Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Surveillance in the digital age

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In 2000, Parliament enacted the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. At the time, it was acclaimed by government ministers as Human Rights Act compliant, and was presented as forward-looking legislation. The Protection of Freedoms Bill, currently before Parliament contains provisions to tighten up the use of covert investigatory techniques. And a recent report from JUSTICE makes a strongly argued case for fundamental reform of the regulation of surveillance.

The principal findings in the report are:
• Since RIPA came into force in 2000, there have been:
– more than 20,000 warrants for the interception of phone calls, emails, and Internet use;
– at least 2.7 million requests for communications data, including phone bills and location data;
– more than 4,000 authorisations for intrusive surveillance, eg, planting bugs in someone’s house
or car;
– at least 30,000 authorisations for directed surveillance, eg, following someone’s movements in
public, or watching their house.
• In total, there have been close to three million decisions taken by public bodies under RIPA in the last decade.
• This does not include the number of warrants and authorisations on behalf of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, which have never been made public.
• Of the decisions we do know about, fewer than 5,000 (about 0.16 per cent) were approved by a judge.
• The main complaints body under RIPA, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, has dealt with only 1,100 cases in the last decade and upheld only ten complaints.
• Surveillance is a necessary activity in the fight against serious crime. It is a vital part of our national
security. It has saved countless lives and helped convict hundreds of thousands of criminals.
• But unnecessary and excessive surveillance, however, destroys privacy and blights our freedoms.
• RIPA has not only failed to check a great deal of plainly excessive surveillance by public bodies over the last decade but, in many cases, inadvertently encouraged it. Its poor drafting has allowed councils to snoop, phone hacking to flourish, privileged conversations to be illegally recorded, and CCTV to spread. It is also badly out of date.
• The conclusion is that RIPA is neither forward-looking nor human rights compliant. Piecemeal amendments are no longer
enough for what is already a piecemeal Act. Root-and-branch reform of the law on surveillance is needed to provide freedom from unreasonable suspicion, and put in place truly effective safeguards against the abuse of what are necessary powers.
• This report sets out a series of recommendations to serve as the basis for a draft Surveillance Reform Bill.

The full report is at

Written by lwtmp

November 19, 2011 at 10:00 am

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