West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner refuses mobile surveillance Freedom of Information request

Reasons the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner gave for refusing the Freedom of Information Act request for information about oversight arrangements for covert mobile surveillance

The office of the West Midlands Police and Crime and Commissioner has used national security and law enforcement exemptions found within the Freedom of Information Act legislation to refuse our request for more information on the oversight arrangements in place to safeguard the West Midlands Police’s use of covert mobile surveillance capabilities.

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West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner not publishing key transparency information which previously revealed covert mobile surveillance

Screenshot of West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner monthly expenditure report web page

At last week’s meetup on how mobile phone users are spied on in Birmingham we drew heavily on the great job The Bristol Cable did of revealing police purchases of covert surveillance devices, known as IMSI catchers. Interestingly, just yesterday (1 March) The Bristol Cable published a follow-up story, revealing how in the months since a majority of Police and Crime Commissioners they had featured in their story, including the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner have stopped publishing the monthly expenditure information which was central to their investigation.

Continue reading West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner not publishing key transparency information which previously revealed covert mobile surveillance

Event round-up: How are mobile phone users spied on in Birmingham?

Francis and Leo from Open Rights Group Birmingham standing in front of a projected screen giving a presentation on mobile surveillance to a group of people in the basement room of Birmingham Open Media

Thank you to everyone who joined us at Birmingham Open Media (BOM) on Wednesday for our exploration of how the police are covert surveillance technology known as IMSI catchers to spy on hundreds of mobile phone users at a time. Here’s a round-up of the evening, in case you missed it or would like to know more.

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Meetup: learn about how mobile phone users are spied on in Birmingham

Mobile phone mast with blue sky

Join us at Birmingham Open Media at 6.30pm on Wednesday 22 February for our first meetup of 2017.  We’ll be looking at how polices in the West Midlands are covertly using devices- known as IMSI-catchers or Stingrays – to indiscriminately intercept and hack up to 500 phones every minute. We’ll be exploring what police use of IMSI-catchers means for our human rights and civil liberties and what we can do to challenge indiscriminate surveillance.

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Is everyday surveillance a religious issue?

Professor David Lyon giving his talk on why surveillance is a religious issue at St Martin's in the Bullring church in Birmingham

Last night (17 October) Open Rights Group Birmingham organiser Francis Clarke attended a talk on surveillance by Professor David Lyon of the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s University in Canada. Here Francis shares his notes from the event along with his thoughts on what civil liberties campaigners can learn from Professor Lyon’s talk.

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#SaveOurSources event round-up

Image of red telephone next to the words 'Save Our Sources', illustrating the Press Gazette's Save Our Sources campaign

We’re pleased to say our #SaveOurSources event at BOM last Wednesday Wednesday (28 September) was a great success. Thank you to all our speakers and everyone who contributed to the event by asking questions in person and via social media.

Here’s a round-up of the event, including links to presentation and other useful resources. Please also check out #saveoursources on Twitter to get a flavour of what we discussed.

If you were inspired by last week’s event, please scroll to the bottom of this page to take action. You can find links below to simple steps you can take to support media freedom and also protect your own online security and privacy.

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The Haystack and what Brexit means for digital rights in the UK

Still taken from The Haystack documentary on surveillance in the UK. The image shows people walking along a crowded street in central London and a news headline which says 'Britain is too tolerant and should interfere more in people's lives, says David Cameron'

On Monday evening we held a screening of The Haystack surveillance documentary at Birmingham Open Media, followed by a discussion of what the recent Brexit vote means for digital rights.

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Let’s get together to watch ‘The Haystack’ documentary on 21st century survillance

Still taken from The Haystack documentary on surveillance in the UK. The image shows people walking along a crowded street in central London and a news headline which says 'Britain is too tolerant and should interfere more in people's lives, says David Cameron'

We’re excited to announce we’ll be screening ‘The Haystack’ documentary, which examines the rise of suspicionless surveillance in the UK, at our next meetup on Monday 4 July.

Continue reading Let’s get together to watch ‘The Haystack’ documentary on 21st century survillance

Independent review of bulk powers announced but still no room for complacency over the Investigatory Powers Bill

An aerial image of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Photographer: GCHQ/Crown Copyright

With the EU Referendum dominating the news agenda, you may missed the news on Tuesday that the government has agreed to Labour’s demands for an independent review of the so-called bulk powers set out in the Investigatory Powers Bill.

I’ve previously blogged about how the language the government uses to describe is designed to be as boring as possible in order to disccourage public scrutiny. For an idea of how effective this can be as a tactic, see the comedian Jon Oliver’s piece on the campaign for Net Neutrality, which he memorably described as “even boring by C-Spann standards“.

What are bulk powers and why should you be concerned?

