take videos of their own home.
Sadly, not all members of the Police force share this view. While filming in his back garden, Darren Pollard was approached by two Police officers who demanded to know why he was filming and to present them with identification (which, as we know, is not a legal requirement in the UK).
Today, the streets of Bristol have been blessed with a degree of sanity, as Avon and Somerset police have rejected moves for widespread DNA screening as part of their enquiry into the murder of Jo Yeates. On Christmas Day, her body was found after an eight-day long search, marking the beginning of an extensive murder investigation, which, two weeks on, looks no closer to being brought to a conclusion. This story has shocked the whole of the city and the family’s anguish has no doubt been felt in every living room across the United Kingdom, uniting us all in the attempt to find out who is responsible and bring them to justice.
Alex Deane on the Victoria Derbyshire Show on BBC Radio 5 Live.
Daniel Hamilton on BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire discussing the council's use of 'bouldercams'.
Daniel Hamilton on BBC Look East discussing Fenland District Council's demand that employees record details of their personal relationships.
Big Brother Watch, a campaign group set up by the founders of the Taxpayers' Alliance, said Thursday would be "D-Day" for the coalition.
"If control orders aren’t genuinely scrapped, this Government's credibility on civil liberties will be in tatters, no matter how many fine words Nick Clegg throws around," director Alex Deane said.
"Pressure from bureaucrats has consistently been applied to keep this indefinite house arrest with only cosmetic changes. "My fear is that on Thursday we will see that they have won. A makeover to salve the egos of Liberal Democrats is not enough – these orders have to go," he added.
Alex Deane director at Big Brother Watch also shared the same view. “The suppression of this report is absolutely disgraceful. It follows a pattern of recent behaviour from government agencies, who withhold information harmful to their reputation despite the clear obligation on them to be open with public data – after all, we pay for their activities and for these reports, and such reports are about aspects of the way we all live and will be governed in the future," he told TechEye.
Big Brother Watch campaign director Daniel Hamilton raged: 'Quite apart from the fact it's wrong for Fenland District Council to build up this kind of database, what people do in their own time is up to them.
'If people are good at their jobs, they should be left alone - regardless of who they share their bed with at the end of the day.'
Big Brother Watch has also shown its disgust at the agency.
Alex Deane director at the organisation said in a blog: "[This] is absolutely disgraceful. No public authority has the right to withhold data on the basis that it might be used to the detriment of that authority." He pointed out that the data didn't "belong" to the authority - it belonged the public, who paid both for the services about which it is collated and for the collation.
"Part of the point of the Freedom of Information Act is that it might reveal something to the detriment of the Authority in question - that's the purpose of facilitating openness and scrutiny in the first place. Without that capacity, if the data can only be used for positive purposes, then those submitting queries are simply unpaid press officers for the Authority concerned," he added.
Global security concerns aside, my organisation Big Brother Watch is keen to draw urgent attention to the regime’s treatment of bloggers and journalists – the very people who are playing an increasingly important role in the struggle for freedom and democracy in the Arab world.