The Sunday Times carries this interesting announcement by the TaxPayers' Alliance, of a new campaign called "Big Brother Watch".
Their website www.bigbrotherwatch.org.uk currently states that this is due to launch in October.
The fight against the "surveillance state" is obviously necessary, but what exactly can this new campaign achieve, that the existing campaign groups could not do just as well, or much better, if they had some more money ?
From The Sunday Times
September 6, 2009
Think tank: Be warned, Big Brother, I've got my eye on you
Matthew Elliott begins a campaign against our surveillance state
In June, Stewart Smith, who suffers from arthritis, was handed a £50 fixed penalty notice after dropping a £10 note in the street. Last year Gareth Corkhill, a father of four, had to pay £225 and got a criminal record when magistrates found him guilty of leaving the lid of his wheelie bin open by a mere four inches. Last month Stephen White's sister Helen was rung several times and visited at her house by police officers wanting to know the whereabouts of her trainspotter brother, who had been using her car while taking pictures of trains in Pembrokeshire.
What is going on? Over the past 10 years our government has become increasingly overbearing, creating a nation of criminals out of good British citizens. We are subject to ever more officious laws and intrusive means of surveillance. Britain has 1% of the world's population but about 20% of its CCTV cameras; it has one camera for every 14 people in the country.
Nobody, but nobody, actually knows how many CCTV cameras there in Britain today.
There could well be far more than the "4.2 million cameras, 20% of the world's CCTV cameras / monitored 300 times a day" soundbite, which was only a guesstimate, made over 6 years ago.
See Spy Blog: "monitored on CCTV 300 times a day" etc. soundbites
Last year local authorities, the police and the intelligence services made 504,073 requests to access private e-mail and telephone data -- that is nearly 10,000 requests every week.
This figure is for Communications Data access requests, the vast majority of which are made by the Police an Intelligence Agencies, not from "local authorities".
The majority of such requests from Local Councils are from their Trading Standards or Environmental Health departments, and are for telephone subscriber details only, unlike the much more intrusive Police and Intelligence Agency ones, which usually also include Location Data for mobile phones, and compile "friendship trees" of who calls (or emails) whom, when and where.
Lumping these categories together is playing the Labour government's numbers game, to hide the true extent of the intrusion into innocent people's lives.
Documents leaked earlier this year revealed that GCHQ, the government's spy centre, had already awarded £200m to suppliers as part of Mastering the Internet, a mass surveillance project designed to enable the monitoring of all internet use and phone calls in Britain.
Not leaked to the Taxpayers' Alliance though, but to The Register and the Sunday Times: Jacqui's secret plan to 'Master the Internet'
An Englishman's home is no longer his castle: some 266 laws now grant the state the right to enter private homes.
It could be more than thatnumber, given the vast amount of Secondary Legislation and Regulations.inflicted on us by this Labour government.
And if they can't get you on tape, online or in your home, in recent months a slew of websites has appeared encouraging citizens to shop people dropping litter or acting suspiciously. Just as in Orwell's dystopia, Britain is being turned into a nation of narks.
It is time to fight back. The TaxPayers' Alliance (TPA) has already led the field in exposing the outrageous waste of taxpayers' money and malpractice throughout all levels of government.
The TaxPayers' Alliance are to be congratulated on exposing such waste of taxpayers' money.
Our campaigns on MPs' expenses, the growth of the quango state and the rise of public sector fat cats have helped to shape public opinion and the policies of both the government and opposition. Now we are launching Big Brother Watch as a check on the surveillance state.
Why exactly is Yet Another Campaign Organisation required to fight the Government and their henchmen on these issues.?
In what way are they going to be better (or, from a financial donors point of view, more cost effective) at gaining mainstream media attention, lobbying politicians and Whitehall mandarins, or raising the awareness of these surveillance state issues, amongst the general public, than other, existing organisations, including the cross party NO2ID Campaign ?
The campaign will be headed by Alex Deane, a barrister and David Cameron's first chief of staff, supported by Dylan Sharpe, Boris Johnson's press officer for his London mayoral campaign.
There is nothing wrong, per se, with these people obviously being influential Conservative party supporters, if this appalling Labour Government is kicked out of office at the next General Election.