Under the Investigatory Powers Bill, the term ‘bulk powers’ gives the government to powers:

  • Tap fibre cables and scoop up vast amounts of global internet data  – essentialy collecting, storing and analysing everyone’s web traffic, emails, messages, Skype calls, etc.
  • Require communications providers collect and store for 12 months internet connection records for all UK citizens – this will show every site you’ve visited, the locations you have visited (thanks to mobile location tracking) and which apps you have installed on your phone.
  • Broad powers to hack internet equipment – instead of hacking a suspect’s computer, authorities will be able to hack the network for the entire Greater London area, putting vital infrastructure at risk.

The easiest way to understand bulk powers is the oft-cited needle in a haystack analogy. The government is seeking powers to gather hay on the whole population, in the hope that if they will then be able to spot the needles (suspected terrorists and other criminals).

The Open Rights Group and other members of the Don’t Spy On Us coalition believe bulk powers constitute mass surveillance, which is fundamentally incomptabile with basic human rights of privacy and freedom of expression. Liberty have produced a detailed briefing on the problems with the bulk powers as they are currently stand.

Reasons to be cautious about the independent review

On the face of it, the announcement of an independent review of bulk powers is to be welcomed. After all, it shows the government is willing to listen to criticism, right?

While the review is a valuable opportunity for campaigners to raise awareness of the problems with  bulk collection, we should be cautious about what difference the review will make for a couple of reasons:

  1. The review will be conducted by David Anderson, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. While Anderson has received praise for some aspects of his 2015 review of terrorism legislation (A Question of Trust), he was criticised for accepting the case for bulk collection. Are Anderson’s views on bulk collection will have moved significantly in the past year or so?
  2. The goverment is under no obligation to act on the findings of the independent review. Forgive me if this sounds cynical, but the government has so far pushed the bill through parliament and taken onboard very little of the criticisms levelled by no fewer than three parliamentary committees. With the review coming so late on in the parliamentary process (the bill is due to receive its third and final reading in the House of Commons in June), there’s a real chance the government will merely pay lip service to Anderson’s recommendations.

Keep up the pressure – email your MP and sign our petition today

Given the uncertainty which surrounds the inpendent review, we can’t afford to wait until Anderson reports back on bulk powers. It’s vital we keep the pressure up on the government. You can do this by:

As well as keeping up the pressure on politicians, it’s vital we continue to talk to our friends and family about the dangers of the Investigatory Powers Bill. By doing this we can raise public awareness and get more people to oppose the bill.

 

 

Art against the Snooper’s Charter workshop a success

Thank you to everyone who was able to join us last Wednesday at Birmingham Open Media for our creative workshop to raise.

We had a fun evening making memes and other visual materials designed to raise public awareness of the government’s plans to push ahead with its controversial new surveillance bill, officially known as the Investigatory Powers Bill but better understood as a Snooper’s Charter.

The idea behind the evening was

You can read a write-up of the event and see the artwork we created over on Birmingham Open Media’s website.

Art against the Snooper’s Charter 

We hoped creating memes and other visuals would help more people understand what’s at the stake if the Snooper’s Charter becomes law. Speaking in parliament the day before our meetup, My local MP Steve McCabe (@steve_mccabe) summed things up quite nicely, saying that if the bill is passed in its current form “we will be the envy of states such as North Korea, China and Iran“.

Envy of North Korea

I’m pleased to report we have had a good reaction so far to our artwork on Twitter, with people re-tweeting and liking our creations and sharing their own.

Give memes a chance

If you’d like to have a go at creating your own protest meme, check out ImgFlip’s easy-to-use Meme Generator web tool.

Want to create something a little more complex? Why not try using the free and open source GIMP image editor to mock up a thought-provoking image like this playful riff on 1984?

Spread the word

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If you like any of the visuals we’ve created or decide to create your own, please think about sharing them with your friends and family. Visuals hit home to people in a way that complex arguments and wordy blogs can’t possibly hope to.

If you’re sharing on social media , remember to mention the Investigatory Powers Bill/Snooper’s Charter in your posts and, if possible include the hashtags #IPBill and #SnoopersCharter. If you’re using Twitter, copying in @OpenRightsBrum will also allow us to more easily re-tweet your posts.

Don’t forget to email your MP (and sign the 38 Degrees petition)

While it’s really important we broaden the reach of our campaign through memes, we still need to keep up the pressure on MPs through traditional campaigning methods.

If you’ve not already done so, please use Open Rights Group’s easy-to-use web tool to email your MP today. The more MPs hear concerns from their consituents over the coming months, the better chance we have of stopping the Snooper’s Charter.

Once you’ve done this, please also take a couple of minutes to sign and share the new 38 Degrees petition, Stop Government Plans to Snoop on Your Internet History.

Can you spare a few quid to fight the Snooper’s Charter?

Lastly, the Don’t Spy On Us coalition (which Open Rights Group is a member) is currently a crowdfunding a hard-hitting advertising campaign to raise awareness of the Snooper’s Charter. Please spare what you can to help stop the bill.

Don’t Spy On Us launches fundraiser for Investigatory Powers Bill ad campaign