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Tuesday, October 27, 1998 Published at 03:34 GMT


Watching Big Brother

Newham has 140 street cameras and face-recognition software

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall
The first annual awards defending the individual's right to privacy have been made at a ceremony in London.

The 1998 UK Big Brother Awards were held on the 50th anniversary of the writing of George Orwell's novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The pressure group Privacy International announced winners it judged to be the modern-day equivalents of Big Brother in the novel, as well as individuals who had fought to protect privacy, awarding them Winstons, the name of the book's hero.

Privacy awards to go global

The academics, writers and lawyers who make up Privacy International concentrated their first awards on the UK, but plan to extend them to other countries over the next few years.

Mark Thomas talks to The World Tonight's Robin Lustig
Hosting the awards, the activist comedian Mark Thomas said eight other countries were interested in holding similar ceremonies next year.

The director of Privacy International, Simon Davies, said the time was now right for the awards.

"Surveillance has now become an inbuilt component of every piece of information technology on the planet, we've got a long way to go to wind the clock back. I think these awards are the beginning of a movement," he said.

And the winners are ..

The Big Brothers were given for a number of categories:

  • Corporation: The British firm Procurement Services International received a Big Brother award for selling surveillance equipment to Nigeria, Turkey and Indonesia, three countries whose human rights records have been severely criticised.

  • Local government: Newham Council in London won for using its 140 street cameras and facial-recognition software to try to pick out criminals in crowds.

    [ image: The Big Brother award]
    The Big Brother award
    "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - for ever." - George Orwell, Nineteen Eight-Four

  • National government: The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) was named a Big Brother over its plans for the police to have access through a third party to the keys to any information sent electronically that was locked by encryption.

  • Product: Software by Harlequin that examines telephone records and is able to compare numbers dialled in order to group users into 'friendship networks' won this category. It avoids the legal requirements needed for phone tapping.

  • Lifetime achievement award: Menwith Hill in Yorkshire, a listening station used by America's National Security Agency and described as the biggest US spy station in the world, won this special award.

None of the winners were present to accept their awards. But a video was shown of a receptionist at Newham Council receiving a Big Brother earlier in the day and of several police dragging a Privacy International campaigner out of the DTI's headquarters after he had tried to present it.

Winstons were awarded to three individuals, cited for campaigning at Menwith Hill, documenting police surveillance and pursuing a privacy case against a landlord who had installed a two-way mirror in a 19-year-old woman's flat.

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