Big Brother Watch plans to produce regular investigative research papers on the erosion of civil liberties in the UK, beginning with a detailed investigation of the ways in which individual local authorities have encroached upon the lives of the ordinary British citizen, whether it be placing microchips in rubbish bins or snooping on your private telephone records. We will name and shame the local authorities most prone to authoritarian abuses.
However, such snooping crosses the mainstream party divides, and there are evil Conservative and Liberal Democrat Local Councils, who have abused their statutory powers, as well as Labour controlled ones.
All Local Councils should have their snooping powers curtailed - if the crimes they are investigating stray from the petty to the serious, thereby justifying the use of covert surveillance, then it should be the Police who do this - they are better trained have much more experience of applying the proportionality test, than local council officials.
We will also champion individual cases. We want to use the legal system to help the man in the street fight injustice and regain his personal freedom. We are building up a legal fund to back cases in which we feel a key principle is at stake.
How much money is there in this legal fund, if any ?
Is it coming from small individual donations or from a few rich donors with vested interests ?
What are the criteria for supporting individual legal test cases ?
Why will the Big Brother Watch campaign be better at doing this than, say, Liberty Human Rights are ?
The NO2ID Campaign has a legal fund, made up from contributions by tens of thousands of people, to help fight a test case against the Identity Cards Act 2006, when the National Identity Scheme is finally inflicted on us.
Wouldn't financial donors be better off contributing to these existing, experienced and very effective campaign organisations ?
Not many people realise they can use the Freedom of Information Act to demand to see data held about themselves by the authorities.
This bit of the article is very odd, since the Taxpayers Alliance is quite experienced in making FOIA requests.
You cannot use the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to find out information held about yourself or about other individual people - that is specifically excluded under section 40 Personal Information
You need to make your own personal Data Protection Act 1998 subject data access request instead.
The Human Rights Act, which came into force in 2000, makes it unlawful for any public body to act in a way that is incompatible with the European convention on human rights.
Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in this Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.
So even if, say the Home Office or a Local Authority, does something unlawful under the ECHR, unless there is a specific criminal offence under UK law, the Ministers and bureaucrats face no legal penalty at all.
The convention includes the right of access to documents and we want to help people to use this and other provisions to extend our right to government information.
Where exactly in the European Convention on Human Rights is there any mention of "the right of access to documents" ?
In the same way that the TPA has pioneered the use of the Freedom of Information Act to bring transparency to government spending and expose the full horrors of the wastage, wages and expenses of our public representatives, we intend to unearth the reality of the Big Brother state.
Last year the TPA produced a report that put the total cost of Big Brother government at about £20 billion -- or almost £800 per household. We want Big Brother Watch to become the central hub for the latest on personal freedom and civil liberty -- a forum for information and discussion on something that directly affects British citizens in their everyday lives.
Why exactly should this become "the central hub for the latest on personal freedom and civil liberty" ?
Is this some sort of attempt at political control of what is currently a cross political party issue ?
Big Brother Watch also aims to expose the extent to which the web has become the first line in state surveillance. Recent examples of web companies being leant on to release personal data have opened the floodgates for the co-opting of internet activity into the state's control. Safeguards are needed before it's too late.
We hope Big Brother Watch will become the gadfly of the ruling class, a champion for civil liberties and personal freedom -- and a force to help a future government roll back a decade of state interference in our lives.
Why exactly should Spy Blog, or anybody else who cares about these issues, support Yet Another Campaign Organisation rather than existing ones like:
- the NO2ID Campaign,
- Privacy International,
- GeneWatch UK ,
- Open Rights Group
- the Foundation for Information Policy Research
- Action on Rights for Children
- Liberty Human Rights
Matthew Elliott is chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance and founder of Big Brother Watch (www.bigbrotherwatch.org.uk)
Even this obscure Spy Blog, appears to know a bit more about the details of the Surveillance State and about Freedom of Information Act requests, than Matthew Elliot does at present.
Please feel free to email us for advice.
The www.bigbrotherwatch.org.uk website currently says that the campaign will start in October:
Coming this October, Big Brother Watch is the exciting new campaign from the founders of the TaxPayers' Alliance, fighting intrusions on the privacy and liberties of ordinary Britons.:
This BBC article has some background details about the TaxPayers Alliance: The campaign group: Taxpayers' Alliance